Could the vaunted business model of Politico be faltering?

How otherwise to explain this morning’s edition of Playbook, written by longtime Washington journalist Mike Allen? At the top of the daily e-mail newsletter, Allen pitches a “series of eBook narratives going behind the scenes of the campaigns.”

Then comes the appeal:

— PLEASE BUY THIS BOOK: Over the past five years, many of you have generously asked how you could pay for Playbook. We’ve had the same answer from Day 1: As long as you’re kind to read it, Playbook will always be free. But we’d be grateful if you’d support our journalism by buying this book. We spent three months flying around the country to sit face to face with the top folks on each campaign, listening to them tell their stories and asking them tough questions - at length, in depth, with no one interrupting or keeping time. That’s expensive, and we hope to show publishers that readers like you will invest in ambitious reporting.

Allen’s folksy nod to readers could use a little expanding. Instead of:

As long as you’re kind to read it, Playbook will always be free.

Perhaps he should have written:

As long as you’re kind to read it and advertisers like Hyundai and United Healthcare throw big money at it, Playbook will always be free.

Everything we know about Playbook is that it parlays Washington insiderism into cash receipts about as effectively as any news product out there. Wrote Mark Leibovich last year in the New York Times Magazine: “Major retailers (Starbucks) and obscure lobbies (Catfish Farmers of America) pay $15,000 a week to advertise in Playbook, a figure that is expected to rise.”

That success brings us to the (added) bold text above. Why is Politico adopting the phrasing of nonprofits and struggling news outfits? Not only does it bank a lot of cash on Playbook, after all, but it also got the full treatment in Vanity Fair about solving the “future of news.” Is this an entity that should trot out the “support our journalism” line?

High Country News uses a variation on the Mike Allen appeal yet hasn’t gotten the full treatment in Vanity Fair. CantonRep.com uses a variation on the Mike Allen appeal yet hasn’t gotten the full treatment in Vanity Fair. Veracity Voice uses a variation on the Mike Allen appeal yet hasn’t gotten the full treatment in Vanity Fair. Ditto for ednewscolorado.org

Thus teeing up the question for Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei: Is this “support our journalism” thing for real? “We believe passionately in experimenting and journalism. This is an experiment in proving readers will pay for richly reported journalism in e-books. So of course we want people — you included — to buy the book. Please do,” writes VandeHei in an e-mail.

As for the “many” people who’ve generously offered to pay for Playbook, Allen responded with one referral: Williams & Connolly senior partner Robert B. Barnett, counsel to some of the most powerful people ever. Yes, Barnett would shell out for the product. “I told him shortly after it took off that it was something that people would pay for,” says Barnett. “Mike . . . personalizes [Playbook] by things like birthdays and weddings and engagements, and in a world in which we all tend to pay not enough attention to the people around us and their real lives, that’s a real public service.”