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2 yrs later, my politics newsletter is making $20k MRR. AMA!

  1. 2

    Never thought that a newsletter could generate such a high revenue.
    congrats!

  2. 2

    Congrats, Isaac. Awesome to see a writer making the waves your making.

    I'm intrigued by your site:

    • If you're ad-free, how are you currently monetizing Tangle?
    • Are you hosting the website through Substack? If not, what platform are you using to publish your newsletter?
    • What were the early things you did, if any, to start growing the newsletter?
    1. 1

      Thanks Seth!

      If you're ad-free, how are you currently monetizing Tangle?

      All of my revenue is subscription revenue. Being ad-free is part of my brand in the newsletter, and because of my topic (politics) I think being totally independent of investors or ads builds trust.

      That being said, I do want to diversify revenue, and am planning to promote my merch store more and also launch a sponsored podcast.

      Are you hosting the website through Substack? If not, what platform are you using to publish your newsletter?

      I'm currently on Substack. Nothing but good things to say. It is an amazing platform to get started - it starts to wear on you losing 10% of your revenue when you're at the stage I'm at. I am seeing a lot competitors out there who are appealing and at some point could see myself "graduating." I'm also expanding my team to add writers + more part-time employees, so a more dynamic website is probably going to be good soon.

      What were the early things you did, if any, to start growing the newsletter?

      Probably some things you've heard before. And a few different approaches.

      • Word of mouth (asking ppl to share, telling everyone about it)
      • Twitter promos anytime anything I said got any kind of traction
      • Partnerships. Oftentimes did partnerships with ppl who were NOT political - tried to tap different audiences.
      • I kept everything free for 8 months. You never know when it's going to pop, so it's good to not paywall stuff until it'll be worth it.
      • "Social pops" - basically manual referral programs where I asked people to send in screenshots of them posting on social about Tangle and I'd enter them to win a prize!
      1. 1

        When you start charging, how many subscriber do you have? Could you share more stats like conversion rate?

        1. 1

          I had about a 13-15% conversion rate, which as far as I know was one of the highest Substack had ever seen. In April of 2020 I went paid, and by end of April I had over 500 paying subscribers on a total email list of 3,700. Some of them were paying $199/yr (founding membership) but most were $50/yr or $5/month.

      2. 1

        What about a more community oriented platform? It seems like a good opportunity to bring like-minded people together and that adds way more value to your users with little/no cost to you?

        1. 1

          Yes! I am actually talking to a reader about building out a discord right now.

  3. 1

    Both-sidesing political discourse is contributing to the destruction of American democracy by legitimising bad faith politicians, predominantly on one side of the political spectrum. How do you make that approach central to your mission statement in a responsible and valuable way?

    1. 1

      It's a really fantastic question! There are a few things I look for when deciding whether or not to include an argument:

      1. Is it representative of a "group" or ideology more largely? I.e., if a conservative talk radio host says something stupid or offensive that is then plastered on the homepage of The New York Times, that doesn't make it an argument that is commonly held. Am I seeing it from multiple sources with similar ideologies?

      2. Is it founded, primarily, in logic/facts/history that I can track? I look closely for supporting evidence or anecdotes that are formulating an argument. I.e. "there is a border crisis!!!" is not compelling on its own, but "there are more migrants crossing the border in the last year than anytime in American history" with a like to DHS data is.

      3. Is it speaking to the arguments I'm summarizing on the other side? Take immigration again. If the left is arguing the border is being overrun, I'm not going to match that argument with the left's take about the value of immigration. Those two things are speaking past each other. Instead, I'll match it with an argument from the left making the case that the border is under control. That sort of thing.

      4. Finally, much more squishy, but I'm generally just looking for compelling arguments. Did it make me think? Did I learn something? Is it being made by someone with a history of deception or a history of influential writing/punditry?

      It's not an easy thing, but this is the stuff I think about!

      1. 1

        Awesome, thanks for getting back to me @isaacsaul 🙌

        I think those are fair criteria to weigh against, you probably need to think a bit about whether the data supporting the arguments is also misleading or partisan? For example: given that, as a percentage of the total US population, migration is still lower than at any time since the late 1800's, early 1900's, you'd presumably use that framing, rather than some raw headcount over the border? So any title like 'there are more migrants crossing the border in the last year than anytime in American history' would never appear unless you were publishing 100 years in the past, or trying satisfy/encourage xenophobia.

        The core issue with the broken both-sides journalism in the US (UK, et al) is that it takes any evidence and weighs it 1 for 1 (like point 3 you raise (where I think you meant to say 'right' and the beginning of the second sentence)), or maybe 2 for 1 at best. One argument could have 100 relevant data points from multiple peer reviewed studies, and the other might have 5 data points and a mountain of conjecture and lies. But the both-sides approach in the US typically says 'here's one valid point from the left, one from the centre (maybe) and 1 from the right', they could all be each sides best point, but it doesn't really promote veracity as it was one of the side's only good points. Weight of evidence is just so important - if you're both-sidesing a lot of the current US discourse around immigration for example, you'd be de facto producing right-wing propaganda.

