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The Business of Content

Nov 20, 2018

In 2014, Ben Thompson, a blogger who writes about the business of technology, announced he was quitting his job so he could write full time. His business model? He would send out four newsletters a week. One of those newsletters would be free, and if you wanted access to the other three, then you had to pay $10 per month.

Within a year, Thompson had 2,000 subscribers, which, if you do the math, means he was generating $200,000 a year. At that point, he stopped publicly disclosing his subscriber numbers, but some predict that he’s increased his subscriber numbers by several thousand.

Thompson was an early pioneer in the realm of paid newsletters, and since then there have been several other writers who struck out on their own with similar models. There’s Nick Quah’s podcast newsletter Hot Pod. There’s political writer Judd Legum’s Popular Information.

Many of these newsletter writers have had to string together multiple services, from Mailchimp to Stripe, in order to manage their businesses. Now we’re seeing a few new companies on the market that want to serve as all-in-one platforms for paid email newsletters.

Once such platform is called Substack, and it recently surpassed 25,000 paying subscribers for its participating newsletter writers. I interviewed the company’s cofounder Hamish McKenzie about the rise of paid newsletters, how to convert readers of a free newsletter into paying subscribers, and why his service is preferable to other membership platforms like Patreon.