As a counter-example to daily digest emails that people pay for: The Browser. It's the only such example I know of, but they did build a sustainable business model on top of it and grew to 10,000 paying subscribers (paying $34-49/year each). The Browser was one of the top paid newsletters on Substack before they moved off to build their own platform. Source: https://medium.com/the-business-of-content/this-indie-newsletter-generated-over-10-000-paying-subscribers-c5a9ad826dba

So I'd say there is one example of this, thought it took ~7 years to get there, and I agree with you that it's not a common path. Sponsorships and ads are far more natural to newsletters with large readership but little original reporting. Also see the TLDR newsletter which likely makes ~$1-2M/year (charging $5,500 or $3,500 per ad slot, 2 ad slots per newsletter). That newsletter is growing quickly, and at close to 300K subscribers.

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I'm not from the US and don't have any experience with local news, so this could be a terrible idea, but how about a bundle service, made up entirely of local news organisations, that allows you to read a fixed number of articles? This could be a subscription or a PAYG-type model.

It wouldn't make financial sense for a local to subscribe just to get their local news because they would hit the limit pretty quickly, but it might be enough for everyone else who's only interested in having access to a few articles.

It would only work because your plan would give you access to local news throughout the country and not lock you in to a specific organisation, making the bundle a lot less restrictive and a lot more appealing. Obviously it would be a coordination nightmare to get enough organisations onboard, but they would be expanding their effective user base to everyone non-local (including interested international readers).

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Re: Local news paywalls. An incognito browser window—creating the appearance of a first-time visitor—often can do the trick. So too can ad-stripping plug-ins like Rocket Readability. And sometimes just Googling a sentence from the visible intro text will lead to a free version. (Completely undermining the whole paywall concept, much of my alma mater Chicago Tribune's paywalled content gets licensed publication on a lot of other websites—including other Illinois papers and … Yahoo!)

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