How To Start a Premium Newsletter Subscription Service

Illustration of a woman holding a giant envelope

Emails are the internet's oldest blessing. The internet has seen many trends come and go, but the resilient email has stood the test of time. Over the years, marketers have flocked to this humble mode of communication to offer their services directly to customers and readers. Lately, with the rise of independent publishing as well as platforms that support them like Revue and Substack, a whole new business model has emerged in the form of premium newsletters.

A premium newsletter is a content subscription service that people are willing to pay for. What's unique and great about this business model is that it is a great way to generate recurring revenue without having to continuously find ways to drive new traffic or users to your product or service. While this may seem like a good way to make an extra $1000 per month, people have made million-dollar businesses out of creating high-value newsletters.

Who's Doing It?

There are premium newsletters in all kinds of niches that are providing valuable information to their readers - enough to make a killing as a full-time business.

Leading the way is Stratechery. Stratechery was started by Ben Thompson in 2013, a former employee of both Apple and Microsoft. The newsletter operates on a "freemium" model. While some posts are free for all users to read, the daily update is behind a paywall. Ben writes about the strategy and business side of technology and media as well as the impact of technology on technology. As of writing, the newsletter has subscribers from 85 countries.

Jack's Flight Club is a travel deals newsletter based in Spain. The founder, Jack is a regular guy from the United Kingdom and started the newsletter when he realised that he spent way too much time looking for cheap flights to faraway destinations. The newsletter sends readers the best airfare deals from the U.K. and Ireland to incredible destinations across the world. At the time of writing, the newsletter has over a million subscribers and offers a paid subscription plan that offers even more deals, early notification as well as a premium mobile app!

Another premium newsletter with over 10,000 paying subscribers is The Browser. The Browser is amazingly unique in its offering because essentially it is an aggregator of the best articles on the internet. Every day, they scan through thousands of articles to find five of the best stories and send them straight to your inbox. Much like the other newsletters we have talked about, they also operate on a freemium model - with some information being given away for free, but most being behind a paywall.

There's also something for the sports fans out there. Ben Falk started Cleaning The Glass, a newsletter built for basketball junkies. Ben worked as the VP of Basketball Strategy with the Sixers, and decided to use the valuable knowledge he had gained about basketball stats and strategy to create a paid service that helps readers see the game the way pros do!

One thing to remember is that these newsletter businesses operate in all kinds of niches. Their main aim is to provide quality information to their users. There's no specific niche that readers are attracted to.

How You Can Create Your Own Premium Newsletter

Having a paid newsletter service is very different from the aggressive marketing strategy adopted by tons of digital marketers that can flood your inbox and come off as unnecessarily spammy. With newsletter service, your audience is made up entirely of people who make the conscious decision to sign up for your thoughts and ideas.

Step 1: Figure Out Your Niche

We've looked at some examples of what makes a good newsletter, and every single one of our examples offered a unique perspective on an everyday topic. While sticking to something you are an expert in will help you create a confident voice that can provide value to your readers, you will need to think of a niche idea that people are willing to pay for. This needs to be the kind of information that people will not find anywhere else, and if they do, it certainly won't be free. This is why adding your own personality, experiences and unique perspective to your writing can really help you stand out in front of a potential audience.

There are plenty of niches to choose from like travel, basketball and tech. However, the most unique ideas usually come from an interdisciplinary approach to topics. A lot of people can write about Basketball, but not many can break down the data that goes behind making winning decisions on the court. Your unique niche could be in the conjunction of two completely different domains, but if you have enough knowledge and experience, you can bring them together to form a high-value newsletter.

Step 2: Pick a Platform To Write On

The advent of technology has made our lives so much easier, and this is especially true for business owners. There are so many great platforms to choose from that can help you with writing, logistics of distribution as well as payment processing. Let's have a look at some new and popular ones.

Substack

Arguably the most popular platform for independent publication, Substack is great for those just starting. It has a really straightforward and minimalistic user interface that makes it quite easy to get started. Substack covers all the basics you would need to get started with a premium newsletter. You can segregate your member list based on free and paying readers and process payments within the platform itself. It's free to get started, but they do charge 10% per paying subscriber.

