Sarah Palin and Modern Political Entrepreneurialism

If you were asking yourself, "How can I give Sarah Palin $9.95 a month, or $99.95 a year?" then you're in luck, because she has launched the Sarah Palin Channel, an online TV project with more Palin than you can shake a stick at. One's natural inclination is to just make fun of it, but let's not be too dismissive. Palin is charting a new path of political entrepreneurship, creating a lucrative model of ideological entertainment that could actually be good for everyone. You might think that anyone who would pay more than a Netflix subscription to watch Palin on their computer is a fool, but lots of us pay that much to indulge our hobbies and interests. And it'll probably be great for both Palin and the country.

Many public officials turn their time in office into lucrative post-electoral careers, the most common of which is to become a lobbyist. Palin is doing much the same thing; she's just tailoring her offering to a different customer base. The former members of Congress who become lobbyists are selling their (usually corporate) clients their knowledge of the institution and their access to its decision-makers, which are things the clients very much want. Palin is selling her audience her unique combination of cultural resentment, ideological validation, and homespun nincompoopery—things they very much want.

This is a good indication that Palin faced a choice between maximizing her public influence and making the most money, and she chose the latter. If she just wanted as many people as possible to listen to her, she wouldn't be charging subscription fees; she could use advertising to cover her production costs, and get a much wider audience. The subscription model ensures that no one who isn't already a member of the fan club will hear her words of wisdom. Her example was obviously Glenn Beck, who, when he was on Fox News, was on the cover of magazines and talked about all over the country. After leaving Fox, he set up a subscription-based web channel and largely faded from the national debate. But he's drowning in money.

Conor Friedersdorf watched some of the content on Palin's channel, and found pretty much what you'd expect:

The production value is poor, the Palin syntax in some of the monologues suggests that lots of content isn't even scripted, and the same cultural perspective can be found on Fox or GBTV [Glenn Beck TV] or talk radio. All of which is to say that the site offers just one thing you can't get (in comparable quantity) elsewhere: Sarah Palin herself. If the channel succeeds it will be on the strength of her ability to sustain a fan base.

And that's what Palin has: fans who may be limited in number if you're talking about the scale of national movements, but are more than adequate to sustain a venture like this—and are fervent in their love for Sarah Palin.

So good for her. She found a way to please her people and make herself a lot of money, and do it in a way that removes her from the debate the rest of us pay attention to. Everybody wins.

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