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Risks and rewards of a paid newsletter

Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue
Hello newsletter experts,
It’s Mark from Revue. First of all, thank you for all the great feedback on last week’s issue about newsletter awards. Seems that there’s an opportunity for someone to start a dedicated newsletter award with several categories 🏆
This week, I want to talk about rewards, specifically the monetary ones that come with starting a paid newsletter 💶
Hope you enjoy the issue. Please forward to others if you do. And do reply with questions, feedback or just to say hi. My email is

Should you start a paid newsletter?
Last week, Casey Newton announced that he was leaving The Verge and start a paid newsletter called Platformer.
Casey had started his newsletter in 2017 and has written 575 amazing issues for The Verge here on Revue. Thanks a lot for that, Casey 💌
Now he decided to quit his job and start his own business. Casey shared some of the reasons in this interview with Sarah Jeong.
Part of it was the pandemic:
But a year later, the pandemic came along, and it just changed a lot for me. I sort of realized that I could do a ton of my job from inside my house. I could do all this digital reporting and could maybe even work on some new and different things because I had all this extra time on my hands.
Part of it was job security:
Along the way, thousands of really talented journalists lost their jobs. I always wondered if there were alternative business models we could explore, and if they were successful, could we help figure out more sustainable, replicable models for journalists to snap their fingers and create their own jobs?
And clearly a big part also was the economic upside, which Casey explained quite frankly:
When you look at the economics of newsletters, there are opportunities that are bigger for some writers than any media company can match. If you can find 10,000 people to pay you $100 a year, you’re making $1 million a year. No one in media is going to pay you that unless you’re the anchor of a popular news show or something.
Advances in technology and changes in digital publishing have tipped the risk-reward balance for authors. And as a result, many journalists are quitting their publishing jobs to start their own media business, much like early mover Ben Thompson did with Stratechery back in 2014.
It must have been daunting for Ben back in 2014, not because of limited technology, but because few people believed in paid newsletters back then. But Ben proved them wrong and deserved to have the last word on this discussion:
Ben Thompson
The NYT trend piece on subscription newsletters-as-business officially arrived 2,352 days after Stratechery launched the Daily Update 😎
A lot has changed: The technology is easy these days. Many others are doing it successfully. And there is a big economic upside that I am sure Casey will benefit from enormously. But there are also risks that that come with running your own business. Ben goes on to analyze:
The reality is that just because a newsletter-as-a-business is possible, it does not follow that building a successful business is probable, which means that the more businesses Substack enables the more failures it should expect.
And he’s not the only one to provide words of caution. Two other veterans in the business also issued warnings, specifically on the economic aspect. First was Jessica Lessin, who left The Wall Street Journal in 2013 to found The Information, and said the following:
Please, please, please, journalists, keep as much of this revenue as possible for yourself as opposed to giving a cut to a tech platform. The revenue adds up.
Benedict Evans, who has written a free newsletter for many years and recently added a paid version, tweeted a similar opinion.
Benedict Evans
Pulling on this:
Substack charges 10%, handles everything and may bring a network - but that means they have control, not you
Memberful plugs into your existing site & charges 5%
Ghost is a flat $80/month but you WILL need a developer
And, Stripe adds ~3% to all of the above.
At a minimum, indie authors need to carefully think through the numbers and see if the model works for them, and if so, which provider to choose.
I hope it’s ok to bring up our own service Revue here, which seems to tick all of the boxes that Benedict brought up: It allows media entrepreneurs to own their audience, control their brand through a custom domain, does not require any developers for customizations and only charges a 6% fee.
Using Casey’s example of 10.000 subscribers at $100 a year, that’s a saving of $40.000 per year.
The week in newsletters
Here is the other newsletter news of the week, still free of charge as always 💸
COVID newsletter success for FUNKE
The Email School
Riding newsletters to success
Casey Newton’s Four Rules for Building a Great Newsletter
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Anna from Revue
Anna from Revue @revue

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