Moving the Goalposts
Or, How Things Change When Smart People Give You Advice
When I first started this newsletter, all of a week and a half ago, I had a very simple but unusual plan for how I was going to fund it and build it up. This is what it was:
So, here’s the deal. This newsletter—which I’m calling The Amazon Chronicles—will sell paid memberships. These will be $5/month, or $50/year. It will also offer free subscriptions. These will cost nothing.
As long as I get at least 200 paid subscribers (let’s call them “members”), free subscribers will get all the same newsletters members get.
Essentially, the whole site will be free to anyone who signs up. That will be a newsletter a week, rounding up the biggest and best Amazon coverage, plus original reporting and analysis. The same newsletter, for everybody.
If I can get 400 members, I’ll move the newsletter publication rate up to twice a week. And again, free subscribers will get virtually all the same newsletters that paid ones get. (Paid members get some other benefits, like the ability to comment on stories, but nothing will be behind a paywall.)
If I can get 1000 members, I’ll write the newsletter every weekday, Monday through Thursday. (I still have to do Noticing on Fridays.) That’s close to a full-time job. And the $5/month members are paying, which was costing you about $1 a newsletter, turns into something closer to 25 cents a newsletter. The more friends you can convince to sign on, the better your rate gets. What a deal!
Each day that’s gone by, and each newsletter I’ve written, I’ve understood the site and its mission better and better. I’ve also gotten smart feedback from smart friends, who in addition to supporting the newsletter with their dollars and their praise and by telling friends to subscribe, convinced me of two things:
I was way underpricing my labor in putting the newsletter together, and in estimating the value it would have for other people.
Nobody, or virtually nobody, actually wants to read a newsletter about Amazon four times a week. And if I tried to write one, it wouldn’t be very good.
I also noticed that while I was really happy to hit 200 paid subscribers so quickly, to make the site free for everyone, I actually started to have a lot of anxiety about hitting 400. I really didn’t think it would happen so quickly! I still have freelance assignments that I’ve promised to people! I still have a broken shoulder that requires treatment and slows down my ability to work!
The more I thought about it, the more committing to take the newsletter to twice a week so quickly seemed like a bad idea.
I also had different ideas for what I wanted to do with a twice a week newsletter. Initially, I thought the second newsletter would be a roundup with analysis like the first. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it made sense to do a weekly news roundup still, and use the second newsletter to do something different: interviews, original reporting, deep-dive analysis, single-topic stories, things that didn’t make it into the roundup but were still interesting.
Essentially, I want to have a weekly roundup, and a weekly feature piece. I’m convinced that will add more value for all of my readers.
But I can’t do it at 400 members. It’ll happen too soon. And I won’t make enough money to justify the extra work, time, and expense of doing an all-original piece every week.
So, this is what I’m proposing:
When the Amazon Chronicles reaches 500 paid members, it will move to a twice a week schedule. One of the newsletters will be a weekly news roundup with analysis and commentary, and the other will be an original feature piece. Both newsletters will remain free and available to everyone who signs up for the free newsletter plan.
And when, if I’m ever so fortunate, the Amazon Chronicles reaches 1000 paid members, that will unlock another benefit to be determined for members only. I’m actually really interested to know what members, specifically, would want. An e-book collecting all the columns? A button? A live event? (Too expensive, probably, unless we charged on the side.) A Skype party? A postcard?
In today’s newsletter, I said that if I got 1000 paid subscribers, I would take the newsletter “full Marxist.” (Technically, I guess it would be post-Marxist, kinda.) I would also be willing to do this if that sounds better than a free e-book.
I am genuinely interested in your suggestions. I’ve never done this before.
I am sorry if any of you had your heart set on a Monday through Thursday newsletter, or were peeking at my subscriber numbers thinking that 400 was right around the corner. These are the numbers that make the most sense to me. It makes me especially happy to be able to keep memberships affordable at $5/month, and to keep the newsletter free for regular subscribers; both of those things are very important to me.
I hope for all my paid members that so far, you’ve found your money well-spent. And for all my free subscribers, I hope you’ve found the newsletter’s merited your attention and maybe, even, a chance to pledge some money to get us closer to the day when I can do even more with it.