#148 — Do solo creators have an advantage?

This week's edition examines the rise of independent creators, continued change in the podcasting landscape, and actionable advice for succeeding in the passion economy.


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Individuals have an advantage in the current publishing landscape. As traditional media continues its unbundling, solo creators can carve out profitable audiences using the available tools and tactics. This edition highlights a number of resources aimed at helping individual publishers succeed in the new era.

💯 Top picks

4 questions to ask before pricing your subscription newsletter

Don’t price your newsletter only according to what it is; price it according to what it helps others do.

In the latest article from the Ghost blog, four questions are presented to help publishers think more holistically about their pricing structures. The questions are as follows:

  1. What is the exact cost to run your newsletter per year?
  2. What is the quantifiable value a reader gets by subscribing?
  3. How else do you plan to make money from your content?
  4. What type of content do you publish and how often?

Additional details plus examples can be found in the linked blog article.

The Sample: A newsletter crafted just for you

The Sample is a newsletter recommendation and discovery tool that assists publishers and readers in finding one another. On the publisher side, you can submit your newsletter, categorize it, then relax as their algorithm shows your work to new people. On the reader side, subscribers check the categories they're interested in and receive a different newsletter every day for 21 days.

💸 Business models

The rise of the independent worker: Why everyone wants to work in the gig economy now

Three-quarters of those who leave an employer to freelance report making more money than in a traditional job.

Fortune recently released an article that pulls together a collection of important statistics from the booming gig economy. The trends show that more people partook in gig-related work because of the pandemic, and many of those people significantly increased their incomes as a result. Most notably, this pattern is expected to accelerate as Gen Z enters the workforce.

Thinking of investing in the newsletter space?

Ethan Brooks, a writer for The Hustle, breaks down the business models used by successful 7-figure newsletters. Brooks writes that one of the biggest opportunities is the local news space where "200+ US counties have neither daily nor weekly newspapers." Another useful Twitter thread from Brooks covers the newsletter engine, a model that "shows how money/attention flow through a newsletter business."

Spotify launches paid podcasts through new Anchor feature

In what seems like a strategic response to Apple's premium podcast announcement, Spotify released the details of their paid podcasting features through their Anchor tool. One of the most significant differences between the platforms are the fees: Apple will take 30% in year one and 15% from then on; Spotify will take 0% for two years, then a 5% fee going forward.

Related: Spotify’s surprise - Stratechery

📝 Modern publishing

What Substack is really doing to the media

A key to understanding Substack’s impact on the news is to recognize that the kind of journalism that tends to thrive there—so far, at least for the most part—is not actually news. It’s commentary and analysis.

Slate does an excellent job of mapping out Substack's success as a parallel to traditional media's weaknesses. Mainly, while the internet encouraged unbundling (separate websites for sports, weather, financial reports, job searching — all of which used to be sought out in newspapers), personalities became the highest value differentiators. Newspapers failed to capitalize on this trend, making it easier for a competitor (like Substack) to scoop up the best talent and give them free rein within their unbundled domains.

Related: After 50 years, The New York Times is retiring the term “op-ed”

Top 10 new digital tools for media professionals

In this article, WNIP highlights a few tools publishers may find useful, such as an automatic transcriber, a software that reveals user-tracking technologies, and a Twitter plugin that helps creators better understand their audience demographics. Additionally, there are a few tools specifically for those adjusting to remote work for the first time.

Newsrewired: Leading change in the digital newsroom

For those interested in starting, running, or improving news publications, Journalism.co.uk is hosting a digital conference in May to help journalists navigate the post-pandemic media world. Tickets start at £150 for the four-day event.

Related: Why newsletters won't kill newspapers

📬 Email newsletters

Most effective subscriber retention strategies, according to publishers

If people perceive the information to be unique, compelling, entertaining and useful, they will subscribe. If not, they won’t.

A recent survey of 500+ publications revealed the most effective retention strategies for keeping readers subscribed and engaged. The three top-cited were a good onboarding sequence, intentional effort to study reader interests, and sending regular renewal reminders to subscribers. Although they discovered many valuable tactics, the survey authors concluded that quality of content remained the most important factor for subscriber health.

Lessons from Li Jin - The Patron Saint of The Passion Economy

This summary of Li Jin's interview on the Indie Hackers podcast contains several actionable takeaways for newsletter authors. Jin's three main tips were: start below your capabilities so that you can free up energy for feedback and changes, build something people are motivated to use — not just something that's nice to have, and don't be afraid to take chances with your marketing since attention precedes validation.

Related: Top of the funnel content can drive conversions

💻 Technology

Apple just changed the ad market — forever

Once you install the upgrade, your phone (or iPad) stops advertisers from tracking you between apps and websites by default.

Adam Tinworth examines the change brought about by IOS 14.5, which disables a feature advertisers have long taken for granted. Tinworth points out that this update pulls at a deeper thread — how do publishers view their audiences? "Are you treating your audience as a valued set of subscribers, whom you have a relationship with? Or as a cohort of data points to be sold to whomever will pay?"

Technology and publishing increasingly go hand-in-hand, with the former often dictating opportunities for the latter. This piece introduces the technologies that are most likely to have major impacts on existing business models for publishers such as artificial intelligence for content creation, increased access to the internet for new populations, and smart speakers facilitating an increased demand for audio content.

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