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Ask HN: Who's running a profitable newsletter?
187 points by cronjobma on June 23, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 99 comments
How do you do it and how much are you making?

Hacker Newsletter (http://hackernewsletter.com) makes a few thousand a month from sponsors. It could easily make more if I were more of a salesperson, but I'm happy with it as is. Just to be clear though, it took some time to get to that. I'm actually about to hit the seven year mark and issue #357. Speaking of... I'm working on tomorrow's issue as I type this!

I'd really like something like this in podcast form. Summarize the best links and maybe invite some highly rated commenters on for discussion.

We do that for tech on Charged podcast, and phone people in the industry for comment (recent guests include Keen.io, CEO of DigitalOcean etc). Try it out? https://char.gd/podcast

The podcast appears to be hosts discussing their life in tech along with some current tech topics instead of focusing on summaries of specific content -- very reminiscent of TechZingLive. John definitely has a lot of connections in the valley!

Me too. Weekly. Preferably, by someone with British accent. I noticed that British in the US talk slower and their vocabulary tends to be more succinct, while using less slang and less "mmm, eee, oooh, etc."

There is a cultural difference that makes British speakers way more appealing to me I guess.

I tried "this week in tech" but it was too much "headlines" talk. Also I totally dislike the style compared BBC podcasts for example. I can listen to BBC podcasts while I work without getting tired or distracted.

You should submit your newsletter to http://upstart.me (which was recently posted here on HN)

I got my first sponsor for https://www.findlectures.com from this!

Yeah, Upstart.me looks like a great resource. These days I don't have a problem finding sponsors (they'll reach out to you at a certain point), but by sales I meant maximizing everything and doing more with it.

Your newsletter is great! Thanks for compiling. Just curious, how much time you spend daily on HN for this?

I'm a regular reader and Really like your newsletter. Thank you for this !!! Can you talk about your way of picking what gets included ?

How does it provide any more value than https://news.ycombinator.com/best

I guess it just depends on the person, but I don't equate "votes" to always mean the best. For HNL I look for for a mix of these along along with the ones that don't make the front-page for long. The biggest value is that I send all of those to people's inbox -- they seem to like that part the most.

Love the newsletter. Saves me from midweek FOMO and helps me be more productive.

I know that all the best stuff is waiting for chill time on Sunday...

I'd probably have subscribed earlier if I'd read this. Thanks.

Awesome, glad to hear!

As a subscriber on the list, "more value" (to me) is provided in a couple of ways:

- I seem to like the weekly selection; the editorial choices on which articles are likely to be of interest of the group.

- Kale includes older posts, sometimes from months back, sometimes more obscure or funny, that are still interesting to read now.

- I get the top stories in a weekly email that I can process weekly. If I feel I've kept myself reasonably up to date with current news, that means a quick scan. But after a couple of weeks of vacation, processing just three issues of Hacker Newsletter is sufficient to catch up.

By the way, http://www.daemonology.net/hn-daily/ is also convenient to catch up after a long time.

That's super interesting! What do you charge?

Depends on quantity, but $850 to $1000 an issue. I use to do CPM pricing, but now at almost 50k subscribers I just stick with a flat rate.

I was horrified at first reading your comment because I thought it was the price to subscribe. :)

That's amazing. Just curious - what made you want to start a newsletter? Were you always interested in writing?

Thanks! It wasn't my first idea, but after another side-project failed due to not having enough time to work on it between a full-time job and kiddos, I wanted to start something smaller. I basically came up with the idea one weekend as I thought it would be a great way to keep up with the great reads on HN and more importantly, something that I could "finish" in the same weekend. Emailed some friends and went from there.

I am, at http://nowiknow.com

It's a general trivia email. Every day I send a fun fact of the true story behind it.

Been writing for seven years. Not going to disclose how much I make a month, but I describe it as not quite full time job money but a lot more than beer money.

Hey Dan, don't think I've ever introduced myself, but obviously your work with Now I Know is pretty rad. I do slightly similar stuff with my newsletter Tedium (though I aim for the deep dives, admittedly), and I just wanted to say that I respect the work you've done over the years to build out an audience as well as broader interest in the newsletter medium as a whole.

We wouldn't be talking about newsletters right now were it not for efforts like yours.

Wow, thanks a ton!

Hi Dan, Happy Anniversary!

