Micropayments can work, sort of

Instead of paying for a single article, how about for an entire month's access?

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Medialyte: For creative publishers, micropayments are an invitation, not a cautionary tale

From the article:

Micropayments, or a system in which digital readers pay per article, fail to work thanks to a complex web of consumer psychology and macro economics.

For instance, unlike paying for your favorite tuna melt from your favorite sub shop, when you pay for an article, you have no idea in advance whether you will like it or not, meaning you have shelled out your hard-earned cash for what essentially amounts to a gamble. Compounding the problem, once you have paid for the article, you now expect it to be worth the money you paid for it, meaning some poor unassuming blog post now has an added pressure to wow.

The end result? You will likely find the article to have been a waste of money, discouraging you from making such a mistake in the future. Thus, what at first looked like a potential solution to the paywall problem has the inadvertent effect of decreasing the consumer’s likelihood to pay in the future.

As someone who spends a lot of time writing about internet publishing, I get an email at least once every six months from a founder who’s launched a new micropayments startup. Usually, they want me to get on the phone for a demo, either to solicit feedback on their idea or maybe even to test out their product on my own content.

I always feel a little sorry for these entrepreneurs, mostly because their companies are almost certainly destined to join the graveyard of other micropayments startups that have come and gone over the past decade. Since the birth of the Web 2.0 era, people have been theorizing that consumers would pay for individual articles, and yet there are very few success stories to point to.

And yet…like Mark Stenberg in the column linked above, I can’t think of a good reason for why consumers wouldn’t pay for individual pieces of content that are packaged in the right way.

Stenberg has a great proposal: selling one-month access to a publication, which he equates to buying a print magazine or newspaper off a newsstand. Sure, the consumer still isn’t buying a single article, but it would allow the publisher to sell a standalone product that doesn’t require ongoing payments.

There’s actually another approach, one that’s already working for some content creators. In fact, it’s a great coincidence that Stenberg wrote this column the same week I published my article on how Josh Spector monetizes his newsletter.

For those who haven’t read the piece yet, Spector produces a weekly paid newsletter called This Is How I Do It. He charges $120 a year for access, but he also offers a non-subscription option as well. Here’s the relevant part of the article:

One of the biggest selling points for This Is How I Do It is that all of its article topics are evergreen. This means that by becoming a subscriber, you not only get new articles landing in your inbox every week, but you’re also granted access to an ever growing library of articles that were already published. 

Eventually, it dawned on Spector that there actually might be a market for individual This Is How I Do It articles, and by selling them as standalone ebooks he could generate revenue from readers who weren’t ready yet to commit to a paid subscription. So he began packaging them as PDFs and selling them on Gumroad for $15. He promotes the ebooks one at a time in the For the Interested newsletter.

After launching the ebook versions of This Is How I Do It, Spector did away with the monthly subscription offering for the newsletter. Now, customers can either buy an individual PDF or pay for an annual subscription.

I thought this was such a good idea that I copied it within weeks of learning about it. Back in February, I packaged together a bunch of my evergreen articles and sold them as an ebook on Gumroad. It ended up generating several hundreds of dollars in sales from readers who still aren’t ready to subscribe to my paid newsletter.

So yes, it is possible to take content that exists behind a subscription paywall and package it as a standalone product, and I agree with Stenberg that most publishers are leaving money on the table by not experimenting with this model.

My latest: How Josh Spector monetizes his 25,000 newsletter subscribers

Josh monetizes his newsletter five different ways. He didn’t roll out all these business models simultaneously, but instead gradually introduced them along with extensive testing and iteration.

That Josh Spector article I linked to above?

It’s 2,000 words and took hours to research and write. It’s also packed with insights that you can basically steal and use in your own newsletter strategy.

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NYT: The Beauty of 78.5 Million Followers: How social media stars like Addison Rae gave the cosmetics industry a makeover

Social media influencers are rapidly reshaping the $90 billion beauty product industry.

Deez Links: Q&A with newsletter entrepreneur Ann Friedman

From the article:

I give my money to MailChimp, and if MailChimp did something I was really opposed to, I would look into switching providers. But I don't feel like I'm a brand ambassador for MailChimp. Meanwhile, Substack is like, these are our writers. This is a leaderboard of our writers.

I’ll be honest with you. If Substack existed as an option in 2015, when I was like oh shit I’m too big for TinyLetter and there’s no payment processor plus email option, I would have just done it. But I’m really, really happy to not be brand-associated with any platform.

This is a fun read. Ann Friedman was one of the OG newsletter entrepreneurs and pioneered a lot of the strategies that are now commonplace.

CNBC: How The Newsette founder Daniella Pierson turned a newsletter for women into a multi-million dollar company

From the article:

"I was like well if my GPA and references aren’t going to get me to Conde Nast or Hearst then maybe if I start my own publication that will help me stand out."

The best way to break into journalism is to simply start publishing as often as possible.

Digiday: The coming cookie changes will force some small publishers to give up on advertising altogether

From the article:

More than two decades after the first banner ad was sold, digital advertising has grown so competitive, and so complex, that small publishers are beginning to disengage from it

Substack: Investing in writers

Substack wrote a little bit about what it plans to spend its new $65 million investment on. The most eye-catching item on here is "investing in initiatives to support local news and reporting."

I’ve been waiting to see if more local news startups would launch on Substack. In some ways, it’s perfectly designed for local news, providing an easy way to collect subscriptions from readers. Sure, it has no built in advertising capabilities, but it’d be extremely easy to throw together a classifieds ad offering like the one outlined in my Josh Spector piece linked above.

A few months ago I profiled The Charlotte Ledger, a local business newsletter hosted on Substack. It seems to be doing quite well, but I haven’t seen any other examples of local news Substacks. Definitely reach out if you know of any.

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at simonowens@gmail.com. For a full bio, go here.