I have a certain vested interest in the question of whether an online publication (other than the Wall Street Journal's online edition) can turn a profit, so I've been watching Salon's financial results intermittently for a while.
Back in October of 2001, I discussed their then-new subscription model. In March 2002, I noted that they had 30,000 paid subscribers, and that they would consider the subscription model a success if/when they reached 100,000 paid subscribers.
In August 2002, I found out that they had 44,000 paid subscribers, and were losing about a million dollars a quarter.
In August 2003, I noted that they had reached 62,000 paid subscribers, but were still losing about a million dollars a quarter. I also noted that I had once read that a new print magazine is expected to take about ten years to reach profitability, and suggested that Salon might be on track to be profitable by their tenth anniversary in 2006.
I wasn't paying attention last August, so I didn't post about it. But a couple days ago I found out that Salon is selling The Well (an online forum system/community that Salon bought in 1999). That article mentions in passing that Salon now has 15,300 paid subscribers, down from 20,900 a year ago. Yikes.
Except, stop the presses: that article appears to be in direct contradiction to Salon's press release from February 2005, about the quarter ending in December 2004, which says that they had 89,100 Salon Premium subscribers, "compared to approximately 73,700 a year ago." I have no idea how to reconcile those two statements. In reaction to the article I cited in my previous paragraph, I initially wrote a kind of downbeat couple of paragraphs about how it's too bad the subscription model isn't working for them; but if I'm understanding their press release, it's working extremely well, so I've deleted those paragraphs.
The article also says that their quarterly loss is down to $100,000, down from $1.2 million a year ago, but another Salon press release says they reported their first-ever "pro forma net profit" in November 2004, even though by GAAP standards they had a net loss of $1.2 million. So I suppose it could be argued that they're profitable already, depending on which standards you go by.
So I'm suddenly reversing my downbeat ending. It looks to me like Salon is finally doing well, and could even reach their 100,000-subscriber target relatively soon. Cool beans!