Love your emails, always look forward to reading them in the morning.

How do you monetize?

* Patreon

* Sponsors

* Amazon affiliate ads

* Network ads

* Two books/audiobooks out

* Working on content syndication

Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/NowIKnow), and I'm guessing some other sources like syndication to other sites

I actually very rarely get paid to syndicate my content out.

I run The Sizzle (https://thesizzle.com.au), which is a daily roundup of tech news with an Aussie slant. Any Australians who enjoy HN should check it out!

I've got 445 subscribers that pay $5/m or $50/yr for it. No ads, no tracking, but I do insert affiliate links - primarily eBay.

Costs me about ~$1000/yr to run (Mailchimp, web hosting for a Wordpress blog & Discourse forum and Zapier costs mainly).

This financial year (July 1st 2016 to June 30th 2017), revenue sits at about AUD$18,000. I expect around ~$30,000 next year if there's 0% paid subscriber growth and affiliate link revenue stays the same.

I'll checkout your news letter mate, cheers.

Those running costs, the $1,000/year, seems a bit high. Should be able to get that down I reckon? I'm willing to help out on this front for a free sub' :)

Let me know.

Thanks for subscribing! I reckon you'll like The Sizzle.

I'm working on getting costs down, but prefer to put my energy into content and marketing at this stage.

I'd love to get your insights on marketing, actually. A friend and I have started a YouTube channel which we're getting back to this next few weeks.

Any reading tips and ideas on marketing?

I don't really have any insights into marketing. I'd say that's what I struggle with the most. I was able to cheat a bit by having a bit of a following already via other projects I've been part of. Expanding out of that circle has been pretty hard.

Thanks for the heads up. I have a better idea of what to expect, then :)

Awesome work! Great to see a fellow Aussie newsletter making $ :)

Cheers - I subscribe to growth.email as well. Been handy to use some of the tips to get subscribers to The Sizzle.

What's your primary user acquisition strategy?

I give away a 2 week free trial with no strings attached. No credit card info necessary - just give me your email address. Half way through the free trial, subscribers are asked if they'd like to become a paid subscriber. Once the free trial is over, I then send a bunch of automated "hey please subscribe, pleaseeeee" emails at 14, 15, 17, 20, 23, 28, 31, 35 and 40 days after the subscriber's trial ends.

Currently there's a ~20% conversion rate from trial to paid. Used to be around 30% for a while, but as more strangers - i.e: people that don't follow me on Twitter, don't know me from other sources such as my freelance tech writing or podcasting - sign up that's dropping slowly.

Getting people to sign up for a free trial is my main focus and success there comes in ups and downs. So many hours wasted on things that don't work, but every now and then something unexpected goes well and I get a spike in people signing up for the trial (and hence, become paid subscribers in 2-3-4 weeks after their trial ends).

Do you get feedback about the follow-up ”Subscribe please“ mails? I’d be thoroughly annoyed to get 9 reminder mails.

The only feedback I get is one of three things: 1. they end up becoming paid subscribers 2. they unsubscribe from the list and never hear from me again 3. don't bother to do either and just languish on my list and I email them manually whenever I feel like it

I haven't done a lot of tweaking to determine if I'd get more conversions if I slowed down the pace of the up-sell emails though.

I run Tedium (http://tedium.co), a twice-weekly newsletter that covers obscure topics—half the time tech, half the time not. I've been doing it two and a half years.

I make money from a variety of sources on it, including affiliate links, sponsorships (I recently had some success with http://upstart.me on this front), donations from readers (both Patreon and PayPal, because folks want options), banner ads, and fees for syndicating the content to outlets like Vice's Motherboard.

The pieces are written more like stories than link roundups, giving them an evergreen appeal. This week I wrote about the history of the 911 system; last week I wrote about CGA graphics and Windex. It actually has a smaller profile than my last project, ShortFormBlog, but it's more sustainable from a financial and work-life balance perspective.

Last month, I did a T-shirt sale with the help of a vendor (Vacord Screen Printing, http://vacord.com) and made a few hundred dollars through that.

All of this together is not enough to stop me from working a day job, but the mixture of sources and the fact that I syndicate content helps build exposure and ensures that if one source is weaker than another on a different month, the whole machine doesn't fall apart.

If you want to run a profitable newsletter, be willing to rely on more than one revenue stream.

