Issue #154 — Why slow and steady wins in publishing

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Growth at all costs makes for exciting media coverage, but it can be a costly business strategy. In this issue, discover the companies and individuals choosing sustainability over speed and profitability over popularity.

💯 Top picks

How to use lead magnets to capture your first subscribers

The latest post from the Ghost blog examines how lead magnets can help creators quickly and efficiently grow their email lists. The article details three specific tips that are often overlooked when creating a lead magnet:

  • It should solve a real problem for your customer,
  • The content should be specific and action-oriented (i.e., a quick win),
  • It must start users on a clear onboarding process.

💸 Business models

Make a living from writing a newsletter

This presentation, made by Lenny Rachitsky, explains how they grew their newsletter to over 5,000 paying subscribers (and 60,000 free ones) in under two years. It's an excellent example of how a clear value proposition, consistent publishing, and steady marketing can come together to achieve incredible goals.

Related: How Morning Brew got its first 10,000 email subscribers — Racket

Are courses a good focus for publishers?

A Media Operator breaks down the renewed interest in online courses, specifically cohort-based ones made possible by tools like Maven. Digital education can offer publishers a strong revenue stream when done correctly. However, it's important not to discount the amount of work required, such as preparing relevant material, facilitating the community aspect (when applicable), and promoting effectively to potential customers.

Six questions to help you monetize your audience

Josh Spector shares half a dozen excellent questions to help creators think through their monetization strategy. A few of the questions included are, "Will you monetize an audience of the many or the few?", "Will you target new money or existing spend?", and "Will you sell to people once or over and over again?"

📝 Modern publishing

Why you can’t write for Bulletin, Facebook’s new Substack clone

The first batch of Bulletin writers will include people covering topics like sports, fashion, and the environment, as well as a group of writers covering local news.

Facebook's new publishing initiative is intentionally avoiding "divisive" subjects with their platform, such a religion and politics. In order to accomplish this, they are hand-selecting their writers. Many of the individuals following Bulletin's development believe it will be too little too late to seriously compete with more established newsletter platforms. However, Facebook has quite the track record to prove otherwise.

Ted Williams proved local news can be profitable

Ted Williams successfully grew The Charlotte Agenda into a local news success story with over $2 million in annual revenue. Now, Axios has hired Williams to see if they can replicate the model to dozens of more cities across the US. This first batch will likely include large metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Denver. Williams explains that although local news is difficult, "it's not a complicated business. You have to be patient, disciplined, and laser-focused on the reader and very few things. If you do that over a long period of time, you can develop a pretty good business."

Related: Here’s what makes Americans think a news article is trustworthy — NiemanLab

📬 Email newsletters

Will Apple Mail threaten the newsletter boom?

All eyes were on Apple this week as they announced new privacy features in iOS 15 would eliminate the information publishers rely on through tracking, such as email open rates. However, all is not lost as Casey Newton of the Platformer explains:

Apple’s move may affect reader-supported newsletters even less, publishing industry executives told me today. Writers can triangulate reader engagement by plenty of metrics that are still available to them, including the views their stories get on the web, the overall growth of their mailing list, and — most meaningful of all — the growth of their revenue.

But this is only one viewpoint. Nathan Barry of ConvertKit wrote a strongly worded response to the change here: How Apple’s email privacy protection hurts creators. And WNIP offered readers a more positive take on these changes in this piece: Apple WWDC 2021: What publishers need to know.

Did theSkimm try to expand too quickly?

Many media companies take on venture capital money in the hope that it will accelerate their growth and help them reach scale quickly. However, there are consequences to this arrangement, such as competing priorities and straying from one's core product in an effort to "justify huge valuations." This article is a reminder that although sustainability may be less flashy than hypergrowth, it's a much better business model.

Related: Young creators are burning out and breaking down — The New York Times

💻 Technology

Stripe Tax: Automate tax collection on your Stripe transactions

Stripe Tax lets you calculate and collect sales tax, VAT, and GST with one line of code or the click of a button.

In a very welcome update, Stripe announced they would begin helping creators, entrepreneurs, and businesses collect taxes directly through native tax features in their tool. These new tax features are currently invite-only, supporting the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, with more supported countries coming soon.

New ways for creators to make a living

During Instagram's first-ever Creator week, they announced several new features to help users make money through their platform. They are building a way to buy merchandise and earn affiliate commissions directly through their app, along with releasing a "badges and stars" system that enables a Patreon-style direct-funding model.

Related: Twitter may be close to launching Super Follows — The Verge

How AI and data boost sustainability for publishers

The Fix examines how machine learning could lighten journalist's workloads while also saving media companies millions per year. The article uses the book Prediction Machines as a guide to what these changes might look like, as well as highlighting evidence that they are already underway. Overall, the conversation argues that knowledge workers will increasingly work collaboratively with AI, as opposed to the complete role replacement some have warned of.  

Related: Future-proofing your media business: Lessons from bookstores and Netflix — What's New in Publishing

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