Why Most Newsletters Fail

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    • #383178
      • Total Posts: 2,829

      Writing a newsletter is great—or it is, I imagine, if you are famous. For the past year or so, prominent journalists have been bailing on the publications they wrote for and launching their own Substacks, usually with a long-winded explanation about how they don’t want to be constrained by the editors and institutional biases of their former workplaces. As an added bonus to their much-ballyhooed independence, they make a lot of money by transitioning to newsletters.

      If you charge subscribers $5 a month (a common rate) and get 10,000 subscribers (an achievable number if you have a large and engaged social media following), you’re clearing $45,000 a month after Substack takes its 10 percent cut. Andrew Sullivan, who was pushed out of New York and wrote a goodbye post about the magazine’s left-wing “orthodoxy,” saw his annual income rise from under $200,000 to over $500,000. Matt Yglesias, the Vox cofounder who left his gig voluntarily and had similar criticisms of his former workplace (though he was nicer about it), could easily clear a similar sum. In 2019, Substack said its top dozen newsletters made an average of $160,000 a year, a number that has definitely gone up as the platform has grown in readership and added boldfaced names like Sullivan, Yglesias, and Glenn Greenwald.

      Substack occasionally holds itself out as a new model for journalism, an industry where making money is notoriously difficult. “Start a newsletter. Build your community. Make money from subscriptions,” its site purrs at you. The company has also funded writers it sees potential in. The most prominent of these may be Emily Atkin, who got a $20,000 advance from Substack to launch her climate-focused newsletter, Heated, which has grown to one of the platform’s most popular publications and turned Atkin into a climate journalism star. Though that advance meant she had to pay a bigger chunk of subscription fees back to the platform for a while, she’s undoubtedly made that back and then some—Atkin recently told Columbia Journalism Review that she made $200,000 a year.

      But as that CJR story lays out, though Substack has been a boon to some writers shut out from traditional outlets, it has largely replicated the pyramid-shaped, winner-take-all dynamic of the old media system. “The most successful people on Substack are those who have already been well-served by existing media power structures,” the story notes. Most people with Substacks—myself included—don’t earn much money, at least not enough to make it financially worthwhile. I’ve talked to several fellow Substackers who have struggled to find audiences or build their newsletter to the point where it pays off financially or otherwise.


      Let this radicalize you rather than lead you to despair - Mariame Kaba

    • #383621
      • Total Posts: 1,117

      it takes at least 10 years of hard work and hustle to build an independent base.  Is it possible some of the writers complaining don’t have the right timeline in mind?

      Destruction is easy; creation is hard, but more interesting.

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