The "subscription" model and Jason Kottke
One year ago a very popular blogger named Jason Kottke (who is an OG in the blogging set and his site is quite entertaining--check it) decided to go pro. He put out a call for "micropatrons" who would collectively provide the financial support so he could blog full time and not resort to putting ugly, third party adds on his website. This may be beginning to sound familiar to you. The tech community calls it a "subscription" model, but that's not accurate. Non-subscribers still get to enjoy the service. What it is, is a pledge model. He did a three week drive and raised $39900 from about 1450 people.
Today as a keynote interviewee, Kottke declared this experiment in online fund raising a failure. He felt like he hadn't grown his readership enough to make the pledge model sustainable. This could be true. But more interestingly, he said he couldn't take the pressure of having 1500 bosses. He felt deeply beholden and more heavily scrutinized, as evidenced by the interviewer Heather Armstrong who complained "I saw you take my $60 pledge on a trip to Asia!" Kottke is now considering taking ads.
I have been through quite a few pledge drives in public radio and I tend to pitch a lot on the air. One of the points I always make is that I'd rather be beholden to the folks out there in listenerland than any underwriter, or (God forbid) advertiser. The pledge drive may not be everyone's favorite thing to listen to, but if there ever comes a day when you don't hear the pledge drive anymore, that is the day I will be fearful for the future of public radio.