Nadia Eghbal, who leads writer experience at email newsletter platform Substack, offers some essential starting tips for making the leap from a free newsletter to a paid one.

1. Build a free list first

‘The real secret is focusing on your free list for as long as possible. It will give you much more leverage when you launch paid. If you’re just starting out and haven’t yet built an email list, start by writing free posts. It’ll also help you develop your voice, establish a consistent writing schedule, and understand what value you provide your audience.’

2. Look at engagement

‘In addition to growing your list, you’ll want to build an audience who are excited about your writing. Do you have a relationship with your free subscribers? Do they frequently share, reply to, or comment on your posts? What are your open rates like? Open rates of 50% to 60% are considered very good; for a daily newsletter, a good open rate might be more like 40%. The more engaged your audience, the more likely they’ll be willing to pay.’

3. Know your goals

‘Is your goal to write full time, or are you just experimenting with a side project? Are you prepared to write regularly for paying subscribers? We commonly see that paid writers have 5% to 10% conversion rates from their free list. Use that number, along with your price, to estimate how much money you could make from paid subscriptions.’

4. Set a price

‘We’ve seen that newsletters in the personal interest category tend to charge $5-7 a month, while those in the business category can charge $10-15 a month or more. (If your subscribers can treat your newsletter as a business expense, charge more.) You can browse Substack’s top paid publications online to get a sense of how much other writers charge. Whichever price you pick, challenge yourself to charge 20% more.’

The breakdown

is a good open rate.

is a good open rate for a weekly newsletter.

is the typical subscriber conversion from free to paid.

is the average cost for personal category newsletters.

is the average business category cost.

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This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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