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Why 2021 Is the Year of the Paid Newsletter
6 min read

Why 2021 Is the Year of the Paid Newsletter

Why 2021 Is the Year of the Paid Newsletter

If anything, 2020 has proved to be a year for overcoming challenges. From changes to our daily life to medical, political, and cultural shifts, nothing seemed to stay still. As we have pointed out in our 2020 year in review article just a couple of weeks ago, if marketers are to survive in such a dynamic and uncertain space, they have to be able to adapt and respond to any kind of challenge with creativity. We strongly believe that marketers have done exactly that when it came to utilizing email marketing at its full potential. What about solopreneurs or entrepreneurs considering newsletters as a viable solution for their business goals?

Premium newsletter platforms

Platforms and Ghost, Substack, or Memberful have been around for a couple of years. But it is our estimation that they will start making a huge impact in 2021, for various reasons, that we will go into shortly. Paid newsletters, as well as other types of paid content aimed at a specific audience, will become more and more prominent during this year. If you are not already, we are extremely confident that by the end of the year you will be subscribed to at least one paid newsletter. But what exactly will you be paying for?


Free versus paid newsletter

In a world where email marketing has almost always been used as a mechanism of retaining customers and converting prospects, the idea of a paid newsletter sounds entirely strange. At times, businesses are struggling to grow their own email lists with free content, so switching to paid newsletters would make very little sense. But we have seen a similar shift in recent years that might help us better understand the concept. Think about publishers such as Washington Post, New York Times, or Business Insider. Their online presence has been ad-supported for years, before turning to a subscription model for generating revenue.

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Why wouldn’t independent publishers do the same thing, even if they cannot afford to implement the technical paywall themselves? That’s where the platforms we have mentioned, out of which Substack is probably the one that has gathered the most attention, come into play. They help content creators connect with their audience while also allowing them to set subscriptions for all or for specific articles.

If that sounds like a revolutionary approach to newsletters, that is exactly the point. If large publishers have already created a demand for high-value content and the public is more willing to invest in supporting writers or media institutions, 2021 will prove to be the start of a new business model.

That doesn’t mean that free newsletters will cease to exist. That could not be further from the truth. Companies will still rely on email marketing to interact with customers and prospects. Inbound marketing isn’t going anywhere. Relevant and helpful content will still be a great lead magnet for businesses. It’s just that some entrepreneurs and some publishers will see the paid newsletters as a better alternative for generating revenue.


Who should start a paid newsletter

For 2021 to truly be the year of the paid newsletter, it would mean that more and more people would need to start joining this new space. But who exactly is a good fit for starting a paid newsletter? Can anyone do it successfully?

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Because we are talking about a new medium, that might change a lot in the upcoming months and years, it is very hard to predict how the game will evolve. But what we currently know is that platforms such as Substack have writers from various fields. We will try to group them into three categories.  

Independent journalists

Subscription newsletters seem to have been created specifically for journalists, especially independent ones, that no longer feel that their voices are being heard at large media institutions. Depending on the following a journalist has, they might be setting themselves up for success by starting an independent website. Reporting has become such an integral part of how we digest the world around us that independent voices, capable of doing a fair job are in high demand.

Independent writers

Journalists aren’t the only ones that have seen their audiences grow as a result of joining platforms that allow paid newsletters. Similar to what has happened with Medium, subscription newsletter websites are encouraging independent writers from all fields to join in the conversation and share their expertise. Technology or finance subject matter experts, to name a few, are prospering on the platform with insightful and in-depth takes on complex or current issues. Some writers are even leaving their day-to-day jobs to start out fresh.

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Facilitators and trainers

Experts have long been involved in knowledge sharing on online platforms. Udemy, SkillShare, or Brilliant are filled with courses hosted by well-known professionals. If those platforms have proved anything is that the public has a great need for learning new skills or for staying up to date with the ins and outs of their field of practice. What Ghost or Substack can provide is a better way of monetizing content, without dumping everything out at once, but rather creating an editorial calendar. Courses can be complemented by high-value content shared with an audience via subscription newsletters.

How to start

Here are the most important aspects to keep in mind when planning to launch a premium newsletter:

  • Build the list
    If you already have a list of subscribers, start introducing them to the options of becoming a member of a new subscription newsletter. You should expect anywhere between 5-10% of free subscribers to become paid members.
  • Focus on quality
    Engagement should tell you if you are sending out free newsletters too often or not. Instead of daily communication, switch to weekly newsletters to deliver better quality to subscribers. That way, they will be more inclined to become and remain members. Try to move your open rate to over 35% before considering a premium subscription.
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  • Set a price
    This may be a bit tricky for first-time paid newsletter writers. How do you know how much are people willing to pay for the content you create? Analyze the market to get a clear picture. A monthly fee can range anywhere between $5 and $15, depending on category, field, and following.
  • Understand your goals
    How many subscribers are you going to need in the beginning to be able to properly (or fully) commit to a paid newsletters? If you convert 5% or your free subscribers, are you reaching that first goal? If not, will your time allow for such a commitment to your early subscribers? Only start when you feel you can deliver the quality members will expect from you.