This post will guide you through the tactics available for converting free readers to paid subscriptions, including how to craft your pitch and an overview of how different publications define their free vs. paid tiers.
Honestly, I think writers could use two more options: Bundling subscriptions and a "donate" button.
In bundling, a reader could pre-load their Substack account with $50, for example, and pay either for individual posts or to support/subscribe to up to 10 newsletters of their choosing. This way the writers of the newsletters get some monetary support, and the readers can have access to the full Substack catalog for one low price.
An additional option is the "donate" button on all posts, so that readers can easily just pay per post.
While we're here, a better discovery system, like a "Hacker News" style front page that has text links of all the recent individual posts being published on Substack, plus a tag system per post so that readers can search Substack based on a category or topic, e.g. "humor" "comic strip" "movie recommendations" "life hacks" etc.—would also help.
This is the kind of posts I really want to continue to see from Substack - good job!
Going to think hard about how I can apply this to my own newsletter.
Perfect timing - I turned on the paywall less than 24 hours ago and I'm now working through my promotion strategy...
I'm not sure if this would be the proper place to ask, but given people's current financial circumstances many of my readers wanted to find ways of support that doesn't go all in on the monthly/annual subscriptions.
A few were wondering if Substack may consider an a la carte approach, such that readers can pick and choose articles that they really enjoy and support based on those articles. For example, if a writer makes a post that a reader finds outstanding they can click on a button and throw a dollar or two (or even more) to the writer based on that article alone.
I think given more people are having tighter wallets, and that many people are becoming overwhelmed by the number of writers while also having very little time having the ability to select to pay for what you read may be an interesting feature.
Just something I've noticed some readers have asked and wanted to give some perspective.
This was a great post, and very informative. If you would like a breakdown from someone in the fiction community that has shared some details on their own adventures in free vs. paid subscriptions, check out https://fictionistas.substack.com/p/how-i-can-make-a-living-from-my-newsletter by Elle Griffin, who writes The Novellist (https://ellegriffin.substack.com/).
Something I would like to point out, which may not be obvious in the article, is one approach that doesn't work for gaining subscriptions, and that's highlighting personal financial hardship. I've never once seen it work long term outside of systems built for it, like GoFundMe. Your paid Substack is primarily about value. What value do you bring into people's lives that is worth paying for, and that may only be the value of supporting someone you want to see succeed. However, in the case where it's presented as, "I can't eat unless you support me," it's not often received well. Instead, I would encourage authors to say, "This is my full-time job, and I'm working hard at it to provide you with X value and would appreciate your support." They both say the same thing, but in two different ways. Subscribers will either see that value or they won't.
Very helpful! I'm using an "all free" approach, with paid turned on. I'd love advice on language for the subscription benefits for the free vs. paid page that appears to new subscribers. I'm not advocating for a cause or trying to grow a community of people who are closely connected to one another. The benefit I'm currently offering paid subscribers when they have to decide on free vs. paid is "Provide encouragement to publish more frequently." I recognize that's very weak. Any suggestions for making it better?
I’m just starting out. Doubtful I’ll ever go to paid. Meanwhile I’m having a blast here.
Using a “NPR Paid Member Supporter” model featuring an abundance of world class articles about books that fascinate the reader has worked out fabulously well for me. Kudos to Substack for making this all possible. 🎈🙌
This is perfect timing for me! I just started last month and have been using a combination of free blogs and paid masterclasses. I'm hoping to convert some of my social media following over to substack. If anyone has any tips on working on mindset around asking for money, let me know 😊
It is very important to be extremely clear with what people get from a paid vs. free subscription. Otherwise, you'll have potential dissatisfaction among those who pay. It is also important to realize that when you initially turn on the paywall, you are likely to get a number of people who are your most loyal readers who have been following your work for a long time. That initial batch of paid subscribers might have different expectations than people who pay months later. As a result, your paid subscriber constituency could shift from a "fan" constituency to one that demands more exclusive content over time.
When I first turned on the paywall, my message was not very clear but a number of people who had followed my work for a long time signed up anyway. Soon, it became clear that to get additional subscribers I would have to create a much more clear delineation between free and paid content which I did. Prior to figuring this out, my paid subscriber count had plateaued which was quite frustrating. I am still not where I need to be to make the economics work, but six months into this experiment I see positive trends. My conversion rate from free to paid has increased and my free count has also increased. Much of it driven by an increasing follower count on twitter. Bottom line is that experimentation with the message and value proposition is part of the process.
This is extremely timely and helpful. After my SUBtember experiment I have been retooling my newsletter and this is EXACTLY the kind of resource I need! Thank you!
As a new writer I’m really focused on getting my articles as valuable as possible for the reader- without much thought to how or when I’ll start monetizing. I’m not sure what’s resonating just yet as the subscribers grow, but once I believe I’m serving a niche I can confidently move forward with a subscription model. Anyone feel the same?
We have been debating this for some time. This post is MOST helpful to orientate the discussion. I personally think we have to define one strategy and stick to it. The difficult bit is which strategy to choose.
Substack should offer a general subscription service for writers to submit/option their work into for the public who aren’t particularly keen on subscribing to individuals. Revenue can simply be a percentage.
Another thorough and useful post. Many thanks!
Great post! thank you for sharing.