The pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan, who announced on Wednesday that he'll be leaving The Daily Beast and independently publishing his blog using a metered pay model, says he's already made back his original investment in the venture — and that he's pulling in donations as large as $10,000.
"We're well into six figures in revenue," Sullivan told BuzzFeed Wednesday afternoon. "But there's no meter yet, so we won't find out how it's really all going until mid-February."
Sullivan said he wasn't sure how many subscribers at a base rate of $19.99 a year he would need to make the enterprise work long-term; the blog not only consists of him, but seven staffers. (Reuters' Felix Salmon estimates that he'll need to earn $750,000 a year to keep the operation running.)
"To tell you the truth I’m not entirely sure, because the price point has more or less been blown through by about a third of our subscribers. About a third of them are paying more than we asked for," he said, adding that the largest individual subscription thus far was for $10,000.
"And those wealthy ones, they get nothing more than the rest," he said. "They just do it because they love it."
There will be ways to avoid the meter. The RSS feed won't be metered, and Sullivan estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of the posts would be readable just by clicking on the home page. Links to the site won't cause incoming readers to hit a paywall. It's only clicking through to the longer posts that will require payment.
"Not everybody wants to read a lengthy reader thread," he said. "Not everybody wants to read the second half of one of my longwinded soliloquys."
Starting the new company had required a "good chunk" of Sullivan's savings, he said, which he says he's now made back in revenue. He anticipates a personal pay cut, at least for a while.
Sullivan dismissed the idea floated by some that he had been encouraged to leave by Newsweek/The Daily Beast's higher-ups Tina Brown and Barry Diller. "That's not true," Sullivan said. "It was our decision and Barry and Tina were very eager to have us stay," he said, though he referenced the company's troubles: "They were going through a bunch of other stuff at the same time."
"It seemed quite obvious that a meter was easily the best source of revenue for a site like ours," he said. "It made no sense to have a meter within the context of the Beast."
The gambit of Sullivan's becoming a publisher lies in the loyalty of his readership, who have stuck with him through highs and memorable lows, like when he was briefly silenced by Atlantic Media for a series of posts speculating that Trig Palin was not really Sarah Palin's baby.
It will also free him up to engage in more departures from the mainstream conversation, like the Trig episode, especially since he won't be trying to woo advertisers.
"We do things that advertisers get squeamish about, which is the whole point," he said.
President Obama, who has said he reads Sullivan, has given no indication as to whether or not he'll subscribe, Sullivan said.
He described the entire process as "nerve-wracking" and an "adventure," and said "we have no idea where it’ll end. But at some point you figure I should have been dead 10 years ago, so I figure, what the hell."