Revue

Revue was recently bought out by Twitter, which means that it is now backed by a media giant. In terms of interface and usability, Revue offers all the basic features as Substack with one added benefit - for paying subscribers, you are only charged 5% of the subscription fee, which effectively reduces your platform cost by half!

Ghost

Ghost is not solely a newsletter publication system. It can be used for a wide variety of different needs and purposes. However, it does come with everything you would need to run a newsletter service. Initially launched with the idea of creating premium membership communities in mind, Ghost can be used just as well for running a premium newsletter publication.

Ghost is open source, which means that if you have the right technical skills, you can host the code on your own platform for free and without any limitations. However, they also have some managed plans which take care of things like updates and customer support. Their pricing model is quite competitive, starting at$9/month for the cheapest plan.

Step 3: Create a Schedule

Erratic schedules will be the death of your premium newsletter. If I am paying for something, I need to know beforehand exactly what it is that I am signing up for. Find a schedule that works for you, even if it as little as once a month. You can gradually and over time increase the frequency as you start seeing traction. Committing to a schedule is extremely important and it is even more important to clearly let your audience know when they should expect to receive their emails.

With most newsletter subscription platforms, you can schedule your emails way in advance. If you're not dealing with current affairs, this would mean that you can write your letters months before they are scheduled to be sent out. This will help you be accountable, stick to a schedule as well as avoid any last-minute rush to get something out the door.

Step 4: Figure Our Your Pricing Model

There are so many different pricing models to choose from, and they're definitely isn't a one size fits all approach to this. Some people choose to go the freemium route, some choose to put their entire content behind a paywall (which can be a bit hard to market), while others build their audience by keeping their newsletter free, but generate revenue by selling additional products and services.

Since this guide focuses on premium newsletters, the next thing you will need to do is figure out your pricing model. Depending on the uniqueness of your content as well as some competitor analysis, you should get some idea of where you want to price your newsletter. I've seen newsletters start as little as $2 per month and go up to over $50 per month. Generally, people pay more for things when they think they have a high return on investment.

Generally, writers will offer a discount for a yearly subscription. This can be good marketing practice because you have a committed reader for at least a year, and you reduce the month-to-month unsubscribe rate.

Step 5: Craft Your First Couple of Newsletters & Design Your Templates

Now that you have all the logistics of your newsletter up and ready to go, it's time to start planning your content. I like to create an index of all the topics I want to write about and also to plan and write my emails at least a month in advance. This makes sure that I am not mad scrabbling trying to finish writing my content with a deadline looming and gives me time to write good, high-quality content.

Based on the content you have gathered for your first couple of emails, you should have some sort of idea about the structure that your email will take. It is important to know what your structure is going to look like before you start designing your email because your design will work around your content, and not the other way round!

Step 6: Sending Out Your First Newsletter And Growing Your Audience

Initially, your readers are probably going to be friends and family. While the support of your network is essential, people close to you will have an inherent bias and might not be interested in the subject you are writing about. This is why it is important to get early feedback from strangers who are interested in your niche. You can start a beta list of people from whom you can gather active feedback. A couple of places to find your first readers can be:

  • Twitter: Tweet about your newsletter and tell your followers that you are looking for people interested in your niche who might be able to provide feedback. Twitter retweets go a long way in finding an audience!
  • Reddit: There is a Reddit forum for literally everything, which makes it the perfect place to find a targeted audience in your niche. Try to come across as genuinely looking for feedback instead of spamming forums with links to your sign up. A good strategy to go by is to post your first newsletter as a new thread with some background about your offering. If you offer valuable information, the readers will come!
  • Referrals: Referrals are a great way to get new newsletter subscribers. Running a referral program means offering some incentive (for example, a free month of your paid offering) to people who refer others to your newsletter. A number of the tools we have mentioned in this guide have in build referral programs which mean that you don't have to do any additional legwork to get your own referral mechanism going.

Final Thoughts

As you convert your valuable knowledge to a viable business, it is important to remember to always keep your readers in mind. What might seem interesting to you, might not resonate with your readers which is why it is important to gather and analyse feedback regularly. You will have access to a lot of data, like the rate of opening newsletters and engagement time. You can use these metrics to find the topics that your readers find most valuable.

With the multitude of newsletters flooding people's inboxes these days, non-essential emails can flood and clutter the inbox. Make sure that you're not spamming your readers and providing them with valuable knowledge in your own unique voice.