Ever since Jessica Lessin, the standout Wall Street Journal tech tech reporter, left the mothership to launch her own site, we've wondered how she'll pay for it. Now, we think we have an answer: you'll pay for it, at least in part. But is anyone going to shell out money for more tech articles?
According to sources familiar with Lessin's business plans, JessicaLessin.com (or whatever it'll go by) will be based on a subscription model, placing some (or all) of its news pieces behind a NYTimes.com-style paywall. This jibes with the very brief description of the site in Lessin's Twitter bio: a "premium tech news publication"—premium being a lovely synonym for "not free," these days.
Maybe some people will pay up—the site has already broken two small stories about Apple, the great white, chamfered whale. But is there even remotely enough demand for a site like this, when so many others are giving it up for free?
Consider what's out there:
Gadget blogs of every shape, texture, and odor: our sister site, Gizmodo, with a new tack toward design. Engadget. The Verge and all its money. Wired and all its dreamy cachet. A trillion niche sites like 9to5Mac and Android Police. Completely saturated.
CNET provides a cascade of wireless router reviews.
Business Insider, with a larger staff than most professional athletic stadiums, aggregating the entirety of human industry. Lessin employs only a handful.
The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Reuters, Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg—the large standbys, reliably leaked details of impending deals from other titans like Apple. It's hard to imagine Lessin trying to compete here. Hard because it would be insane and impossible.
TechCrunch, a comprehensive, conflicted stew of rumors, insight, insider speculation, back-patting and press releases. PandoDaily, which only really enters the conversation when the conversation is about how bad PandoDaily is. Does anyone really want another of these? TechCrunch is enough.
Then there's AllThingsD, which Lessin so far seems keen on emulating: rigorous reporters, a steady trickle of scoops from deeply entrenched sources, and Kara Swisher at the top, like a Delphic oracle of Yahoo! corporate strategy.
Can Jessica Lessin out-dee AllThingsD, starting from scratch, and with very little momentum? Her biggest asset is her biggest hazard: her husband, Zuckerberg confidant and top Facebook employee, Sam Lessin. Swisher's wife is a Google executive, albeit one of a stature less public than Sam Lessin. That hasn't proven itself much of a professional hindrance. Facebook is entirely unavoidable, either in itself or as part of a competitive field, and Sam Lessin a very prominent employee. You can't not write about Facebook. If Jessica Lessin delivers inside scoops from Facebook, she'll be written off as her husband's messenger, fairly or not. If she slams Facebook, well, that's a difficult position at home! Really, it's impossible for her to avoid a conflict of some sort—Facebook is so intertwined in almost every facet of Jessica Lessin's chosen field, she's conflicted (perhaps compromised) before leaving the gate. It's no small part of why she had to leave the Journal to begin with—and her husband's career's not going to stop haunting her, even if the only standards she's held to are her own.
With all that baggage, will anyone hand her their credit card number?
Reached by email, Lessin tells me she "[doesn't] have anything else to announce yet."
Update: A sharp student of recent history reminds me that this wouldn't be the Lessin family's first foray into subscription blogging. It didn't really work out last time.