I love Tedium - always look forward to it! Keep it up mate :)

I signed up. Well, I clicked the button and it turned blue. No idea if it went through. Perhaps a success message would be more clear?

It has a success message—a script runs that forwards you to a different page in case of a successful signup.

I don't run these but here's a couple that I know of:

- Stratechery (Ben Thompson) - $100k/month (conservative estimate) via subscriptions (https://www.stratechery.com)

- WTF Just Happened Today (Matt Kiser) - $8k/month via Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/wtfjht)

The monthly subscription price for Stratechery is $10/month. Are you saying 10K people are paying for it?

I was shocked too (I would have guessed closer to 1-2k), so I searched around.

In early 2015 he said he just passed 2,000 paying subscribers. [1]

In an interview from February this year he didn't say anything specific about customer numbers but he did say, "Certainly I work hard, but the amount of work I’m doing today is the exact same amount of work I was doing three years ago. The only difference is my income is 100 times higher. And it’s because that $10 scales, and it scales very, very well." [2]

Of course, who knows what he was making three years ago (he was a "Growth Engineer" at Automattic then according to his LinkedIn profile, fwiw), or whether he meant "100 times" literally or just figuratively for "a lot".

But it doesn't seem unreasonable that he might have well over 10k paying subscribers.

For what it's worth, I'm a paying subscriber. I always enjoy reading his daily updates on my commute in the morning.

[1] - https://stratechery.com/2015/bloggings-bright-future [2] - https://pakwired.com/story-of-ben-thompsons-publishing-empir...

Yeah, at the very least - there were 1K people paying back in November 2014 (https://stratechery.com/2014/update-stratechery-membership-p...) and it's almost surely grown exponentially since.

I've been a happy paying sub of Stratechery since October 2015, and would be glad to discover that subs have 'almost surely grown exponentially since [November 2014].' Just wondering what your basis for that assertion is? Looking at (admittedly poor) proxies like Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and estimate domain visits from various sources I don't see any sort of exponential growth...though to be fair the sources I am looking at go back to mid-2015. Again, poor proxies and would be happy to know Ben is doing this well.

What do you get out of your subscription? I love Ben's podcast (exponent.fm) but cannot bring myself to pay the monthly subscription.


(though the landing page is SFW, the newsletter is not)

I use the newsletter to market tshirts. I sell through about 100 of each design over the course of 2 months. It pays for hosting and funds the next shirt.

List growth has been slow and steady and im looking to increase my shirt order on the next design.

Haha what a great domain name! I'll have to check it out when I'm not at work.

I'm running and moderating all the newsletters of the LibHunt Network - https://www.libhunt.com . There are 18 "Awesome" Newsletters with around 5,000 subscribers altogether. The newsletters are making some money and there is interest in them definitely. The sales part is the most difficult one though.

My most popular newsletters are about Python (https://python.libhunt.com/newsletter/58), Go (https://go.libhunt.com/newsletter/58) & Ruby (https://ruby.libhunt.com/newsletter/58)

P.S. it took me around 13 months to reach the 5k subs...

CB Insights (www.cbinsights.com/newsletter)

We have 289,000 on the newsletter which represents a large group of VC, tech M&A, corporate strategy and startup folks interested in data-driven discussion of technology trends. It's the primary way we sell subscriptions to our SaaS platform.

We messed around with ads in the newsletter but they don't monetize nearly as well as the "house ads" to our data/product or to our events.

It's our company's golden goose.

Dude, I love your newsletter. It is literally an immediate open, every time. It is my goal to get my sporadic thoughts on tech published at the bottom.

That and the Quora digest are the only non-work emails I read.

Awesome to hear. Love you :)

Seriously obsessed with CB Insights. Thank you for doing what you do!

Thank you! Appreciate the love.

I don't know if they are profitable, but Peter Cooper has a whole bunch of good ones at https://cooperpress.com/

They'd have to be, he has staff and everything!

I've been subscribed to many of his newsletters for years. They are very valuable and well curated, and going through the previous editions is a good way to catch up on a few months of trends and things.

Thank you for your support! :)

No, thank you! (:

Thanks! And yes, no exact figures to give here but our profit margin is around 20-30%. It used to be somewhat higher when we were smaller but we are now investing in yet to be launched "things" ;-)

Their newsletters are great, and they have a marketing sheet you can read through, which I found very helpful!


