Two of my blogging idols have recently put out calls for readers to contribute financially to their blogs; Juan Cole in his annual fundraiser and Andrew Sullivan in his announcement that he is ditching the mainstream media and striking out on his own). Both have been incredibly successful so far, which makes me wonder whether this is not the future of online media (if not all media).

So far Juan Cole has raised $42,744 USD from his readers (out of a $50,000 target), and Sully has managed more than $330,000 in the 24 hours since the announcement of his move (he is shooting for a much loftier $900,000). What makes these totals even more special is that people are willing to pay for what is ostensibly free content; Juan Cole has no paywall whatsoever, and Sully will be implementing a “freemium” metered system, which reportedly will have more holes than your average Swiss cheese (that reference is just for you Uncle Ernst). They both produce such great content that their readers want to pay to keep it going, a stark contrast to many mainstream media outlets who are hemorrhaging money as people bypass paywalls and other subscription models (or avoid their publications altogether). As these two sites show, online media is feasible, it just needs to be done right.

If these two are anything to go by, the future of media (at least online media), is in producing high quality content along with a sense of community. It also appears to be in the ditching of traditional advertising revenue streams (Juan Cole’s site doesn’t have ads and Sully has pledged not to have them on his new site) and instead focusing on reader involvement. Ads are frowned upon by internet consumers as they often slow down sites, prove to be tremendous distractions, and provide incentive to generate noise and clicks instead of quality and community. But if you can create a sense of community and a reason to come back, people seem more than willing to support media.

What does this mean for me? Well, for the six months to December I was experimenting with numerous models of advertising. However, because of my refusal to institute pop up or other intrusive ads (as well as the horrible rates Google and Amazon dish out and the ease with which users block or ignore ads), I was only able to generate $24 from the close to 30,000 people that visited my websites and Youtube channels in that six month period. I have now removed all advertising from my website, and am changing tack. From now on I will be working harder to ramp up the quality and reader engagement that takes place on my site. Not only do I hope to benefit from this, I hope my readers will also. Quality and community are the future of online media. Reader sponsorship is the future of online media.