Forget predictions

Last week, Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan announced that he would be leaving the site and re-launching “The Dish” as a paid web-only offering. In the announcement, Sullivan noted that the metered site will charge $19.99 a year for unlimited access (you can pay more if you’re feeling generous).

This isn’t the first time Sullivan has migrated his column. A bit less than two years ago, he left The Atlantic. It was reported at the time that Sullivan’s column accounted for as much as a quarter of The Atlantic’s site traffic.

Interestingly, The Atlantic also made an announcement last week: it is considering a move to put more of its content behind some sort of pay wall. Despite Sullivan’s departure, profits for the magazine and web site continue to grow, prompting them to consider alternate paths to monetize traffic and content.

There is reasonable skepticism about Andrew Sullivan’s ability to gain a paying audience, much as there was reasonable concern about The Atlantic’s ability to survive his departure in 2011. Yet here they both are in 2013, vital enough to be innovating.

If anything, the skepticism and concern expressed in 2011 and 2013 point to the relatively low value of prognostications. There is always a risk in trying something new. We tend to anticipate the future as the present with a new overlay: a new pay model, or the absence of a traffic-driving anchor.

In the meantime, organizations like The Atlantic and individuals like Andrew Sullivan work to solve an identified problem. Sometimes that pans out; other times it doesn’t. The best we can do is seek principles and parallels.

It strikes me that Andrew Sullivan is like Seth Godin or Joe Konrath, able to build a community or a following and make some money as a result. I think we’ll know the answer in 2015.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.