From the Editor
What I’ve learned in the first year of running a subscription newsletter business
This is working! And I’m excited about the future.
Hey everyone! It’s been almost nine months since I started publishing The New Consumer.
Wrapping up my first calendar year, I wanted to share my experience so far of running a one-person, membership-funded publishing startup, and some thoughts about how this sort of thing fits into where the media business is going.
In short: This is working! And I’m excited about the future.
Thank you for your early support and interest. This is the best job I’ve ever had, and I’m completely focused on improving the quality of the product and the value of the membership next year and beyond.
With that in mind, a few announcements / notes on membership.
- Today I’m introducing team memberships, which offer consolidated billing and a special rate for teams of six or more.
- I’m also launching a new lifetime membership, if you’d like to accelerate your support of an ambitious, one-person, independent media business.
- One-off gift memberships — for friends, colleagues, family members, protégés, students, portfolio founders, your CMO, etc. — are available by clicking here.
- And you can now sign up for free articles and updates only by clicking here, if you can’t or don’t yet want to join as a member.
Details and signup links for these plans are on the membership page. If you’d like to convert your existing individual membership into a team plan or lifetime membership, or have any other questions, please write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m happy to report that at the end of the first year, The New Consumer is a successful small media business.
How successful? I’ve never been one to talk openly about money, so I’ll put it this way: Enough to commit my career to this model indefinitely, but not yet enough to brag about.
My income will be lower this year than last year, when I had a fancy title at a big company. And, by design, a good portion has come from consulting projects, which I’ll continue to do — they’re interesting and fun.
But barring an unexpected collapse — the first batch of renewals won’t be until next May — the subscription math works. Business is growing, and it feels like I’ve just scratched the surface on the potential here. This feels precisely like what I should be doing right now and for years to come.
By far the best part is that you’re a very special group, including many of the most successful, influential, and interesting executives, entrepreneurs, and investors in the consumer, tech, commerce, and media industries. I’m flattered, and feel great responsibility, opportunity, and just enough pressure.
My publishing goals for 2020 are: Writing more frequently, including more free articles; publishing on a more standardized, predictable schedule; more analysis of private and public companies in the consumer field; more big-picture pieces; more visuals; and more content formats.
All of this is only possible because of your support as members, so, again, thank you. I really want this to be the favorite, most valuable thing you read in the genre.
I also plan to launch The New Consumer events in 2020. As I said, you’re a really great group, and I’m excited to start getting together for networking, discussion, and collaboration.
These will start small, but one of my long-term goals is to build an eclectic professional community through unique events and experiences, not just a newsletter readership. If you’re interested in collaborating, let’s talk.
Thousands of journalists lost their jobs this year as both legacy and digital companies struggled or retrenched. Meanwhile, inexpensive publishing and business tools, such as Memberful and Substack, continued to make it easier than ever to find a niche, start a digital publication, generate subscription revenue, and own your work.
So was 2019 a massive inflection point in talented journalists rushing to launch their own things? Not really — at least not in my circles. While many Substacks were created, including some excellent and popular ones, most “some personal news” tweets still seem to reflect hopping from one established media company to the next.
If anything, it feels like The New York Times and Bloomberg further consolidated talent this year. Ambitious, in-demand writers and editors still mostly seem to want to play it safe, with lucrative opportunities and ample prestige available at big, legacy publications and comfortably LaCroixed digital shops like Medium.
Personally, I massively value the freedom, agency, control, and upside this model presents. But I recognize that I’m a bit of an anomaly. Beyond the research and writing, I also love that I’m the person who got to pick the typefaces you’re reading on my site — Untitled Sans and Untitled Serif from Klim Type Foundry in New Zealand. And that I can make this for you, from anywhere in the world, without costly overhead or compromises.
The truth is: I’ve gotten to do just about everything I’d have wanted to do if I still worked for an established publication, in terms of access and infrastructure. But I’m in complete control of my time, can focus on whatever I want, have no one to answer to but my readers, and own my work. It’s pretty great.
I wouldn’t say we’re nearing a place where most of the top journalists and analysts go this solo, subscription newsletter route. Things like employer-subsidized health insurance, the promise of mentorship, infrastructure, legacy-brand cachet, and working alongside elite colleagues are still very appealing to many, especially in expensive US media cities.
But I believe in this model, and think it will be an important part of the future of publishing — and how many of the next generation of influential media brands will get their start.
Social media continues to strengthen direct relationships between readers and writers. The internet has made discovery easier for quality, niche publications. (Though that is probably the biggest hurdle.) Email remains an amazing delivery and distribution method for timely written content. And for the entrepreneurial ones who can take some risks — or the creative ones who just figure it out — membership and ownership can deliver superior economics over the long run.
I’m excited for year two.
Thanks again for your support! Happy holidays, and here’s to a productive 2020.
Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.
I’m a longtime tech and business journalist, and I’m excited to focus my attention on how technology continues to profoundly change how things are created, experienced, bought, and sold. The New Consumer is supported entirely by your membership — join now to receive my reporting, analysis, and commentary directly in your inbox, via my twice-weekly, member-exclusive Executive Briefing. Thanks in advance.