Newsletter-only startups are filling a niche in news consumption

I've seen a lot of stories about the financial ups and downs of traditional newsrooms recently. But the subset of publications that send all their news via email have succeeded in just about every metric that matters.

Consider The Hustle, which is currently doing $10M+ in ad revenue alone. Sam Parr, the newsletter's founder, came onto the IH podcast to discuss how his company, which began as a "blog about cool stories," happened upon the news + newsletter combo by, essentially, trial and error:

After a while we’re like, "Wait a minute… we’re getting away from our email roots. Let’s not even really have a website, only email." So we started doing that. And we’re like, "Well what content do our people love the most?" … Eventually we tried blogging about the news. And that started taking off.

By "taking off," he means they gained about 120,000 (!) subscribers in their very first year.

Other newsletter digests have been taking off, too. In 2019 alone, Morning Brew's revenue grew from $3M to $13M, while their subscribers ballooned from the tens of thousands to nearly two million. The growth story behind the millennial-focused newsletter theSkimm is similar: since gaining 100,000 subscribers in their first 12 months, they've added about a million new readers per year.

The Morning Brew screenshot

It's no accident these companies are seeing this kind of growth.

For one thing, virtually everyone's interested in the news for evolutionary reasons. Many psychologists believe human language evolved so we could gossip about what's happening in our communities. So it's practically in our DNA to read these newsletters and forward them on to other people.

Additionally, the impulse to consume news never goes away. People don't churn from wanting to know what's happening in the world, which makes for very retentive mailing lists with low unsubscribe rates.

Finally, news is a high-frequency problem. We want to know what's going on every day, sometimes more. So news companies can get away with sending emails daily, rather than weekly or monthly. This gives readers more opportunity to share, which leads to faster growth.

But something these crazy growth numbers don't fully account for is the relatively low technical overhead for newsletter businesses. Traditional news organizations like the New York Times have to invest a lot more time and money into building out websites and databases, while newsletter companies often forgo building an interactive website altogether.

This is great for indie hackers who don't necessarily have a lot of resources to start a business. Mailbrew, by @linuz90 and @frankdilo, is a great example. It's a customizable mailing list that puts subscribers in charge of selecting the news categories they want to see.

Mailbrew only launched a few months ago, but the early revenue numbers look promising:

Mailbrew's revenue chart

It's not hard to imagine a world in which we get all our news from newsletters. Perhaps it's coming sooner than we think.

  1. 13

    There's never been a better time to make newsletters a profitable business.

    Anyone can create their own email list, and monetize it.

    If you can write an email, You can build a business.

    Subscriptions: Substack
    Donations: BuyMeACoffee
    Members: Patreon
    Ads: Thoughtleaders, Paved (I'm building HypeLetter.com)

    Need growth: Sparkloop.app

    Need a community of other newsletter creators?

    1. 2

      I have a mailing list of about 1,200 and I do a monthly news letters for free. Here's an example: https://www.thecloud.coach/newsletters/march/

      I guess I need help doing a few things:

      • Monetising it
      • Improving it to be worth that money
      • Marketing it

      Any tips?

      1. 9

        1,200 subs: Fantastic. How many open every single one?

        == Monetizing ==

        You have a great way to monetize it: Courses. Sell your courses. Double your prices. Make them worth selling.

        And you already have a YouTube Channel: Get those subs and views up! Monetize all your free videos there.

        == Improving it to be worth the money ==

        12 times a year is way too low to have much impact.

        Don't think there's enough content? You sent 24 links in the march newsletter.

        Every video you make, put it in a newsletter. Summarize it. TL;DR it. Transcribe it. Add additional reading for people.

        Every article you find, analyze it, summarize it, contextualize it, and then send it as a newsletter. Include 3 links to similar articles from the past year.

        Ask your audience what they want. Do they want 5 times a week? 1 per week is free, and 4x is $5 a month. you can start in the next 6 days with substack doing that.

        == Marketing ==
        You got a youtube page. That's a great place people will be searching for "Ansible". or "Terraform"

        Make sure you put all the free courses on YouTube. You have them on Podia for free now. But make sure they are find-able, search-able, subscribe-able.

        You have uploaded "Terraform Crash Course" but there's no link in the description to the course. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zpHcrXGj4Q

        For every video you put on youtube... Get those 1,200 people on your mailing list to watch it.

        Ask for advice. Ask for feedback on it. Not just "watch it for the info".

        You should own the "Ansible" search results page.

        Get listed for every single format that anyone would potentially search for.

        "Install Ansible"
        "Create Ansible Roles". <--- your video is 7th here. Make 2 more videos to rank for it.
        "What is Ansible?"
        "Ansible Crash Course". <--- name 10 videos "Ansible Crash Course + a keyword" and then You'll rank for this in no time.

