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Pivoting to Substack

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by JayFarrar, Dec 3, 2020.

  1. Carlkolchak

    Carlkolchak Member

    It's hard to believe the NY Post loses millions every year. Such a good quality read every day, when it's not brainwashing or fake newsing. The best paper in the world possibly. Is it a money loser because so many people distrust the fake news/media manipulation factor? Bad sign for the media when the best paper in America is losing millions. And reflective of how bad the media industry is now.

    Malcolm X said "The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent.” Media has the power to influence minds, ideas, behaviors, and attitudes of the masses."
  2. Twirling Time

    Twirling Time Well-Known Member

    I guess that makes Jay the pivot man in the circle jerk.
  3. 2muchcoffeeman

    2muchcoffeeman Well-Known Member

    Wait — how do you know so much about the protocols of circle jerks?
  4. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    And what does that pivot look like?
  5. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    Like a jailhouse spit roast, I’d imagine.

    Is the goal making enough money so some asshole executive veep can have a second vacation home or enough money to satisfy shareholders? Then the answer is no, it will not.

    If the goal is to make enough money that it could grow into a large enough income to support one full time person, plus pay freelancers? Then the answer is yes.

    My old place, the annual overhead just for rent, phone lines and internet was $100,000.

    I’d be over the moon with joy if I made 100k annually. I’d be over the moon if I made that combined over first two or three years. Those numbers are achievable in my area as that translates to roughly 2,000 paying subscribers and the now closed weeklies I edited were pushing half a million annually in circulation revenue. Or at least they were before the bottom fell out and circulation plunged.

    I looked at an ad model. It wasn’t worth it the way the money was divided up and you’d always be chasing clicks. Fuck that noise. Give people something to read. Tell them about their communities. Ask them to pay a fair price. Readers, paying readers, will come.

    I might be naive and it could fail miserably but I’m willing, and more importantly, my wife is willing for me, to take that shot.

    [/Hamilton.gif goes here]
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2020
    sgreenwell and wicked like this.
  6. gingerbread

    gingerbread Well-Known Member

    I followed Anne Helen Petersen, a really smart journalist, over to Substack when she pivoted, and this recent piece of hers introduced me to another brilliant writer named Patrick Wyman-- turns out he was a freelance sports journalist covering MMA while getting his PhD.
    He's now known for his "enormously popular podcasts Fall of Rome and Tides of History," along with having some interesting ideas about bro culture.
    I'm thrilled to see how they've both succeeded with Substack, and I hope it works for you, too, @JayFarrar

    Bro Culture and Empire in Decline

    Bro Culture, Fitness, Chivalry, and American Identity
  7. Severian

    Severian Well-Known Member

    The Post and The Times managed to focus less on revenues from ads and more on revenues from acquiring subscribers.

    Unfortunately, that's not the case for local newspapers, many of whom owned by hedge funds and conglomerates who's only concern is lining shareholder's pockets. The ad-only model is dead, thanks to Google and Facebook sucking all literally all the oxygen. If this Texas AG lawsuit has any legs, and the courts decide to eviscerate Facebook and Google's online ad monopoly, perhaps there is hope for this model to return to newspapers. That, of course, is unlikely in this age.
  8. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    As someone who's poked into the WordPress and online advertising thing, I think the allure of the Substack is that it simplifies even that. I have Google AdSense for my Blogger blog (I don't know how the fuck to write that), and because I wrote some (what I now consider) shitty and snarky posts "first!!!" on the Internet in 2000s about some stuff, I'll get a check every 6 to 18 months for $100. My all-time number of hits is about 800,000, and I've probably banked like $500 total, so it's not exactly an incredible conversion rate there, although admittedly, I haven't tried incredibly hard.

    In contrast, Substack seems like a neat way to generate consistent income, and also, it probably feels less like you're shouting into the wilderness. You have a much more identifiable niche and consumers that follow along, which probably spurs you along when it comes to writing. Along related lines - The thing that finally got me to subscribe to the Boston Globe, even though I moved to Texas, was The Rhode Map, which is a morning round-up of news about the state that I get emailed to me five days a week. I think there can be a lot of value in these smaller, targeted productions, but the economics are probably more on the scale of "modest living" vs. "breakout lifestyle potential."

    And by the way, if you're a HS writer busting your ass to cover the hell out of 6 to 10 schools in an affluent area, and getting paid in the $20k to $30k range to do it... Have to think that Substack is an incredibly alluring thing.
  9. wicked

    wicked Well-Known Member

    Using Mr. greenwell's example, say you make $30k/year now covering Podunk sports and you'd charge $5/month with your Substack.

    First, including benefits and everything, you're probably talking closer to $40k, and that's conservative.

    Then you figure you might get subscribers for nine months out of the year. Who's gonna subscribe when there are few local sports going on? Probably not the parents of star athlete from Sally Mae High.

    So that's $45 per subscriber/year.

    That means you're talking about getting 900 subscribers to make it work. (That doesn't account for equipment costs, depreciation on your car from covering all these games, etc.) Assume you'll have 25 percent churn (so, 225) year over year with parents having kids graduate and whatnot.

    Say you're dealing with six high schools. You have to get 150 subscriptions from each. And you have to find about 40 new subscribers a year at each school, which will take some hustling.

    It's not undoable, but it's not easy.
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2020
  10. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    True! But I think demographics play a huge role, too, and also because of the nature of the service - it's a newsletter where people form personal connections with the lead author - there are probably less cancellations. I think it would be tough to get to work in Rhode Island, where I'm originally from, because the total HS population of the state is about 100,000 and there are 30+ schools. In contrast, the Katy, TX ISD has 74,000 students by itself - so you figure about 25,000 HS students - in a much more concentrated area, with the seven or eight HS playing each other constantly. It's a crap ton of work, but if you're working for Gatehouse or Gannett or any of these chains nowadays, you're doing a crap ton more work anyway than you did X years ago.
    wicked likes this.
  11. JayFarrar

    JayFarrar Well-Known Member

    All these things are true, but if you get people to pay an annual subscription, you don't have as much churn. As of this moment, only about 5 percent of my paying customers are on the monthly plan. I also charge a $200 lifetime sub, which one has paid.
    At my poorly paying editor's job, I made about $40k pre-tax but working from home and work mileage also mean more tax write-offs.
    But to get to my previous income, I need 800 people paying $50 annually.
    My market area is roughly 150,000 people with four high schools and yes, you'll have churn, but getting decent numbers are doable.
    You just can't expect to get big money fast. A sugar rush at first as people start signing up, then slow, but sustained growth are, I think, they keys.
    wicked and sgreenwell like this.
  12. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    Tangentially related but interesting to hear if you like podcasts - The Press Box had the author of "The Desert Oracle" on recently. I think he's already pretty well setup, so I doubt he needs to do Substack, but to me, the platform offers potential for stuff like what he's doing. (And, after his appearance, I put a sub on my Christmas and birthday gift list, ha.)
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