How to build your own paid newsletter and the people who are doing it
Newsletters are seeing a renaissance, particularly as algorithmic timelines have become saturated with click-bait, advertising, and irrelevant information. Because of this, newsletters are increasingly the best way to reach people where they are, and you can almost guarantee they’ll read it.
There are many writers of varying backgrounds and interests monetizing their content for the first time using paid newsletters, and as the news industry changes faster than ever before it’s clear they offer an alternative to ad-supported business models.
Paid newsletters are a fantastic way to build a closer relationship with your readers than ever before, so we wanted to create a guide to the paid newsletters we love, a look at the state of the industry, as well as offer advice on how to go about building your own.
The idea of a paid email might seem strange, or even old-school, but it’s a fantastic medium for a subscription model. Email gets right in front of people, where they are already spending hours of their your day and doesn’t need to compete for attention in a social news feed.
Because paid newsletters change the equation from a focus on metrics like page views to rewarding creators for quality writing with money, it makes creating ad-free content much more sustainable and incentives different behaviors from those that create.
Think of paid email newsletters like a subscription to a newspaper; you love it when it shows up, and you’ll happily pay for the best of the day’s news to come to you. It’s about convenience, and getting out of the click-driven writing model.
Who’s doing it
With the success of a good number of indie newsletters and paid models, it’s worth looking at the newsletters out there monetizing already.
Ben Thompson’s Stratechery newsletter is delivered three times a week and costs $10 per month to subscribe, or $100 a year.
Ben has sent more than 1,000 newsletters already, and is one of the most trusted sources for insiders in the technology industry, particularly because Stratechery provides deep analysis on tech news that assesses the why and what’s next of the day’s most important news.
With 50,000 subscribers, Sinocism is the authority on what’s happening in China for $15 per month or $168 per year. Bill Bishop writes a daily update with insight into Chinese news, how it impacts the rest of the world and is trusted by everyone from diplomats to policymakers.
Bill is an entrepreneur who lived in China for more than a decade, but now lives in Washington D.C. and offers a free weekly edition alongside his paid offering for Axios, delivered in the weekend.
Cleaning the glass
NBA fans can’t get enough of Cleaning The Glass, the newsletter of reference for thousands of fans and experts following basketball. The newsletter features two different formats: $5 per month for articles with a separate $5 per month subscription for just statistics — or $7.50 for the bundle.
Ben Falk, former VP of basketball for the Philidelphia 76ers, started the newsletter to move beyond advertising and reliance on chasing page views as a metric. In his words, the subscription model helps him “maximize passion” and drives even better quality content than ever before.
For those with interest in the podcast and on-demand audio industry, as well as its rapid growth, look no further than Hot Pod. For $7 per month, Hot Pod’s paid newsletter is an invaluable resource for emerging trends in a space that’s only growing faster.
Hot Pod is now three years old and started around the time that Serial was on its now-legendary run that redefined the podcast industry. The podcast was imagined over the space of two lunch breaks in 2014 and continues to be the best source for following the broader industry.
Another great spin on the technology newsletter, reCharged is aimed at giving busy professionals the briefing they need on the industry every morning — and helps cut back on reading traditional news sites.
Written by Owen Williams, a former technology journalist, developer and infrastructure architect, he understands the actual nuts and bolts of the industry, distilling it down into jargon-free analysis that actually makes sense.
Where to start with your own
It’s clear there’s a space for paid newsletters, but where should you start and who should make one? We believe that everyone can create a newsletter and monetize it: you just need a niche of your own and the commitment to publishing regularly.
Every newsletter is different but the more unique you can make yours, the easier you’ll be able to put it out there. This isn’t about advertising but instead is about creating value for people in an entirely new format: think of it as more of a letter than a blog post.
Topics can be broad or narrow, but generally cover a specific industry or interest area. There are paid newsletters for everything from Australian technology news to the inside scoop on the NBA, but what matters is that there will be enough content to keep on writing long-term.
Once you’ve got a topic and a potential way to reach people, it’s time to get things started. Let’s jump into the most essential parts of building your own paid newsletter, and how to tackle the decisions that lie ahead.
How to price your newsletter
The hardest part of building any product is deciding how much you should ask people to pay.
There’s no right answer for everyone, but there are three key considerations: your topic or niche, the type of people you will be emailing and how often you’ll be sending updates.
Like Ben Falk of Cleaning the Glass said, the subscription model allows you to build a sustainable business that brings you closer to the people who value your content, which is what makes paid newsletters so powerful.
From our examples section, you may have noticed that the average paid email newsletter costs somewhere between $5–10 per month, with a lower-priced tier available for extended subscriptions, such as an annual plan.
Outside of this range, we’ve also seen much lower pricing, between $2–3, which we’ll cover later on, and subscriptions that go all the way up to $15 per month, but these types of offers usually include additional benefits such as community access or resources alongside the newsletter.
Lower-priced subscriptions tend to generate more signups, but as Intercom points out in its guide to pricing this can mean a lot more of your time is spent on helping subscribers or replying to messages due to sheer volume.
