Less than 24 hours after announcing his intent to part ways with the Daily Beast and launch his own paid blog, Andrew Sullivan announced that he'd already received more than $300,000 in paid subscriptions from nearly 12,000 subscribers:
I wish Andrew Sullivan and the Dish team well in their efforts. As publishers find it more and more difficult to generate strong ad revenues from niche sites, we'll need for models like this one to succeed. And Sullivan has been an early adopter of new models since the early days of blogs.
At the same time, this effort is, no doubt, causing stress for many publishers when they look at the strong brands that their writers are creating.
From all that I've read, The Dish's separation from the Daily Beast is a friendly one. And, let's face it, Andrew Sullivan had built the Dish brand at the New Republic, Time, the Atlantic, and as an independent blogger, long before he was hired by the Daily Beast. So, there's no debate about who owns the brand.
But many journalists will build a strong brand, leveraging the traffic and position that a major publisher can provide, and publishers will fear them taking that brand elsewhere.
Well, what else is new? Broadcasters have poached their competitors' top talent for years. The same happens in print. The only difference here is that a twitter account or Facebook followers may seem a more tangible asset than the vague concept of viewers and readers.
Publishers will be tempted to turn to their legal department in an effort to retain ownership of those social media accounts. I'd recommend they don't. The best way to keep your audience will be to continually hire great talent and keep them challenged. The audience doesn't want to follow a publisher. They will choose to follow voices they find compelling.
The challenge for Sullivan and the Dish will be to ensure they remain part of the social conversation around topics, even with the metered ('not a paywall") approach. The real value Andrew has always provided is in creating an environment for intelligent debate. Now he must make sure that debate doesn't only happen behind closed doors.