You know, I went into this newsletter experiment with no baseline for what success would look like. I just knew that I wasn't spending enough time on Twitter for it to be profitable at the level I needed to keep, you know, buying food, and my growing community involvement locally meant that was unlikely to change for at least a few months.
I needed to try something different, so I did.
Story of my life, really.
And it's been going well! I can't predict if this is something that will pick up as my newsletter gathers momentum or drop off once all the really interested prospects have had a chance to sign on, but as of right now I'm getting about as much income as I did on Twitter during a decent but not like super amazing week. That's mission accomplished, so I haven't really questioned if I'm leaving any money on the table.
But a couple of people have asked me to elaborate on what exactly this newsletter is, which makes me wonder if I wouldn't do even better if I explained it better. I felt like I was coming to the newsletter trend late so I guess in the back of my head I had the idea that I was probably among the most lost when it came to things like Substack, but I suppose even if that's true, I'm probably in good company.
So let's break this down.
What's A Newsletter?
Not much, really. What's a-newsletter with yousletter?
I mean, the idea here is nothing new: I send out periodic missives and people who are interested can read and subscribe.
Even the idea of an email newsletter isn't new. I had one of those before, back in the bad old days before there were any really good automated tools for maintaining a list of paying subscribers. It was a real slog, doing the upkeep myself. Because so much of it was by hand, I did it monthly, and so tried to make one big text document that summed up everything I had done in the month and everything I wanted to say.
Lessons learned from that are part of why I've taken a briefer, more modular approach to this one.
Anyway, the big difference now is the existence of automated tools. Yeah, mailing lists have always been a thing, but I'm talking about good tools. Substack, the one I'm using, essentially combines a mailing list, a blog host, a payment processor, and a paywall in a single service that doesn't require much in the way of maintenance from the people who use it.
You as a reader don't have to mess with any of that. You can read this on the website like a blog, you can get it in your inbox. It's the same content either way.
What's In Your Newsletter?
Whatever, really. It's the same approach I've taken to my twitter. So far, we've had political news analysis, D&D design theory, fun with etymology, personal observations, etc.
How Is This Easier For You Than Twitter?
A Twitter thread suffers from having to start and stop unpredictably, whereas a thousand word or so newsletter entry I can pick up and put down as many times as needed until it's finished.
It's also easier for me to write in a word processor type environment in my mobile office setup than it is to use Twitter, particularly after the latest UI changes.
How Often Will You Do Entries?
I don't know. It's been about daily so far, with one entry most days, two on some, and none a couple of times. I think that's likely to remain the case for a while.
Why Not Just Have A Blog?
I mean, I can very easily make a Wordpress blog that provides the option for readers to subscribe and get copies of my blog posts mailed out to them, and I can use some plugins to make a separate paid subscriber list and such, but... I'm still stuck maintaining that. And I have to get people to go to my website to use it.
And if there's one thing I've learned in my nearly two decades of doing my own thing on the internet... it's hard to get people to pay attention to your own thing. Even though to my oldbie eyeballs, myname dot substack dot com looks so very "get a free webpage from Geocities" and having my own domain with my customized blog layout on it says I'm the for-real deal, the stats don't lie: more people click when i post something on here than when I've done it on my own blog.
I don't think blogging is dead but I think the really successful blogs have a community component, some combination of a community of bloggers and a community of commenters, and I just... don't do well with that sort of thing. The death of Google Reader and a host of bookmarking sites both marked and accelerated a change in the way people use the web, and it's just harder for individual blogging sites to get traction anymore.
Do I Have To Pay To Read?
Nope. I very much appreciate the people who do, but my model remains: make my content accessible so people can discover it's good, and trust that enough people will pay for it to keep it worth my while to keep making it. So far that's been working. If it stops, I'll try something else.
You can read my newsletter entries for free at http://alexandraerin.substack.com or you can sign up for the mailing list, also for free. Substack distinguishes between that and paying customers using the word "subscriber".
What does being a subscriber get you? Depends on the newsletter. Some of them, I'm sure, have most or all of their useful content marked as subscriber only. My plan right now is to have something that is subscriber only, possibly once or twice a month, but my plans are still very fluid.
Should I Feel Guilty If I Read For Free?
Not at all. And if you do, please expiate that guilt by giving someone else the link, or tweeting links to articles you especially appreciated. Yes, even if you're sure that nobody who follows you can afford to pay, either. If it takes a hundred people becoming new readers for me to find one who buys a subscription... well, then I need all the new readers I can get, don't I? You reading for free doesn't cost me anything, and the more people who are reading for free, the more chances I have to make money.
Is It Better To Get A Monthly Subscription Or Annual?
Please, do whatever's better for you. There is no difference in benefits ,no platinum level or higher tier. So far most people by an overwhelming margin have been buying annual subscriptions, which surprised me. It's the better bargain, but also a bigger chunk of money all at once.
In terms of what's better for me: annual subscriptions work out better if my subscriber base stays in a growth phase, and monthly subscriptions work out better in terms of long-term stability. Both factor into my plans, so, seriously, do whichever one you suits your needs and budget best.
How Hard Is It To Cancel?
Not very. Substack lets me customize the confirmation email that you get when you cancel a paid subscription. Their default text is all "Are you sure? Are you really sure? Are you really super sure?", which I found a bit obnoxious.
So I changed it to just be a thank you for having subscribed in the first place. I don't believe in the hard sell. I don't want money from people who don't want to be paying it, any more than I want people to feel guilty about reading for free.
I write what I write because, basically, I have to write it. I couldn't not write and by myself, or be happy.
But no given person has to read it. I'm happy just knowing that some people do.
And no given person has to pay for it. I'm happy just knowing that some people do.
Thank You For Reading This!
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 $50 per year. Now through October 7th, when you purchase a paid subscription you will receive 20% off the cost of the subscription for as long as you keep it. That’s $4 a month or $40 per year!