#149 — Why simplicity is the key to growth

This week's newsletter discusses newsletter types, successful case studies, the evolving audio landscape, and tips for keeping your growing publication uncomplicated.


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If you don't get the basics right, nothing else matters. This issue delves into a number of successful newsletter stories that share a common trait: they won by focusing on the essentials. Publishers must remember this as the technologies and strategies supporting the creator economy continue to evolve towards complexity.

💯 Top picks

6 types of newsletters you can start today

The challenge of starting a brand new newsletter can be alleviated by modeling it after an existing type. The six types, or genres, mentioned in this article are:

  1. Reporting
  2. Analysis
  3. Curation
  4. Artistic
  5. Practical
  6. Hybrid

The article includes examples of each category, along with tips on molding your content to align with any niche.

Related: 10 unique paid newsletter formats

Growing the "First 1000" newsletter to 10k subscribers

In what could be called a meta-case study, the newsletter First 1000, which studies how startups and publishers attract their first 1,000 customers, reveals the exact actions it took to surpass 10,000 subscribers in under two years.

The article is particularly useful because Ali Abouelatta, the author, includes a list of every promotional activity they engaged in and approximately how many subscribers each led to. For example, a feature on Hacker News brought in 117 new readers, while a giveaway promotion on LinkedIn brought in only 6.

💸 Business models

The Half Marathoner's Terrell Johnson: It's about persistence

Sustainability is so important. Especially if you’re going to be a paid newsletter. If you’re asking people to pay a monthly and an annual subscription—you really need to think about how you’re going to be able to do it for the next year.

Terrell Johnson, author of the newsletter Half Marathoner, has grown their publication to over 50,000 subscribers; 800 of those paying members. This interview dives into Johnson's approach to monetization, growth, and longevity. One of the most prevalent ideas discussed is the need for patience. The Half Marathoner has existed, in one form or another, for over a decade — which, according to Johnson, is the key to its success.

In this brief newsletter thread, Oshinsky discusses the need for consistency when planning a publishing schedule. Oshinsky references both Vox and The New Yorker as examples of this practice done right, concluding that consistency matters more than any specific sending time.

Related: If you run a newsletter, reader interviews are insanely valuable.

Should you ungate your content in 2021?

It's common marketing wisdom that to attract readers you should entice them with something valuable in exchange for their contact information (e.g., an email address). This lead magnet/gated content strategy is a tried and true mechanism for growth. That's why when Ahava Leibtag decided to do the exact opposite, people were astounded at the growth Leitbag saw as a result. This conversation is a sound reminder that treating "users" like humans tends to have a net positive result, even when it goes against the established trends.

Related: Customer research: The most underappreciated strategy in your toolkit

📝 Modern publishing

Will Substack newsletters upend newspapers?

I doubt that email newsletters can replace all the shoe-leather reporting traditional publications do. But market disrupters needn’t replicate an entire business line; it’s often better to nibble off the most profitable bits.

In this Washington Post opinion piece, columnist Megan McArdle debates the value of the content being published on Substack. McArdle's main point centers around the idea that the platform caters itself to a very small subset of journalistic pursuits (e.g., emotion-inducing opinion articles). While more expensive paths, such as "a year-long investigative project" are less able to make the financials work.

Related: Substack: how the game-changer turned poacher

9 ways newsrooms can incorporate more audio in their work

The ability to hear stories is essential for visually impaired audiences — and anyone who wants to consume content on the move.

Having your content available in multiple formats is increasingly becoming a competitive advantage in the newsletter space. This post offers a practical collection of ideas on effectively repurposing or supplementing your written content with audio. Some of the suggestions include offering content previews, behind-the-scenes explanations, or highlighting archived posts.

Related: How can journalists use Clubhouse to source and report stories

5 lessons from indie publishers on better serving audiences

What's New In Publishing offers a realistic assortment of tips to solo-creators and small publishers aiming to grow their content businesses. Among the advice given is the idea that "less is more." Solo-creators shouldn't try to compete with multi-person teams in terms of content volume and frequency. Instead, they should play to their strengths: personality, individual conversations with their community, and clear value propositions that would be difficult for larger organizations to replicate.

📬 Email newsletters

The ultimate guide to the creator economy

Antler, a venture capital firm, recently released an updated "map" of the creator economy. The image categorizes dozens of tools into defined groups such as audience curation, vertical platforms, and community management. It's a helpful resource, especially if you're curious about the ever-expanding ways in which people make an income online. Furthermore, it's interesting to watch the creator economy expand as the divide between traditional and new media dissolves.

Related: Brie Larson, YouTube personality, with an Oscar

How to promote digital services, plus doubling up on CTAs with Disney+

This week, the team at Really Good Emails analyzed the strategy behind Disney's email campaigns. This discussion looks at their email's layout (color, spacing, number of buttons), copy (word choice, word count), and brand consistency. You can also watch their analysis in real-time here.

💻 Technology

Facebook is starting a Substack competitor

The Facebook Journalism Project will commit five million dollars to “support local journalists interested in starting or continuing their work”.

To the dismay of many startups, Facebook has gone all-in on the copy-your-competitors strategy in the last few years. The news of their latest project was not well-received, especially by the reporting community it aimed at endearing.

Related: Top influencers reach 2x as many Gen Zers on social as do top broadcasters

Twitter acquires news tech startup Scroll

In the company's second big-name acquisition of the year, Twitter acquired the startup "to help people read more long-form on the platform." The social media platform is strategically building out its subscription offerings in the hope of competing natively in the current newsletter gold rush. Only time will tell if users are on board for the change.

Spotify’s upcoming “Open Access Platform” is as surprising as it is awesome

Nathan Baschez put together an excellent piece explaining how Spotify's new open access technology could help publishers across the creator economy landscape benefit using audio. In short, publishers will be able to deliver paid, exclusive content to their audiences through Spotify without requiring their subscribers to sign up for an additional platform. It's worth reading Baschez's full report for the proper context of what this new technology makes possible.


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