Journalists are building their brands in a growing ‘direct’ sales model
Substack has some 500,000 subscribers who pay an average of $ 5-10 per month for popular newsletters
NEW YORK – Anna Codrea-Rado has made a name for herself as a freelance journalist, attracting an audience of 2,500 people for her e-newsletter, “Lance,” aimed at helping other freelance writers.
Then, in 2019, she joined a wave of writers charging subscription fees for her weekly newsletter using the Substack platform, switching to the direct-to-consumer model.
“At the time, I thought it was crazy to charge people for emails,” said the British writer who also produces her own podcasts.
But being a freelance writer it has become “a game changer in terms of paying on time and like your cash flow,” she said.
The number of its subscribers quickly dropped to 130 but then gradually rebounded to over 300.
“It was a good source of income,” even though she suspended the pay model during the coronavirus pandemic.
Codrea-Rado’s experience highlights a growing movement in news media, where traditional organizations face increasing economic hardship, with writers creating their own brands to connect with readers, bypassing traditional media .
Freelance writers can have their own online webpage, newsletter, podcast, or even connect via SMS through the Subtext platform.
Jeremy Caplan, director of teaching, learning and assessment at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, said reporters were taking advantage of consumers’ growing willingness to pay for subscriptions , ranging from services like Netflix to Spotify to meal kits.
“People just got used to the idea of micro-subscriptions on a small scale,” Caplan said.
“And they subscribe to several video services and maybe several audio services or whatever, from music to fitness.”
– Small costs add up –
Substack has some 500,000 subscribers who pay an average of $ 5-10 per month for popular newsletters.
The 10 most popular newsletters generated around $ 15 million in revenue last year, according to the platform.
A few well-known journalists have put their reputation to good use. For example, Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald, who resigned from The Intercept last year following an argument with management, reportedly received over $ 80,000 a month from his Substack newsletter.
Some say the trend is being driven by the worsening crisis in the media sector which has made life difficult for many salaried journalists.
“The lack of a living wage and the lack of perks that companies offer are driving more and more people to try to get out of these companies and make deals with Substack, or some other group,” said Jon Schleuss, president of NewsGuild. which represents journalists in dozens of news organizations.
The market is increasingly competitive with new entrants such as Ghost, which offers low-cost newsletters, TinyLetter, ButtonDown, and Patreon, a long-standing platform for creators and artists.
Social media is a key part of attracting readers, and the big platforms are part of the action as well.
In January, Twitter bought the writers platform Revue, and Facebook unveiled plans for its own platform in March.
David Sirota, founder of The Daily Poster, another platform for writers, said that the newsletter model “allows us to create a truly independent, non-corporate medium that can challenge the power and get feedback and feedback from our supporters. “
But there are challenges, Sirota said.
“The hardest part of this model is that it takes time to expand our work and our audience, and there is no shortcut to developing a meaningful relationship with a growing audience,” said he declared.
“Journalism takes a lot of time and work … I don’t particularly like asking people to participate, but it’s the only way to start a truly independent medium.”
Isaac Saul, creator of political newsletter Tangle, which has some 3,000 paid subscribers, said the model had advantages.
“For me, the best part is that I am not associated with any other brand or institution, so my readers can pass judgment on my work based solely on my writing,” Saul said.
“In the political arena this is a huge advantage and it helps me avoid readers who might otherwise prejudge my work.”
Tangle “is all about exposing people to a wide range of political views,” he said.
“The gist of what I do is summarize the positions of the right, left and center on a political story, and then share my own point of view. So I’m definitely trying to escape traditional perceptions of bias in the media. “