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The digital publishing space is undergoing a period of significant transformation. While newsrooms struggle to save their legacy publications, solo writers are finding success by using modern platforms to reach untapped audiences. In this issue, we explore the undercurrents driving these trends and the growth models working today.
💯 Top picks
At the heart of every content strategy is a funnel — a model for how your ideal fans will discover your work, engage with what you've made, and ultimately support what you do.
The latest article on our blog introduces the concept of a creator content funnel. This framework aims to help publishers adapt the growth methods other influencers and creatives used to establish their brands by following these four stages: discovery, trust, access, and purchase.
Useful tip: Create different types of content to accomplish different goals across various platforms. This will help you reach the right people so that you can successfully monetize your audience down the line.
💸 Business models
Start with a free newsletter, then develop niche paid subscriptions for that audience.
This week Trends.co released an in-depth slide deck explaining their model for growing and monetizing a newsletter publication. The core argument was that all publishers should begin with a free product to gain exposure, then leverage a portion of that audience into a paid, niche product. To further support their points, they include case studies on Morning Brew and James Altucher.
Last year, approximately 3% of The Guardian's operating budget came from donations to the media group. These funds were geared towards "reporting projects that might be difficult to justify funding" with traditional revenue streams. It's an intriguing model, similar to that of patron-funded creators, that could open new monetization opportunities for smaller publishers wanting to pursue niche stories.
📝 Modern publishing
The trust crisis may be more rooted in people’s moral values than their politics.
A study conducted by The Media Insight Project revealed a number of interesting findings about people's trust in journalists. Most notably, the political divide often referenced by mainstream media has more to do with how people understand and prioritize specific values in their own lives, more so than it does with the voting patterns of those same people. The most promising finding from the report was that journalists across the political spectrum could increase their trust factor with audiences by writing to broad moral values and including "different moral angles" in their stories.
Substack aims to increase its footprint in the news genre by recruiting a cohort of promising local journalists to their platform. Those accepted into the program will gain "mentorship, editing and design services [...] business support and a cash advance." The program is open to writers worldwide, though only US-based ones will receive the healthcare and legal perks. Initial reviews on the potential of this program have been mixed. Those chosen for the initial cohort will likely have a significant impact on its future.
While opinions are necessary for good journalism, they can present dangers for the journalists who present them. Internet trolls are not unique to the publishing space, but they can get particularly aggressive when sensitive topics are addressed. For independent publishers, it's a valuable exercise to think through your own strategies for responding to, ignoring, or refuting negative responses to your work.
📬 Email newsletters
At the heart of this is a power rebalancing between star writers and media companies.
Not everyone wants to run their own publication. It's a point that often gets lost in the newsletter conversation, especially amidst the current gold rush occurring in the space. Adam Tinworth addresses the pros and cons of being a solo writer versus working within an established brand, and how increased ways to monetize one's writing can save us from all-or-nothing thinking about our careers.
The biggest threat to Substack is unlikely to be the Twitter-centric political battles among some of its writers. The real threat is competing platforms with a different model. The most technically powerful of those is probably Ghost, which allows writers to send and charge for newsletters, with monthly fees starting at $9.
The New York Times recently published a piece diving into the trials and triumphs experienced by Substack over the last few months. The most useful portion of the article discussed the platform's alternatives, and what writers might consider as they seek to build a digital home base for their publishing.
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