According to Indie Hackers, Scotts Cheap Flights (discount airfare newsletter) does $320k/mo

Interview here: https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/scotts-cheap-flights

I believe it. I happily pay the $5/month for tips on upcoming flights. I love solo travel but I haven't been to a lot of places (just getting out of college) so I don't have too many specific preferences about where I want to go. Saving ~$400 per each of the 2 trips I've booked because of Scott's Cheap Flights actually makes my trips affordable.

Holy shit! I thought this guy was making 50k, maybe 100k at most. But 4 million - wow.

And that was an interesting interview, thanks for the link.

HNDigest (https://hndigest.com) is profitable some months, others not so much. Turns out it's quite expensive to send a ton of emails if you don't have sponsors.

I should probably spend more time finding sponsorship.

I read hndigest every day! Thanks for making it :)

Question: Is there any way you could make the newsletter so that long titles don't text wrap on wide screens? Example: http://imgur.com/a/vlCE8

Hey raybb, thanks for being a subscriber :-)

I see what you mean. I'll investigate it, however designing html emails is kinda like black magic (although less nowadays since Gmail supports responsive design from October 2016) so no promises!

My site https://officesnapshots.com has a weekly newsletter which is basically an email update of the previous week's new content. It is profitable, though just an extension of the advertising options on the rest of the site.

I have a sign up form at the bottom of my site and use double opt-in to make sure people really want to subscribe. I also periodically trim the list down by removing people who don't open or click anything. I figure 1000 subscribers and a 50% open rate is better than 5000 and a 10% open rate as the list is more highly engaged. Plus on MailChimp you're wasting $$ sending to people who don't engage.

I've looked at doing this a couple of times by segmenting subscribers that never open or click a campaign. Instead of silently unsubscribing them I send them an email with a GIANT UNSUBSCRIBE BUTTON and explain why they fell into that segment.

The two times I've tried this I've had a number of responses asking why they made their way onto the list as they enjoy the email but block any tracking. Just a word of warning.

Removing "inactive" subs has proven to be a dud for me in many ways as well.

The first time I tried it silently and got a lot of people very annoyed they were removed. The second time I actively emailed people and they were similarly offended. I now don't bother (though if open rates were low, I'd probably just do it again).

> I figure 1000 subscribers and a 50% open rate is better than 5000 and a 10% open rate as the list is more highly engaged

Totally makes sense. Do you "silently remove" the people who don't open or click anything, or do you send them a notification that they were removed before removing them?

Hi there!

I write cron.weekly [1], a weekly newsletter on Linux & open source. When I started around 2y ago there wasn't much competition.

I'm at 6k subscribers now and making roughly 1k (eur) a month via sponsorships. Members don't pay, it's entirely sponsor driven.

It took a little over a year of hard work for free before the first sponsor landed, right now it's pretty good value for the time I put in. As the subscribers grow, that ratio should only get better.

[1] https://www.cronweekly.com

Learned a lot of new tools from your newsletter. Thank you!

Cool, thank you!

Off topic, but I'd pay (a small amount) for something like Need to Know.


NtK pioneered some things that got taken up elsewhere: dohgifs highlighted terrible algorithmic placement of online ads next to news stories. Private Eye now does this as Malgorithms.

A newsletter like this would fare better now we have things like Patreon.

The listings project is not mine, but I've always admired Stefanie and her list:


It lists artist studios, coworking and apartment sublets, mostly in NYC and probably does about $500k in revenue year.

Weekly newsletters have been averaging about 300-325 listings @ $30 per week. There are also sponsored emails that I'm sure are in the thousands of dollars per email.

Timmerman Report (biotech) is doing well, judging by some comments I've seen posted by its founder, a former Xconomy journalist who started the newsletter full time about two years ago. Not sure if it's profitable, though.

In the indie book publishing world, I subscribe to a paid newsletter called The Hot Sheet (http://hotsheetpub.com/). I pay $60/year or thereabouts, which I think is reasonable considering the insights, analysis, and tips I get every 2 weeks. I doubt it's a full-time income for the two writers, but on the other hand I don't think it's a full-time writing gig, either.

It's worth noting that in many of these niches there is very little in the way of established trade pubs as print magazines covering the industry have folded or become shadows of their former selves when they moved online. It doesn't surprise me that some of the more talented or insightful writers have decided to launch their own brands and build their own audiences.

