It's fairly easy to misattribute what sparked your growth, it's a pity you don't show the dates on your graph. It would be fairly easy to point out why it went up when it did. If you want to keep a Newsletter free for the fastest list growth you'd be on beehiiv. Do you understand beehiiv boosts? Substack is designed for subscription network growth and is optimized for that, I came to the exact opposite conclusion.

By starting paid subscriptions right from the beginning, Creators here learn what actually converts and what strategies best work aligned to a pure play paid subs strategy. By turning paid subs on, Creators select the right audience. Since paid subs scales slowly, the earlier you start the better. For early stage Creators obviously a hybrid model is superior that integrates other revenue sources. Any solo entrepreneurs realizes this. As you did, better late than never.

Ironically you managed to do seminars, native Ads and consulting just at the time when Substack became a legit subscription network, so it's only normal you attribute your paid growth to those others things.

It's far less black and white than you assume. The model (format) where free Newsletter works the best are actually rundowns with a lot of links. That's when affiliate advertising and native ads as a primary makes sense. If links aren't the primary value add for readers, it makes no sense to stay free unless your content is highly shareable.

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I would make sure all my content was published on my website and set up a metered paywall with free registration wall to build my audience. This lets my content stay visible in search and social media. I might target 3-12 months of full access until I decide it's time to pull the trigger on paid access. The free registration remains and changes to offer extra content access and my free newsletter (content excerpts). The free newsletter's job is to drive readers back to my site to trigger upgrade messaging for full paid content access on my website.

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As others have said, I think it really depends on who you are, what you're doing, and what people are actually paying for. If they're paying for the product as a product, then yes, you're going to need a bigger audience in order to convert and there's the risk that putting too much energy into a subscription product is going to take time and effort away from growing your audience.

However, if people are paying because they like you and what you do, if they are essentially donating because they want you to succeed, then you need to turn on subscriptions asap so that you can benefit from that generosity. It's also valuable to build up a library of paid articles as that increases the attractiveness of the offer, and it's easier to do that early on.

I also agree with those who've said that it's helpful to be able to experiment and iterate quickly on what you're offering for paid tiers, but that depends again on what kind of audience you have, how much audience data you're starting with, and what you have the capacity to do. So I do think it's pretty complicated and people, esp on Substack, have to think about what they can feasibly do and what the implications are in terms of time and resources.

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I think the harm surrounding launching a subscription product too early is entirely dependent on your product.

If your paid content is similar to your free content, or even better (/has more viral potential) than your free content, then yes naturally putting it behind a paywall will slow your growth. IMO best set up is a consistent free product that is viral, very good, and drives growth, alongside a completely separate and distinguishable paid product that provides a lot of value to those who like the regular content and are willing to pay.

In that case, starting the paid product as early as possible is key, gives you time to (1) perfect the paid product and (2) find the correct combination of free and paid that is conducive to growth. Introducing a paid product too late in the game could make flaws with the free product pretty obvious.

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“You’ll be dedicating a minimum of 66% of your time to creating content that ultimately doesn’t help you grow your audience.”

Exactly right. Can’t understand those who cherish smaller audiences. (Looking at you, newspapers with hard paywalls.)

Coincidentally, your counsel corresponds almost exactly with my ChicagoPublicSquare.com experience: Sent it out free for a year (with some, but not much, advertising) before launching a (voluntary) support program through Memberful.

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Thing is, I already get great newsletters that are free because they’re sponsored. And I not only avoid paid subscription, I will quickly cancel if I don’t see the extra value in paid content. Those who are making a FT living must be creating exceptional, value-added content.

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