The End of My Paid Subscription Content Experiment

At the beginning of October, I wrote a post titled New Email Newsletter on Work-Life Balance where I decided to try a new email newsletter tool called Letter.ly to produce a paid email newsletter on work-life balance ($1.99 / month).  I’ve decided to end this experiment and sent out the following letter to the email list tonight.  Of course, because I didn’t tune the settings on Letter.ly it tweeted out the post, which recursively forced you to subscribe to read it.  Oops.  Here it is.


I’ve decided to end my experiment with Letter.ly (and – more importantly – “paid subscription content.”)  I want to thank each of you for being part of this experiment.

I realize there was a cost to it (I think some of you have paid $1.99, others have paid $3.98 to date.)  I tried to refund the money, but there wasn’t an easy way to do this.  As a result, if I encounter any of you in the next year, I’m perfectly happy to reimburse you directly (just ask for the cash).  If we don’t cross paths physically, please feel free to ask me for a favor via email (brad@feld.com) or, if you really want your money back, email me your Paypal account info and I’ll Paypal you $1.99 or $3.98 (depending on how much you paid.)

Now, on to why I decided to stop this experiment.  Basically, I found it incredibly unsatisfying.  As an almost-daily blogger since 2005 (and often more than once a day), I thought it would be interesting to explore paid content via an email newsletter approach.  It was interesting – in that I feel a combination of “strange pressure to produce” combined with “discomfort with charging for the content.”

1. Strange Pressure to Produce: After five years of blogging, writing a post has no emotional content at this point.  I just write.  Sometimes my posts are insightful; often they are just words.  I don’t feel the need to “produce valuable stuff” – I figure people will read the posts if they want.  In contrast, every few days I thought about the idea of writing something for this newsletter.  Ideas would cross my mind, but they were rarely compelling to me.  Yet I felt pressure to write.  Periodically, the following thought would cross my mind: “If I don’t write at least $1.99 worth of stuff a month, I’m going to be letting down my readers.” And then I’d contemplate this. $1.99?  Seriously?  Is this how I’m valuing things all of sudden?  The mere fact that I was thinking about this, especially since there was no practical way that the amount of money I’d make from this would have any impact on my life, seemed like a waste of mental and emotional cycles.

2. Discomfort With Charging for the Content: This is related to the idea that the money isn’t material to me.  Over the past 60 days, I’ve seen several tweets that said some version of “Seriously Feld, you are charging for your content?” of “Feld puts up a paywall.”  While I don’t object to getting paid for content, this seemed like a really strange / retro way to do it.  Whenever I pondered it, I was uncomfortable; whenever someone called me out on it I felt strange.

I learned what I wanted from this experiment – I don’t want to write a paid newsletter, nor do I want to charge subscribers directly for blog-like content that I produce.  With that, the experiment is over. Going forward, I’ll be posting all of my Work-Life Balance writing to my blog at www.feld.com, regardless of whether or not this impacts my book publisher’s view on the content.

As there appears to be no way to delete this newsletter, please unsubscribe.  In the mean time, I’ve lowered the monthly price to $0.10 (the lowest the system will let me charge.)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Congrats for the experiment, Brad. I think it’s important to push boundaries, test assumptions, play with tools and see what works. Sure beats all the people in ivory towers pontificating about efficacy of tools / ideas.

    My gut feel is that people would happily pay for a series of compiled and edited writings and you’d feel better about it. Pay-per-post or per week a little bit harder unless you’re a professional writer (e.g. stock tips or whatever).

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Thanks. And yes on the compiled / edited writings – I think that’s what a
      “book” is for (e.g. I feel very good about charging for Do More Faster.)

      • http://twitter.com/annejohn Anne Johnson

        For a recent example of a book of compiled writings from a blog, see ‘You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing’ which is entertaining autobiographical material originally published on whatever.scalzi.com – John writing about his business much like you write about yours in Do More Faster.

  • http://wearenytech.com/64-mark-birch-investor-entrepreneur-trader Mark Birch

    I have to agree, the idea of paid content makes sense if your living was based on writing valuable content. When it is simply one small facet of your professional life, it is difficult the reconcile the need to develop quality content for an expectant audience and guilt over producing only average material. Even if the overall strength of the content is outstanding (which yours consistently is), the pressure to produce according to deadlines and expectations is a distraction.

  • Jacob Clere

    I would love to pitch a very early stage company focused on this concept of altering the market for subscription-based content. (Kind-of like a “freemium” model for news feature stories.) Contact me if you’re at all interested and I will expound further.

  • http://direwolff.wordpress.com direwolff

    Hey Brad,

    If the newsletter format suits you, you might want to try tinyletter which @Pud appears to be experimenting with. It’s free, so no issues on minimum fees.

    I did wonder about what motivated you to move to a fee based model. Even your book, while I can understand not wanting to have extensive costs for printing it, I’ve found models where people will sell the paperback or hardcover version (as you are) but also release a PDF version, even if broken down into multiple PDFs for each chapter, for free. A good example of this is Daniel Solove (a George Washington University law professor) who wrote a good book titled “The Future of Reputation” who makes available the PDF version on a Web site (http://bit.ly/9KBxz7) but also sells the bound version on Amazon.

    Since I’m guessing you’re not really publishing the book for the money, thought I’d suggest a way that more entrepreneurs might gain access to it.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I’m currently pretty restricted on what I can do with the book content
      because of the publisher (Wiley). It’s another good experiment / learning
      experience for me.

  • Troy D

    There’s got to be a way for this stuff to work. Its great that we have essentially a volunteer crowd of people producing content, but it would be great if people could get rewarded for their work.

    Maybe we’ll see writer co-ops or something develop. who knows. interesting experiment.

    http://tech.rawsignal.com

  • http://twitter.com/adrianoconnor Adrian O’Connor

    Interesting post — I think you’re at at the crest of a wave of people who are going to want to get paid for content. It’s interesting that you’re giving in because you feel bad about it, rather than it simply not working out. I write computer software and I’ve had similar experiences — I’m trying to change my attitude to money, but I still feel bad when I charge someone for something I’d have probably done anyway.

  • Jennyfrost

    I can understand the “not wanting to charge for content” feelings. What I don’t understand is posting with no emotional content and the idea that people can “read the posts if they want.” Why should anyone want to read anything with so little commitment behind it?

  • http://www.crashutah.com John

    Something you probably don’t experience is the impact that advertising on a blog can have similar impacts. When you’re livelihood doesn’t depend on the advertisers on your blog, you can post and not worry about producing valuable stuff. Once you have advertisers, there’s this unwritten feeling that is similar to what you describe with posting to the newsletter. Plus, there’s this feeling that if you don’t create good content and maintain readership, then you’ll lose the advertisers.

    Both of these things take out some of the fun of blogging. It really is a strange pressure to produce.

  • http://www.startupboyo.com/ RichardF

    I think Mark (Suster) has hit it on the head, the paid email subscription model does work if you have compiled writing or valuable technical information like stock/racing tips. For more random thoughts and opinions, blogging is the way to go, particularly when Disqus (thanks for finally switching over) is activated. The ability to participate in a blog is really powerful for the reader.