It’s not easy leaving the Times, especially when you admire it as much as I do. No matter what happens to prose on paper, the Times itself, as a gatherer and curator of news, will always be necessary and important. The culture may be changing, and the readership may be shifting, but this paper steadfastly focuses on responsible journalism, ironclad ethics and superb writing. I’ll always be a loyal ally.
I don’t have any particular interest in this news, but what I find interesting is the overall trend. The trend of, shall we say, “big name” writers for publications leaving larger publications to start their own. We are seeing this right now with Pogue, Greenwald, Mossberg and Swisher, Lessin, et al.
How many of these sites can the web sustain? I ask that not because I think the web can only sustain a finite amount of web sites, but because the business models underlying the web seem to only sustain a finite amount. As ad dollars need to be spread around more, the overall ad rates drop will drop across the board. Paywalls will become harder to run,1 as the wallet share is being pulled in more directions.
Advertisers can’t afford to pay high ad rates for every sites, and publishers already struggle to get advertisers to pay enough (and get advertisers to begin with). Readers cannot afford to “subscribe” to every site, and many won’t pay to subscribe to even their favorite sites. This doesn’t seem like an industry setup for success to me.
I don’t like consolidation in general, but it seems to me that if every writer who reaches X level of fame leaves to start their own publication, then pretty soon these small publications will all have to merge, or face overall declining revenue and wages. Having an audience and traffic is only the smallest part of success. Getting someone, anyone, to pay is the hardest and most important part. Trust me on this.
And that’s saying a lot. ↩