Pando

Welcome to a new Pando

By Sarah Lacy and Paul Bradley Carr , written on June 22, 2015

From The Inside Baseball Desk

Welcome to a brand new Pando!

From today, the newest articles on Pando will be available to members first. Membership costs just $10 a month (or $100 a year, if you pay upfront) and members also get unlimited access to our entire video archive and to our real world events, in person and via livestream. We’ll be rolling out a whole bunch more member features over the coming weeks.

Don’t want to pay to read Pando? That’s ok. Members have the power to “unlock” articles to share with the rest of the world via social media and email. Unlocked links remain open for 48 hours. if there’s something you want to read but find it locked, just hit up a member and ask them to unlock it for you. Or keep an eye on Pando’s Twitter feed -- we’ll publish regular links to unlocked articles.

To coincide with our new membership model, we’ve spent months redesigning Pando from the ground up, including moving away from Wordpress VIP to our own in-house CMS. For your security, all pages are now served via https by default. We’ve also moved to a daily publishing model -- with the bulk of the day’s stories published each morning at 9am pacific. To make things even more efficient, members will receive an email every morning containing summaries of all the top stories.

Existing Pando members can start enjoying the new Pando right away. Just log in and go. Everyone else can sign up for immediate access right here. If you change your mind, you can cancel your membership at any time.

That’s the “what”. The “why” takes a little more explaining.

Mapping out the future of Pando

The new Pando is almost two years in the making. When Pando acquired NSFWCORP in late 2013, we inherited not just a fully-functioning subscription CMS but also a deep understanding of the benefits (and risks) of reader-supported journalism. As NSFWCORP discovered, hiding content behind a (ugh) paywall makes it harder for readers to discover your journalism, and easier for critics to dismiss it.

But making everything free to everyone all the time has its risks too -- namely an-over reliance on advertising dollars, or on revenue from conferences and events.

Advertising and events both have their place, of course, but if they make up 100% of your business, you can quickly find your editorial goals diametrically opposed to your commercial success. Advertisers can quickly decimate your cashflow if they don’t like your coverage, and speakers can boycott events for the same reason. Sadly you can often tell how dependent a media organization is on event revenue by how friendly they are to on-stage speakers. (Not coming soon to PandoMonthly: Travis Kalanick, David Byttow, Pierre Omidyar…)

There’s an old mantra, often applied to social networks: If you’re not the customer, you’re the product. It was from that starting point -- that we should work, first and foremost, for readers not advertisers -- that we began considering how Pando should evolve.

We appreciate our advertisers, and we love hosting events, but for Pando to stay both fiercely independent and healthily solvent we knew we needed to add a third leg -- subscription revenue --  to the stool. Print publications have understood this for centuries. Online publications are slowly catching on. The big question was where to strike the balance between free content and paid.

In the past few months, with preparations for the new Pando well underway, that question became much easier to answer. First Gigaom went bust. Then TechCrunch, already sold to AOL, found itself owned by Verizon, prompting yet another staff exodus.  Re/Code, having boasted of shunning venture capital, suddenly sold to the very well-funded Vox (which is reportedly itself an acquisition target for Comcast). The only sites able to stay both free and independent are well funded players like Business Insider ($55.6m raised) or Buzzfeed ($96.3m).

Pando has raised less than four million dollars in funding, ever -- around 1/25th of the amount raised by Buzzfeed. We’ve long argued, at both Pando and NSFWCORP, that there’s nothing inherently wrong with using venture capital to get a media company off the ground. The trick is to keep investors in their proper place: No investor in Pando owns more than 10% of the company, nor do any venture capitalists have board seats or any other kind of influence on any aspect of the organization. It hopefully goes without saying that they have zero input or influence on the newsroom.

And yet, we know that our continuing mission to call out the bad actors in the tech industry, and champion the underdogs, means we likely won’t be raising more money from Silicon Valley venture capitalists any time soon, at least not without them demanding a level of involvement in the business that we couldn’t possibly agree to.

Fortunately, we still have the luxury of setting our own course. Last year we doubled revenue from the previous year and it was up another 40% in the first quarter of this year.  Our event lineups have never been stronger, as witnessed at last week’s sold-out Pandoland conference in Nashville. But we’re not complacent, nor are we naive. Our frequently antagonistic relationship with past and present investors and advertisers, mixed with our absolute determination to never sell Pando means we’ll need our readers’ support if we’re to continue doing the kind of combative, independent journalism for which we’ve become known. Given the increasingly scary power of the tech industry, that journalism has never been more vital (nor, sadly, more hard to find.)

And so, as our redesign started to take shape, so too did our vision for a hybrid membership-advertising-events business model. For a low monthly fee (designed to be affordable even for bootstrapped startup founders), members would get full access to everything we publish, our monthly event series and our entire video library -- plus many more features coming soon. In a piece of functionality taken from NSFWCORP, members would be able unlock any article for sharing with the rest of the world. There should be no reason why anyone who wants to read a particular article can’t find a way to do so without paying. Equally it shouldn’t be hard for a regular Pando reader to justify paying $10 a month for unlimited access to everything.  

Those $10s quickly add up. With not much more than 5000 members we’ll be able to fund our entire newsroom without spending a single ad dollar or raising another dime of venture capital. Our goal by the end of the year is to have our editorial operation paid for entirely by readers while ads and events support the costs of the rest of the business.

Moving to a reader-supported model has other advantages. With more readers paying for our journalism directly, we’re even less dependent on pageviews than we were before. We’ve long understood that there were two types of article on Pando: The ones you absolutely couldn’t find anywhere else, and the ones you possibly could. It’s the first kind that, for good or ill, have built Pando’s reputation. These are the articles in which, to quote John Gruber, we “Pando the hell out of a story.” Uber, Secret, the Techtopus -- regular readers know the hall of fame. Likewise our long-form profiles of inspiring entrepreneurs, PandoMonthly event series, and curve-ball regulars like The War Nerd and Brad Jonas’ brilliant illustrations.

The second type of piece -- day-to-day product launches and industry news briefs -- are, frankly, done better by other publications. You’ll see far fewer -- if any -- of those in the new Pando. You’ll also see slightly fewer stories overall, as we focus on deeper reporting.

It’s a simple proposition: You give us $10 a month, and we’ll give you an even greater commitment to in-person, on-the-ground, deeply analytical, investigative journalism you can’t find elsewhere.

There’s lots more to say about the new Pando but it can wait a few days until the dust has settled. For now, we hope you’ll support our continuing mission to speak truth to the new power -- and to Pando the shit out of tech journalism -- by becoming a member.

Thank you so much for your support. As ever, we’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for how we could make the new Pando even better.

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PS: The new Pando was very much an all-hands effort, but particular credit is due to James Aylett, Marcus Edvalson and Mark Norman Francis for bringing it to life. Thanks too to our launch partner, Cloudflare, for their support and resources.