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Nov. 2, 2021, 3:30 p.m.
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LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   November 2, 2021

What are we going to call this? The Great Rebundling? The Atlantic is rolling out subscriber-only newsletters, editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg announced Tuesday, bringing the work of nine writers under the magazine’s single paywall.

The nine writers are Jordan Calhoun, Nicole Chung, David French, Xochitl Gonzalez, Molly Jong-Fast, Tom Nichols, Imani Perry, Yair Rosenberg, and Charlie Warzel. The Atlantic is giving a free year-long digital subscription to anyone who subscribes to any of the writers’ existing newsletters — whether that subscription was paid or not, confirmed executive editor Adrienne LaFrance.

LaFrance was less forthcoming about compensation structures (no word on whether writers who bring in more subscriptions will earn more) and whether the writers will have the same editorial freedom they’ve had as independent writers (“The Atlantic is a writer’s collective, and a place where all writers are encouraged to pursue their preoccupations and curiosities. That’s true for our staff writers and it’s true for this group of contributing writers.”) Nick Catucci, a senior editor at The Atlantic who oversees newsletters, will be the writers’ “key creative partner” and each post will get copyediting help, too.

We’ve seen a number of major news outlets scoop up newsletters writers in a bid for new subscribers, as Recode’s Peter Kafka laid out recently. Sociologists Tressie McMillan Cottom (“Essaying”) and Zeynep Tufekci (“The Insight”), for example, took their talents to The New York Times, which has put about a third of its newsletters behind its paywall.

Charlie Warzel, who left The New York Times to launch his newsletter Galaxy Brain, threw back the curtain on his decision to leave Substack in an illuminating last post.

Over seven months on Substack (I did not take a deal with the company) I made considerably less than I did working at the Times (this will be the line people quote, I guarantee, if they quote anything from this post). I grew this puppy from 0 subscribers to over 16,000. On the paid side, I got over 1,400 of you to shell out. Due to monthly subs and some generous founding members, I did manage to crack the six-figure annualized revenue number ever-so-slightly (of course I didn’t do this for a full year). Not bad! But also far from the kinds of first six month numbers of the TOP TIER ‘STACKERS.

He lays out a few reasons for why things didn’t work out as well as he’d hoped on Substack. (One is that he failed to do enough “grievance blogging.”) A couple more that caught our eye:

I’m not a trade publication and not niche enough. Many of the best, most profitable newsletters are based off a very legible beat of some kind. They’re obsessive on one thing or act as a new style of trade publication. Their value is very clear to subscribers and, if you pick a niche where people can expense you for their jobs…giddy up!

I reached my Twitter promotion ceiling. This varies by the Substackers I’ve talked to but my experience is somewhat similar to what Casey Newton wrote recently. A lot of my paid subscriber growth came after getting Twitter shares. If there’s one thing that I don’t love about my personal Substack experience, it was that it still seemed to be anchored to Twitter, a platform that I owe so much to and have just the grimmest feelings about. Alas.

A subscriber’s open rate, Warzel found, didn’t line up with their willingness to pay.

A lot of the people who opened my emails the most did not pay for the newsletter … A lot of the people who paid for the very expensive ‘Founding Member’ subscription tier hardly ever opened the emails. One billionaire signed up for Galaxy Brain early on and then…like…a day later disabled their email. Curious!

Warzel, who reported “modest” growth every single month and a subscription churn around 3%, also wondered if he’s not pulling the plug a little too early. “There’s an argument to be made that if I was very patient for a few years, I could be sitting atop a one person (or multiple person) newsletter empire, making more than my market value at any publication,” he noted. “I think this is possible!”

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