Just because you can charge for your newsletter—does it mean you should?

It feels like every day I wake up…

— check my email —

and another newsletter publishing platform is offering paid newsletter options.

It has literally never been easier to charge for your newsletter content.

But should you?

Starting a paid newsletter or pivoting to one is tempting for a number of reasons…

  • recurring revenue
  • no dealing with advertisers
  • recurring revenue
  • scalability
  • recurring revenue

All that — AND did I mention the recurring revenue?

Any way you slice it, charging people for your content is a tempting proposition.

But is it the right choice for you?

What to consider before going paid

Here are a few things I’d consider before diving head-first into a paid newsletter:

  1. Is my content valuable enough? Would someone pay to access this information? You should have a good idea if people will actually pay (and how much) before you charge a subscription. Asking your audience is one way to do it. Testing a single paid edition could be another way.
  2. Should I put everything behind a paywall? If not, how much more work will this create each week? If you keep some of your content “free”, you’ll need to figure out how much, and tell your audience what to expect. And keep in mind how much more work that could mean for you. An extra edition? Special reports, case studies, or experiments? You can increase your pricing with a higher value product, but it will come at the cost of your time.
  3. Is my audience (social following + email list) big enough to justify the effort that goes into a paid newsletter? Turning on a paid subscription is easy. But take it from me: growing a FREE newsletter is tough. Growing a paid one is going to be even harder. It’s a lot of friction. Unless you have a rather large or incredibly loyal audience, it’s going to be challenging to grow.
  4. Do I want to build myself this prison? Skip a week with your free newsletter and nobody notices. But try it when you’re charging subscribers for an edition that doesn’t come. Plus, an annual subscription means you’ve just committed to a year of publishing! Really think about what you’re committing to.

I’m sure there are more considerations I haven’t thought of, but those are the main ones that come to mind when I think of paid newsletters.

So are you still in? Then let’s get into some more paid newsletter details.

Using Paid Newsletter Platforms

I’m sure you’ve heard of Substack by now: a newsletter publishing platform providing you a free option to publish a newsletter.

They may not have been the first, but they have been the loudest (lesson in there).

Their claim to fame was their subscription fee offering: experienced writers and journalists could now leave their corporate jobs and start charging for their written content with a few clicks.

Some Substack benefits:

  • You don’t need your own website or domain
  • You don’t need hosting
  • You don’t need to fuss with a subscription service or payment processor.

Substack handles all of that for you — and takes a healthy 10% fee for doing so.

Other platforms like ConvertKit (affiliate link), Ghost & beehiiv have similar subscription features and some take percentages of subscriptions as well.

(Note: ConvertKit doesn’t take a cut of your subscription revenues. Yet another reason I use them, and promote them often. You can read more about it here.)

I’m not going to get into the specifics of each platform, but I did in this article if you’d like to learn more.

Just know this: you can start a paid newsletter today without much fuss from a technical standpoint. Win!

Choosing a Paid Newsletter Strategy

Going with a paid strategy has a few options:

  • 100% gated content. Everything is behind a paywall. You charge a subscription for readers to access any content. This fee will typically be a higher subscription rate.
  • Partially gated content. Some of your content is free, while the rest requires a subscription. The amount of each can vary. The more you charge, the more you’d likely want to keep behind the paywall.
  • Premium Content. Your newsletter content is free but you offer other types of content for a subscription fee. It could be access to a private community, a mastermind group, private workshops, digital products like eBooks, cheat sheets, checklists, or challenges, or consulting calls.

Popular Paid Newsletter Examples— and how they charge.

  • Stratechery Daily Update. Ben Thompson offers 2 payment options: $12/month or $120/year. Either option is a great price point for an in-depth, well-researched daily newsletter.
  • Category Pirates. Nicolas Cole & his team offer both a free & paid tier. You can get occasional public posts — or pay for access to weekly posts and the entire archive of content. Pricing is $20/month or $200/year.
Category Pirates subscription options on Substack.
  • The Profile. Polina Marinova Pompliano quit her job as an editor at Fortune Magazine and launched The Profile weekly newsletter on Substack. She charges $10/month or $50/year. She has 125k Twitter followers. Let’s assume 2% of her followers are annual paid subscribers: that would be 125k x 2% x $50 = $125,000 in subscription revenue. $1 per Twitter follower! (I’m totally guessing on this conversion rate, btw — don’t quote me!)
  • Trends.vc. Dru Riley started Trends.vc a few years back and now boasts over 50,000 total subscribers, with “1000+” of those being paid. He offers 5-minute market reports on all things start-up and creator economy. In the free tier, Dru offers 4 reports per month. With Trends Pro (paid), you get a LOT more. There are 3 paid tiers: $20/month, $25/month, and $100/month. See the tier offerings here.
It pays to go Pro with Trends.vc
  • Trends.co. Sam Parr launched Trends.co (not to be confused with Trends.vc) as an annual subscription-only newsletter. His announcement tweet about it mentioned a lifetime deal, and Sam claims to have earned around $30,000 in lifetime subscription with that one tweet. Trends.co is now a $299 annual subscription for a weekly newsletter.
  • Growth Marketing Examined. Alex Garcia has two newsletters. One is free and weekly. Growth Marketing Examined is not free— it’s $297 per year. One price. Get a new Growth Marketer case study every 10 days (roughly 36 per year).
  • Josh Spector’s Skill Sessions. Josh offers an annual subscription to his Skill Sessions for $150/year, or you can buy individual sessions from $15 to $50. This is a great example of a free newsletter that charges for premium, evergreen content.

Here’s the Good News.

You’re allowed to try things.

If monetizing with ads or affiliate sales doesn’t feel right for you, a paid newsletter might fit better. You provide the value and content standard — and you’re betting on yourself. That’s exciting and empowering.

You’re allowed to fail, too.

It could happen: you get a month into your paid newsletter journey and suddenly you’re G.O.B. from Arrested Development.

Maybe the subscribers aren’t signing up.

Maybe the paid newsletter prison isn’t what you thought.

Maybe you massively over- or under-dercharged!

It’s all okay. You can always thank your subscribers and refund their subscriptions. Most will be understanding, and perhaps at the worst, a little disappointed.

Whether you decide to go paid or not is up to you — I hope this article helps you make as informed of a decision as possible.

I’d love to hear about your experience as a paid newsletter publisher or subscriber! Let me know at dylan [at] growthcurrency.com!