Newsletter Economics

Seeking out the sweet spot.

So, in the two days since my introductory sale period ended, I have not sold one new newsletter subscription at full price. During the sale, it was rare to go one day without a sale, and unheard of to go two. 

Now, don't get me wrong: I fully expected sales to fall off, if not when the sale ended than before it did. I'm not Corporate America, thinking that whatever growth rate I achieved even once should be a baseline for the future. The growth rate I saw in the five weeks were comparable to a decent kickstart for the whole newsletter endeavor, and I'm both a little impressed with myself and grateful for how well it went. 

But as most of the sales were annual subscriptions, I'm going to have to see continued sales for this to work as a source of income, which means I have to pay attention to how things are going and make adjustments.

Oh, and if you're reading this for free, please be assured: my goal here is not to guilt you into paying money you don't have. This is not a subscription drive post, except to the extent that all of my newsletter posts are. I don't feel like anyone owes me a subscription, and if I didn't want people reading for free I would just paywall everything. 

I'm actually half-tempted to subscriber-lock this post and not promote it on Twitter just to avoid the impression that I'm trying to shame people into paying... but I think (I hope) this post will contain some useful insights and I'd like them to be available to anyone undertaking this sort of enterprise, and it might be interesting to people who are just curious about the economics of all this. I actually started writing this all out in my journal before I realized it might be something worth reading, then went back and expanded the introduction.

So, with all that said, my purpose here is to delve into the possible causes of the drop-off, assuming that it's not a purely random fluctuation and more subscriptions will come through in the following days without any long-term disruption.. If it is a random fluctuation... well, I won't have lost anything by thinking about my operation.

Four obvious possibilities present themselves here:

1. The price point of $5 a month or $50 a year is just not grabbing people the way the sale price did. If this is the case, I should price my newsletter at $4/$40 regularly.

2. The implied time pressure of a limited-duration sale was what was moving people to subscribe. In which case, I should periodically rn more sales.

3. During the sale period I had a fully fleshed-out strategy for promotion and I stuck to it. In the days sine then, my approach has been far less organized. This being the case, I should come up with a formal promotional strategy and make sure I keep putting in the work.


4. The well happened to run dry at about the same time the sale ended; all the people who regularly see my work and are strongly inclined to subscribe have subscribed. If this is the case... there's not much I can do in the short term. My long-term strategy must be to try to widen my audience.

Now, this is not a question of which one of these four things is what is happening, but more a question of to what extent each of these factors is in play. It's hard to say, but the good news is that, to varying degrees, the things that I list as the various solutions are things that are probably a good idea.

Growing my audience overall? Yeah, that's part of my whole strategy as a professional, a human being with an ego, and a person who needs to eat. I've never pursued unbridled growth of numbers for the sake of numbers, but I like when they trend generally upwards and I generally try to encourage that.

Figuring out how to regularly promote my newsletter in the absence of the sale? Absolutely a good idea. 100% necessary. If I write up a post of advice for anyone thinking of starting their own newsletter on Substack, doing that before any introductory sale/honeymoon period ends is absolutely going to be part of it.

Run periodic sales to drive up subscriptions and create interest? Yep, should do that, too. 

Play with the prices? I'm not dropping it to sale levels right away, though I'm willing to entertain the possibility that they might wind up there, if it turns out that's what the market bears. I'm not concerned with devaluing my work... it has the most value for others when the most people are reading it and the most value for me when I'm making the most money from it. I'd rather have 250 people who think it's worth $4 a month than one person who thinks it's worth $1,000 a month.

I've just as of this writing dropped the annual price from $50 to $45, which is more than the sale price but less than what the non-sale price was. I apparently can't drop the monthly price below $5, not even to the retailer's preferred psychological hack of $4.99, so that's something I'll have to keep in mind. 


That's where things stand. I'll continue to play with the price, work on a promotional strategy, watch what's happening, and do periodic sales. I started this newsletter because what I had been doing was no longer working, and I'll continue to figure out what works as I work with it.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Thank You For Reading!

You can receive future newsletters like this straight to your inbox as they go out for free. If you especially enjoy them and you wish to help me continue writing them, you can choose to purchase a paid subscription for $5 a month, or just $45 per year. That’s 25% off the monthly cost!

Give a gift subscription