Will readers pay to subscribe to individual journalists?

Nieman Journalism Lab reports on an interesting online media experiment in the Netherlands, premised on the notion that online readers are more loyal to individual writers than to the publications they work for: 

Arnold Karskens has his own channel on Dutch news startup De Nieuwe Pers (The New Press). For €1.79 a month, readers can subscribe to him and read his war reporting and investigations into war criminals. Don’t care about war crimes? Maybe some of the other journalist-driven channels — on subjects from games to France, from the science of sex to environmental sustainability, from Germany to the euro crisis — would be of interest.

De Nieuwe Pers recently launched in the Netherlands as an online platform for freelance journalists. Users pay €4.49 a month for access to all content on its app or website. But what stands out is the possibility to subscribe to individual reporters, for €1.79 a month. Think True/Slant, but with paywalls.

“News has become more personal,” Alain van der Horst, editor in chief of De Nieuwe Pers, told me. “People are interested in the opinions, the beliefs, the revelations of a certain journalist they know and trust, much more than an anonymous person who writes for a large publication.”

Karskens concurs, stressing that a personal brand is key in this business model. “People read my stuff because I have a clear, crystalized opinion based on over 32 years of war correspondence,” he said. “This really works well for journalists with a distinctive character. It’s not for the average desk slave.”

The comparison to True/Slant, an American blogging hub that attracted some high-profile contributors but shut down after about a year, may not be the most flattering one. 

The closest U.S. comparison is probably Andrew Sullivan's -- thus far successful, it seems -- move to a site without a magazine affiliation, supported by subscriptions. But while Sullivan's site is a nine-person blogging juggernaut putting up dozens of posts per day on click-heavy political and cultural issues, De Nieuwe Pers seems to be betting that there are enough interested readers to support writers posting much less frequently on more specialized topics, including investigative journalists who may go days, weeks, or even months without publishing. Karskens says later in the article, "sometimes I won’t be able to publish something for a week, sometimes two weeks... By subscribing to me personally, people support this type of investigation."

I don't know the Dutch media will, but in the United States, I think thelist of writers for whom a significant number of readers might pay $2.33 per month, without knowing how much content they might receive in return, is a pretty short one. I'm interested to see how this works out, though.

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