        For what it's worth, I'm something like a left-wing person mixed with a radical centrist, I do genuinely enjoy understanding both sides of the argument and very often disagree with the left - I just can't believe what I'm seeing happen in the US, in the name of give both sides arguments equal space. You probably know them already, but one of my favourite sources of balanced political (current and historical) journalism is the Talking Politics podcast. Their History of Ideas series (1 and 2) are also outstanding.

        Anyway, politics isn't really IHer territory, but I'm a politics and current affairs junky like you, so couldn't help myself asking the question I did haha. Thanks for taking the time to answer and congratulations on turning your newsletter into such a success story 😊👏

    2. 0

      One-sidesing political discourse is also dangerous.

      1. 0

        Indeed, in plenty of countries both sides discourse is healthy, the way it's playing out in the US is often naive and damaging.

        Anyway, Indiehackers isn't a space for politics really, I just genuinely wanted to hear how the the newsletter handled that particular issue and doesn't help provide rationale for the more dangerous elements of the debate (left and right)....got no response though, not much of an AMA 😂

  4. 1

    It's clear that the content and value you are creating is much more than this initial MRR you have today Isaac. I'm sure this is just the beginning!

    Congratulations.

    1. 1

      Thank you so much, Leticia! I appreciate the kind words

  5. 1

    This is a great idea!
    I wish there is something similar in Serbia, although it would be even harder to create it due to a different political system.

    Having in mind that politics are always hot and delicate topics, do you have any problems with bots?

    1. 1

      So far so good! Not sure if I've just gotten lucky or what, but no issues with bots (except responding to stuff on Twitter).

      And, long-term, we are thinking about how to bring Tangle to other countries outside the U.S. Maybe you can be a Serbia employee one day!

  6. 1

    Nice work, Isaac! It looks like you've got something really special going.

    What do you think the tradeoffs are between Substack and a self-hosted platform? Does Substack's traffic/SEO outweigh the 10% fees and risks associated with being tied to a platform in the hands of another party?

    1. 1

      Hey Nat! It's a really tough call. Substack actually has a tool that tells you how many of your subscribers found you on Substack, and according to their numbers that's about 1% of my subscribers. Another 8% had a Substack account and were able to sign-up automatically in one click cause their CC was saved on Substack.

      Honestly, I'm not sure that part of it is worth much. The leaderboard can definitely give you some exposure, but the best part is that you can use Substack for free to build your audience in the beginning. For me, given my brand, the scariest thing about being on Substack is the negative press they have gotten. Since I have tried really hard to be independent, it's tough to see Substack get heat and then get tied into that. I actually wrote a post about why I wasn't leaving them after some controversy earlier this year: https://www.readtangle.com/p/why-im-not-leaving-substack

      All in all, the upside is that Substack is free until you make money, great platform, easy to use, smart team, and focused really hard on newsletters. Downsides are you don't have a ton of variance on the site, you can't customize anything, you can't tag articles (or use plug-ins like on Ghost) and you are pretty dependent on how they decide to do business. Long-term I'm not sure it's the best fit when you expand beyond newsletters, but I've got nothing but good things to say about them.

      1. 2

        Interesting, I've heard so much negative feedback about the platform even from Substack creators, but your take makes perfect sense! Thanks.

  7. 1

    This is really cool Isaac.

    At what point were you confident of charging money for the newsletter?

    And did you think of keeping only certain parts of it behind the paywall?

    Because if everything is behind the paywall then getting new readers can become hard.

    1. 2

      Two things!

      1. I decided to charge after about 8 months, when converting 10% of my subscribers would be the kind of money that really impacted my life. I built Tangle while working a full-time job as an editor, so I had some runway. I had about 3,000 free subscribers when I made the jump, and basically brought in $20,000 in ARR in the first month. So that was huge.

      I also decided to do it because I kept fielding people asking questions about if they could donate or support my work. AND before I made the jump I polled my readers -- literally, just sent them a Google survey -- and asked a) if they would pay and b) how much seemed fair to them. Then I charged what was basically the middle ground of those responses.

      1. I keep 85-90% of my newsletter free. Again, this is both a branding decision and a business decision. Branding: good, reliable news should be free for people if it can be, even the huge percentage (~40%) of Americans who are in low-wage jobs. Business: the more of my newsletters that are free, the more chances I have to see my work go viral and blow up, thus bringing in new subscribers anyway. I never really know what is going to catch fire!
      1. 1

        Right, that makes a lot of sense, thank you

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