There’s a happy medium where you can charge enough to make a living, but be accessible enough for a large enough audience size to sign up without spending money on marketing. To date, we’ve seen that this commonly found somewhere in that golden $5–10 range.
Offering an optional annual subscription is a common practice that’s much better on your bottom line too. Because annual revenue locks in subscribers for longer, it helps reduce the number of people canceling month-to-month by locking them in for a year at once.
We highly recommend this approach, however, adding an annual plan is a significant commitment on day one — you don’t even know if your idea will work yet! This type of pricing can easily be added later or adjusted if you decide it’s not a good fit.
The most important consideration at this stage is just pricing somewhere that makes you comfortable and seems fair, then just starting — and sticking with it for a few months. If your subscription doesn’t gel well with your audience, you can always change the price later.
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s no hard and fast answer here. We think you should choose the model that makes you comfortable and try it!
Marketing, finding subscribers and commitment
It’s easy to build something, but what about actually finding subscribers? Like with all content related work, this is something that doesn’t come about overnight and takes investment in building an audience over time. Content is your growth engine, and the dividends it pays build up over time.
To launch a paid newsletter, there are many options for building your audience but we’ll only touch on a few we’ve found to be effective.
We particularly recommend writing publicly on a regular basis before attempting to build your subscription service, to help people understand the type of writing you do and what areas you cover, as well as gain an audience before trying to monetize.
This might be in the form of a public blog or as a free weekly newsletter with a service like Revue. A newsletter is a great way to build an intimate relationship with people before asking for money, and help give a taste of what your paid newsletter might feel like.
While we’re biased, we think that this is the absolute best way to build up an audience that comes back regularly, and gets to know you rather than a blog, making it an effective use of your time.
To get the word out about your writing once you’re doing it, don’t hold back on sharing your work across social media or with your friends and family — the only way people will know about your thoughts is if you tell them!
Other marketing tactics are also effective, and can be used in tandem with this approach to creation.
Facebook Groups for your niche are a popular way to get the word out about your work, as are communities on platforms like Spectrum, or Indie Hackers. Provided you’re adding something to the conversation, this can be a great way to spread the word but keep in mind that it’s important to provide value and avoid alienating people by spamming your own links repeatedly.
A significant part of your marketing strategy from here is thinking about when you’ll start asking for money, and whether or not you’ll offer a free trial to potential subscribers.
Some newsletters, like re:Charged and Stratechery, don’t offer free trials because the authors believe the content speaks for itself. This is absolutely a barrier to getting signups but has another side-effect: the people who do sign up are likely to be much more convinced already, and less likely to churn quickly.
Another approach, like that offered by The Sizzle, is offering a one to two-week trial which automatically upgrades to a paid plan if the subscriber does nothing. This significantly lowers the barrier for getting new subscribers in the door but can increase churn dramatically as people sign up with less ‘skin’ in the game.
Schedules: too much, or not enough?
At this point, you’ve got your pricing, the idea and maybe even an account ready to go. Now, it’s time to start sending — but how often? This is where the rubber hits the road: how often are you willing to write content for your subscribers? And how often will they want to receive it?
Looking at the wider industry, many free newsletters are delivered weekly. In the paid subscription world, however, this type of frequency often isn’t regular enough for subscribers to feel like they’re receiving value, so writers tend to send them more often.
We’ve noted in our research so far that the majority of paid newsletters, such as those in our example section, tend to send between 4–5 times a week, with the frequency of delivery often rising in relation to price.
There are exceptions to this rule, like Stratechery, which delivers three times a week but asks for a full $10 per month. It is, however, differentiated by in-depth analysis of 1,800 words per update, a feat that would be difficult to achieve five times a week.
If you commit to a regular schedule for delivery, particularly a specific time or day in the week, note this explicitly in your marketing. This helps to builds anticipation for your newsletter so subscribers can expect when your next edition will drop into their inbox — as well as when it won’t.
By making it clear, for example, that you send Tuesday to Friday, at 8AM CET like re:Charged does, you have a spot in people’s schedule that they’ll use to check their inbox for your update.
From here, it’s incredibly important to consistently show up and write your newsletter, so set yourself a reminder, and keep to it! People are now relying on your newsletter, and it’s the end-product they see in return for their money; be consistent, and up-front when it doesn’t work out.
If you miss the time window you promised, it isn’t the end of the world. Your subscribers will, however, wonder where you are, so make sure to mention it the next time you do send it out to win back points and avoid anyone unsubscribing.
It’s time to get started! All that’s left to do is pick a tool for creating your paid newsletter.
The good news is that at Revue, we’ve been working on newsletter tools for creators over the past few years, designed to make it simple to send a rich content-oriented newsletter. We’ve created a super easy to use editor optimized for writers, and beautiful, readable templates that are designed to provide a enjoyable long-form reading experience.
We’ve launched our paid features in April 2018 which make it easy to start your own paid subscription newsletter, as well as send your free weekly newsletter on a single platform. Our tools are focused on building rich editorial newsletters and get out of the way so you can get to the part that matters: writing your update.
You can sign up today and monetize your thoughts, we’ll take care of the rest.