Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Does www.andrewsullivan.com make a profit, and if so, how? The answer matters a great deal because, of course, the site has consistently been held up as an example – albeit a rare one – of a weblog being profitable. “Profit” here may mean something more than reasonable fiscal compensation, at least for Andrew Sullivan and other right-wing bloggers – if unfettered capitalism doesn’t work for Internet publishing, then preaching it down the same wires is a hollow gospel indeed.

Based on what I’d read in early/mid 2002, I’d pretty much accepted that www.andrewsullivan.com made a profit – a tidy profit (from where I’m standing) – and not only that, made in a manner both impeccably hyper-capitalist New Economy as well as a little bit genteel, to boot – a “book club” pushing titles, tied to an amazon.com affiliate agency.

Thus, in an Australian Financial Review article "The quiet new invaders in media" (early March 2002), Sullivan was said to earn website income from several sources, but mainly from amazon.com click-through commissions, supposedly at a rate of 15% per book sold. (Sullivan’s own site states the amazon.com commission as being 5%). In another Australian Financial Review article (Susan Owens “Blogging to keep the media honest”, 25 May 2002), there isn’t a breakdown of Sullivan’s site’s profitability, but just the confirming mantra that Sullivan’s blog “is the only one said to make a profit”.

Then came the last piece of necessary info to lock in my www.andrewsullivan.com making a rosy profit, fair’n’square view:

Even Mr Sullivan says his weblog brings in only $6,000 a month from such sources [i.e. commissions and donations].
Source: “Rise of the blog shakes up media” (The Australian July 2002, originally in The Economist).

Here, it is unclear whether the reference is to $US6,000 a month or $AU6,000 a month (does someone or something at The Australian auto-sub these things?). Even giving Sullivan the benefit (?) of the doubt, $AU6,000 a month would not be sneezed at, certainly down in these parts. Plus, Mr Sullivan informs us on his blog that his specific labour input into his website is two to three hours per day.

Now, to return to the present. So what if Sullivan does “only” earn $6,000 for 30 days part-time blogging a month, which, at worst, translates to $AU80 per hour? Good on him – or so I had thought until the other day. Strangely enough, it was Australian right-wing blogger Tim Blair who alerted me to the contrary [okay, I recently promised I was only ever going to mention Tim Blair once, but I forgot to make a (necessary and fair?) exception for using Blair merely as a secondary source, which is the case here:]

MYTHS and folktales – such as UFOs, vampires and the greenhouse effect – exert a mighty hold on modern society, so much so that we continually invent new myths, hoping perhaps that they, too, will become part of our global consciousness.


Myth four: Nobody can make money on the internet unless they're selling porn.

Washington-based blogger Andrew Sullivan launched a pledge drive in December to fund his commentary website http://www. andrewsullivan.com. Total donations: about $US80,000 ($142,450) in just one week. His site carries no pictures at all.

Source: Tim Blair “I'm afraid you must be myth taken, mate” The Australian 2 January 2003

As the Blair’s tone suggests, he is not writing intentionally to overturn the www.andrewsullivan.com making-a profit-orthodoxy, but if anything, to trump it. The enormous weekly income figure, of $US80,000 (or $AU1,900 per hour) doesn’t mince with any “only’s”.

If the impressive figure is accepted, my first instinct is to just again say “good onya, Andrew”. However, it wasn’t really the size of the figure that caused me to entirely revise my previous www.andrewsullivan.com making-a-profit view, but its breakdown. In particular, those good, old-fashioned capitalist book-club commissions trickling in seem to have dropped off the radar, with the funding model now being as aggressive (and successful) as it is mono-focused – charity, charity, charity.

Not that Sullivan exactly behaves like an importuning windscreen-washer at a cyber-intersection, mind you. You can read his own explanation of his site’s economics, which ends with a minimalist begging pitch, at: www.andrewsullivan.com/main_article.php?artnum=20021013

Personally – and maybe this is simply my Scotch blood showing – I think that if Sullivan or his acolytes (here I include Tim Blair*) want to genuinely boast about the profitability of www.andrewsullivan.com, they should go straight back to the “old” orthodoxy. $AU80 per hour, earned mainly from commissions, fair’n’square. Fuck the unduly-modest “only”, Sullivan could legitimately flaunt this income at the salivating masses in the rest of the blogosphere.

Charity, especially when layered with charity and then more charity, on the other hand, has a particularly unfortunate history when it comes to the financing of right-wing publications (quite apart from its raft of the usual negative connotations). Such escapades have proved, incidentally, that there is indeed a lower form of letters than vanity publishing by the rich and talentless. My advice to Mr Sullivan, then, is to watch his claque – once one forms, even vigorous flossing may be too late.

* http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,5727247%255E7582,00.html

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