Writers and creators who wish to make money for their work have used advertising (e.g. Google Adwords, DoubleClick) or affiliate links on their blogs and websites since early days of the Internet. While this model has some benefits, many writers find it hard to create a sustained living from online advertising. Since generating content is a very labor intensive and creative process, the monetization models have not been sufficient to support creators. Journalists, writers, analysts, and editors are all looking find a different model to help them create a stable revenue stream, while producing content that is valuable to their readership.
In the last 5 years, few writers such as Ben Thompson (Stratechery) and Jessica Lessin (The Information) among 1000’s of others have started to offer subscription offerings to their readers. Subscriptions start at $10 per month or $100 annually (many are lower or higher). Even with a small number of paying subscribers (e.g. 1000), the creator can start to make over $100K annually, creating a sustained living for them while pursuing the creation of great content.
As of 2020, SubStack, a platform for newsletter creators had over 20,000 writers and hundreds of paid newsletters. Similar platforms such as Revue, ButtonDown and ConverKit have together over 50K newsletter writers and over 100 writers are now making over $100,000 publishing paid newsletters.
The benefits of paid newsletters are multiple. First, they provide a sustained revenue stream for writers. Second, since writers don’t have to focus on “generating more traffic” for their blogs, they can focus on the research and content. Third, it requires fewer committed readers (thousands as opposed to millions of page views) who really love your content to create a sustainable business model.
There are downsides, however. First, if you are not a recognized brand as a writer, getting to 1000 paid readers will take a lot of time (months or years). Second, if your subscriber churn rate is high (more readers unsubscribe after their subscription period), then your model becomes unsustainable. Third, readers expect consistency, which adds to the pressure of ensuring you have great topics and information to share constantly.
There are strategies to mitigate the downsides and create an enduring, reader driven sustainable revenue stream for you as a creative writer.