Andrew Sullivan’s move to break away from The Daily Beast to run his blog -- The Dish -- as a stand-alone, subscription-only site caused a stir last week, raising fresh questions (and hopes) about the potential for paid content online.
Charging $19.99 annually, the new venture had taken in nearly $350,000 in pre-orders in the first 24 hours. Powering the technology behind Sullivan’s new metered subscription model is New York start-up Tinypass. MediaPost spoke with co-founder David Restrepo on Friday about the Andrew Sullivan project and what the company is up to more broadly.
MP: Can you give a brief background on Tinypass?
Restrepo: We’ve been around coming up on two years, and we spent the better part of the first year coming with the product and the technology. From the spring to fall 2012, we started working with smaller content publishers online -- from financial advisors to independent hip-hop artists selling MP3s to newspapers selling subscriptions. Since late fall, we’ve been speaking with a lot of the larger media organizations on the East Coast about using Tinypass in one way or another.
MP: What about your own background?
Restrepo: I’ve been involved in the digital space here in New York for about 15 years, beginning my career at Jupiter Research, and been involved in start-ups. I’d been looking at the potential for the paid-content space for about six months before we even got started with Tinypass.
MP: How did you connect with Andrew Sullivan?
Restrepo: Andrew’s contract was coming due with The Daily Beast, and he found us. One of the guys who works with him found Tinypass online -- and this all came about very quickly -- early to mid-December was the first time we met, and we philosophically hit it off with him and his team.
MP: Why do think his move adopting a metered model made such a big splash?
Restrepo: To Andrew’s credit, he said 'I’ve been blogging for 12 years, I have a big passionate, loyal following and I want to give this a go and see if it works or not. Because Andrew is a high-profile media guy, the fact that he’s giving it a shot has generated a lot of interest.
MP: What are the actual metering options a publisher has using Tinypass?
Restrepo: We built Tinypass to be very flexible. If you’re a publisher and you want to set up a metered paywall similar to what Andrew’s going to do and what The New York Times has done, your readership gets a certain number of free views or period of time to view the site freely before they’re asked to pay. You can use Tinypass for that. If you want to set up a hard paywall, more like The Wall Street Journal, you can set up a similar configuration. If you want to cordon off a particular section of a Web site, and make that your premium section and the rest is ad-supported, you can do that. All the way down to charging on an article-by-article basis.
MP: How does your own business model work?
Restrepo: It works two ways. Primarily, it’s a revenue share. There are no set-up fees, and we take a cut of each transaction. The greater the volume that flows through us, the more favorable the revenue split is for the publisher. Those splits range from 10% down to around 5%. For some larger media companies we’re speaking with, we’re exploring the idea of licensing the technology as a software service. We also enable people to buy the service that way.
MP: Was Tinypass already seeing increased interest from publishers after the Times adopted a paywall?
Restrepo: In the fall, we started having serious discussions with large media companies, and hopefully we’ll be able to announce something soon. And, yeah, a lot of people were like, ‘Look -- The New York Times is doing it -- they’re doing it well, in a way that hasn’t cannibalized their page views or hurt their advertising.' We think advertising has a role in supporting online content -- we just think it’s not the only answer.
MP: Does Tinypass’ technology extend to mobile?
Restrepo: There’s a lot of potential in the mobile browser with HTML5, and Tinypass renders and works really well in mobile browsers. Later this year, we’re also going to be introducing the ability to pay for content using your mobile phone number, whether you’re on a tablet or phone. Punching in your phone number would be a super convenient way to pay for content.
MP: You’ve raised some angel funding -- are you pursuing additional venture backing now?
Restrepo: We’re actively in discussions with a number of venture firms and look to be announcing something very soon on that front.