Discover more from Simon Owens's Media Newsletter
How in-person meetings can boost your audience growth
PLUS: How Eric Newcomer built his tech newsletter up to over 65,000 subscribers
Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
Let’s jump into it…
How face-to-face meetings can boost your audience growth
Growth in Reverse published a good breakdown of how a pickleball-focused newsletter called The Dink grew to 150,000 subscribers. While the newsletter used several different growth strategies, I was most fascinated by its decision to paint its logo onto a van and travel to pickleball events all around the US:
He took the van all over the US to these tournaments and was posting live footage of the events, players, etc.
There is no way you aren’t getting noticed by the major brands, professional players, and attendees when you show up in this thing.
He also brought along a friend named Jack, who seems to be a professional photographer
Having someone who knew their way around higher camera gear definitely paid off.
Before this tour, The Dink would post some videos and photos of local games, or of Thomas playing.
But now that they were on tour, they started posting their own footage from the pickleball matches.
It wasn’t just the content that came out of these matches that helped in The Dink’s growth; the in-person events also gave its founder a chance to meet the sport’s top players and influencers, which made it easier for him to form key partnerships down the road.
I think a lot of media entrepreneurs underestimate the power of face-to-face interactions as a growth tool. If you have a phone call or in-person meeting with an operator within your niche, they're more likely to recommend your outlet to others. I've met a lot of successful creators who were extremely aggressive about attending live events and also scheduling phone calls with their most engaged audience members.
Here’s a sampling:
Jay Shabat launched Airline Weekly in 2004. Given that this was before the age of social media and that the publication consisted of a high-priced PDF, it wasn’t exactly easy to grow its audience through traditional internet sharing. So Jay hopped on planes and traveled to industry conferences all over the world. In many instances, he printed up physical copies of his newsletter so he could hand them out at business meetings. Because the newsletter cost upwards of $800 per year, he only had to sell a handful of subscriptions at each conference in order to pay his travel expenses.
Jane Friedman produces The Hot Sheet, a bi-weekly newsletter about the book industry. She no longer puts out much free online content, but she’s a sought-after speaker at industry events, and she’s able to leverage these speaking opportunities to build her subscriber base.
Dan Oshinsky runs Inbox Collective, a newsletter consultancy. In the early years after he launched his business, he provided an automated link in his newsletter signup emails that allowed new subscribers to book a phone call with him. “I did this for years with Inbox Collective, and it was a fantastic way to convert readers to customers,” he told me in an email.
Starting in 2023, I also became much more aggressive about scheduling more direct interactions. Here are some examples:
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been organizing monthly dinners with media operators. I usually limit each dinner to around six people. Do you live in Washington, DC? Reach out so I can invite you to a future dinner.
A little over a month ago I rolled out a new benefit for paid subscribers that allows them to schedule a 30-minute introductory phone call with me.
I host bi-weekly Office Hours calls with my subscribers. Between 15 and 30 media folks attend these calls, and they’re very interactive.
I’ve always been pretty open to scheduling phone calls with media entrepreneurs who write in to me, usually as a way to vet them as potential podcast guests.
All in all, in any given week I’m having personal interactions with up to dozens of media pros. This has allowed me to vastly expand my network, and my hope is that these deeper connections will help me in the longterm with subscribe growth and retention.
Do these types of interactions scale? Not really. But they provide much greater impact on a per-person basis than any individual piece of content.
How Eric Newcomer built his tech newsletter up to over 65,000 subscribers
There’s a common criticism lodged against Substack that its model of paid subscriptions could never support original journalism, and instead it only caters to the kind of opinion journalism that can be churned out at a high rate.
Eric Newcomer is proving this criticism wrong. After six years spent reporting at outlets like The Information and Bloomberg, he struck off on his own and launched a newsletter that covers startups and venture capital. Within months of his launch, he broke several major stories about top VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia.
In our interview, Eric talked about his motivation to leave his job in traditional media, his monetization strategy, and how he manages to break major stories at such a consistent rate.
Watch our discussion in the video embedded below:
If video embeds don’t work in your inbox, go here.
The web’s “enshittification” cycle is speeding up
Yes, I’m now on Threads. It’s hard to just ignore a platform that already has 100 million users. You can find me at @simondowens
I feel like the “enshittification” cycle of the web is speeding up. While Meta was building Threads, its engineers likely knew two things:
A huge portion of its users would want a reverse chronological feed of the people they follow.
A huge portion of its users would want a desktop web version.
Despite knowing these two things, they launched the product without them. Why? Because a mobile-first app with an algorithmic feed will be better for the monetization features they eventually want to roll out. By forcing users to download a mobile app, Threads ensures that it’ll be able to send push notifications on people’s phones. And when it does eventually roll out the reverse chronological feed, the option will be buried somewhere within the app — thereby ensuring that the vast majority of users remain wedded to the algorithm.
A decade ago, most of these major tech platforms were still adhering to a users-first mentality when building their products — even when it hurt monetization efforts. Mark Zuckberg famously resisted the introduction of crappy banner ads, and platforms like Google and Amazon kept their designs extremely clean and functional.
Now they don’t even bother. Meta already built the social graph that instills an instantaneous usefulness to any new platform it launches, so it makes fiscal sense that Threads is designed to keep those users within Meta’s walled garden.
Paywalls aren’t the only tool in your subscription toolbox
A lot of subscription strategies can be boiled down to two steps:
Place content behind a paywall.
Force your audience to hit that paywall.
And yes, paywalls can be a powerful conversion tool, but they’re far from the only motivation for why someone subscribes. Academics of Ludwig Maximilian University tested out several different subscription pitches on 800 UK news consumers. Here’s what they found:
The study found single types of subscription pitches don’t really convince people to pay more for online news.
But, when you combine the normative appeal (telling people their subscription will support quality journalism) with price transparency (explaining the tough financial situation of the news industry), people become more willing to pay.
You should always be testing out different messages that aim to explain your value to your audience. In a world that’s abundant with both free and paid content, your readers/viewers often need that extra push before they’re willing to hand over their credit card info.
A fascinating dissection of how novels enter the literary canon. A lot of it just comes down to sheer luck. [Counter Craft]
It's kind of amazing that the largest newspaper on the West Coast isn't even a 10th of the size of The New York Times. [Axios]
"Trying to publish a standalone novella in America used to be nearly impossible. It was thought readers would never buy them. So how did the novella go from the overlooked to all the rage?" [Counter Craft]
"The B2B division, which formally launched in 2007, makes up three-quarters of the [Financial Times's] paying readership and its revenue has grown at an average of more than 10% each year since 2018" [Press Gazette] TRANSLATION: If you run a business-focused publication, it's sometimes more lucrative to sell a lot of licenses at once than trying to convert subscribers one at a time.
"The top 48 out of the most visited 53 news websites URLs where data was available in May 2023, 60.1% of visits were made by men, indicating an average gender consumption gap of 20.2 percentage points ... Analysis of a larger sample of 3,174 websites from across the world in May revealed an even larger gender consumption gap of 22 percentage points." [Press Gazette]
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