Is a Substack subscription too expensive?

Given that this newsletter is now distributed to thousands of people, it’s pretty common for readers to hit the ‘reply’ button and message me whenever I send out a new issue. In most cases, the person is responding to something I wrote about in that particular issue, but occasionally I’ll receive an apologetic email in reference to my paid subscription program.

Usually the person starts by saying they’re a big fan of the newsletter but unable to commit to a $100 paid subscription at the moment, either because they’re a freelancer with limited budget or in between jobs. They then pitch me on the idea of promoting my Paypal address within the newsletter so people can make small, one-time donations to help support the newsletter.

I’ve been hesitant to embrace such a strategy for one core reason: I want there to be a clear value exchange with my newsletter, one in which readers pay me and I deliver them exclusive content in return. While there are plenty of great nonprofit news orgs out there with thriving membership programs, that’s not the model I embraced for this newsletter, and I don’t want it to be thought of as a charity.

But last week I had a conversation with a fellow newsletter writer and it sparked an idea. He has a popular newsletter with tens of thousands of subscribers, and he recently launched a paid version that costs $120 a year. But in addition to monetizing the newsletter through subscriptions, he also packages the paid issues into individual PDF ebooks that he sells on Gumroad. He’s able to do this because each issue focuses on an evergreen topic that continues to provide value long after he publishes it.

That conversation led to a lightbulb moment for me. Over the past several months I’ve published dozens of case study interviews with some of the most successful entrepreneurs and executives working in media, and thus far these interviews have only been made available to paying subscribers. But they are evergreen and will continue to provide value far into the future. 

So the idea that I came up with was to package several of them together and sell them as a PDF ebook. This would allow readers who aren’t ready to subscribe to the newsletter to make a smaller, one-time payment, and there’s still a clear value exchange. Here’s the link to where you can buy the ebook:

The Next Media Moguls, Volume 1: Lessons from 10 successful media entrepreneurs and executives

The ebook costs $15 and is packed with actionable insights that you can incorporate into your own digital content business. You can consume it as a PDF on your browser or simply upload it into your Kindle or ereader of choice.

My hope is that, as I build up a library of case study interviews, I can continue to package them into ebooks like this one. It’s an exciting opportunity to both diversify my revenue and also deliver a product to those who aren’t quite ready to commit to a subscription.

Anyway, regardless of whether you decide to purchase, thanks for sticking with me as I try to grow my media business from the ground up. The last several months have been some of the most rewarding of my entire career, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can say that my newsletter and podcast are fully sustainable.