Presumably not profitable at this stage, but inside.com founded by (I believe...) Jason Calacanis to try out lots of different e-mail newsletters currently he's funding it, they have some advertisers and I think they are experimenting with user pays?

Another one I know of that is successfully getting a good following is www.thesizzle.com.au

RWD Weekly (http://responsivedesignweekly.com) has two advertising spots in each newsletter. The primary spot runs for $450-500 and promoted link runs at $130 a week.

The newsletter fills probably 3/4 of the placements and then I use the other placements to promote conferences that I love. This is usually in exchange for a ticket (which I give away if I can't attend) and media sponsorship which gives the newsletter some extra exposure.

I only introduced advertising after the subscribers reached over 5000 and the Mailchimp costs became a little too much, now it's sitting just over 29k subscribers. It's a great side project that I'd love to invest more time towards but at the moment it makes enough to cover mailchimp, servers, cloudflare, speedcurve and allows me to patron a couple of other newsletters that I love.

http://uxcurator.com (UX newsletter) Posted my site on Hacker News and Reddit for the first launch, and it got a few hundred subscribers, and it has been gradually growing since last 2 years. And it roughly makes ($AUD)1k a month via sponsorships.

Run a small weekly newsletter that covers the Indian startup ecosystem. Will be putting out Issue. 34 tomorrow. Gets me 10-12 beers a month. No initial cost to it. Archived via github pages and send via the free mailchimp tier. (https://www.tinyletter.com/harshalbot) Archives: (http://www.harshalgupta.me/categories/#newsletter)

I run growth.email (http://growth.email) which is a weekly growth marketing email, listing 10 articles in each issue. I started it at the beginning of this year, have around 1,700 subscribers and make $40 a week from one single ad in each issue.

At this stage, my pitiful MRR covers costs, etc but not all the time I put in. Soon as I get to 10k+, at $25/cpm it starts adding up to $1k a month, which is a little less painful to look at. :)

We're running http://androidweekly.net and http://swiftweekly.com?

It was roundabout 5 years just editing and making no money. Now it's making money - but just a side income.

1. Content is king! 2. Start to build a community (if you link someone in your newsletter just ping him on twitter). 3. Go to community events.

Doing ads on Facebook and Twitter actually didn't work that well.

Newsletter ads are very effective (and therefore can be extremely profitable) if you have an audience that people who control marketing budgets want to reach.

That said, email is just another medium. There's no one way to make money just like there's no one way to make money with an app.

I'm guessing it's not the kind of newsletter you meant, but we make millions selling ads in B2B email newsletters.

I'm intrigued... What kind of newsletter it is then? Print? And what B2B sector, if you don't mind telling. Thanks.

Email newsletters, though that's just one way people get our content. You can see essentially the same thing on our websites, or following us on twitter, etc. Email is big, though. We have publications in over a dozen sectors see e.g. retaildive.com, utilitydive.com, healthcaredive.com

(p.s. I'm hiring developers and data engineers)

Stratechery? Ben's monetisation is the newsletter

Hacker News Books http://hackernewsbooks.com is profitable from Amazon referrals, $200-300/month. I am planning to look for some sponsorship but have not had the time. ~1500 tech-savvy readers in the newsletter + several thousand on the web.

Somehow I missed this interesting thread till now, but I run about 11 of them with a total of around 370K subscribers in the developer space. I'm coy with money but let's just say we're 'approaching' $1M revenue and we are 8 full-timers plus several external curators.

How do you do subscriber acquisition?

FYI I don't know if the offer is still out but I remember seeing this a little while back https://twitter.com/peterc/status/717393310080507904

https://uimovement.com - ~16k subs, $500-1000+ a month from sponsors. I hardly ever do sales and spend ~1 hour a week on this - I'm sure it could be more profitable with more effort.

I worked at SmartBrief (smartbrief.com), a company that creates newsletters on behalf of trade associations. The advertising would often yield impressive rates because of valuable niche audience, e.g. heavy equipment financing executives.

I run http://frontendweekly.co/ but haven't monetized it yet. It has ~2k subscribers (plus ~3500 on medium at medium.com/front-end-hacking)

I run https://FoundersGrid.com and we sell our weekly sponsorships ($500 each) most weeks. I'm currently editing edition #358 right now :)

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