        Create new videos that would show up in the sidebar of recommended videos.

        When someone watches other videos in the format, you want YouTube to recommend, not one but a few of your videos.
        -"Terraform Explained in 100 Seconds"
        -"Ansible Explained in 100 Seconds"
        -"Learn Ansible in 1 Day"
        -"I'm on AWS. Now What? Terraform"
        -"How To Build Reusable Terraform Modules"
        -"Linux Server Configuration with Ansible"

        Want more tips? Happy to chat at [email protected]

        1. 2

          I'll take this "offline" and email you. Thank you for the effort you've put into helping me here. It's appreciated.

    2. 1

      Thanks Andrew,

      Really helpful list.

      Tried subscribing to HypeLetter but the form didn't work for me. Quick screencast 👉https://www.loom.com/share/6363261ea72f45b6be0ba007b7d8f439

  2. 6

    Thanks for the mention @channingallen.

    I believe newsletters are a unique medium, one of the few remaining ones that allows you to go directly to customers without intermediaries that can algorithmically cut you out.

    We have been stunned by the growth of Mailbrew and are working hard to keep up with it. I think there are still huge opportunities for Indie Hackers in this space.

  3. 4

    What is best app to run a email newsletter? I have a list of 5k but need a good provider. Any suggestions?

    1. 4

      Did some digging and found Revue which looks good. https://www.getrevue.co/

    2. 1

      I'm biased, but I've built Buttondown with the indie hacker as pretty much my ideal user: it's minimal, Zapier-and-API-friendly, with support for the JAM stack.

      1. 1

        Looks cool. Will check it out.

  4. 3

    I am about to launch issue #1 from the new newsletter that I am crafting for Colors & Fonts I already have 730 subscribers from the last newsletters, so is a fine start.

    You can see a hosted example here

    It will be launched soon as I finish the redesign of the site.

    This post was on time.
    Thank you to those posting links. really helpful.

    1. 2

      Real nice site, Michael

    2. 2

      Excellent — good luck!

  5. 3

    Joining in the fun with my own newsletter about the most promising, hottest and innovative early-stage startups. https://cupofstartups.com/

    1. 1

      Ha, love the name ☕️

  6. 3

    This is exactly why I'm betting on (and building things for) Ghost and its memberships and newsletter features.

    They currently report 5,000+ new installs last week and that's just on Ghost's own hosted service (not including all the independent installs around the web).

    For example, you can easily setup a self-hosted Substack clone for e.g. $5/month of hosting, with zero transaction fees (compared to Substack's 10% cut).

    1. 4

      I considered Ghost but the email feature at the moment has too many limits. You can just send your list the blog post you've just published but you can't send real email campaigns. There's no automation so you can't even send a basic welcome email.

      The newsletter and membership feature is pretty new and still in beta though, so I'm sure they will eventually get there. It's certainly an interesting solution and I'm keeping an eye on it.

      1. 1

        The emailing system is very simple, but you can easily use an integration to get new members into a campaign if you want that.

        I'm guessing that the Ghost team decided to handle the bare basics themselves (sending out new posts over email) and supporting users to determine their more specific use cases by building a lot of integrations (eg Zapier, which will let you do basically anything with your members)

      2. 1

        You can write blog posts that are like newsletters. Roundups of the week.
        Depending on your frequency of writing, maybe you don't need a welcome email. Put something in your footer of each of your posts. "If this is your first email, go read this."

    2. 1

      You can do that with Ghost? Do you have any more information on that?

      1. 1

        Substack's main features are:

        • create new posts and send them by email
        • enable paid subscriptions
        • hide certain mosts from anyone who isn't a paid member

        This is all possible on Ghost.

        • You can send out new posts to members
        • You can charge for memberships
        • You can show and hide specific posts to members and non-members

        Right now there aren't a lot of themes that properly support memberships, but Ghost's own Lyra does.

        Hope this helps!

  7. 2

    Does anyone have a great resource on how to actually set one up? More so on the technical side. What services need to work together to get this setup?


  8. 2

    I have a weekly newsletter that I have been sending out for free and I have sent 148 issues - my first issue on Revue was sent almost 3 years ago. My readers really love the Offbeat View because they feel like I break things down and speak to underserved communities.

    I am now building another audience on Substack for Music Marketers.

    I like what you said about speed, getting up and running has been super easy for both as long as you know what you're talking about and churn is very minimal for me.

    My goal is growing both audiences in the next year and continuing to serve them

    1. 1

      Nice work. Out of curiosity: what's your end game? Start charging eventually? Grow your audience for some future venture? Just see where it goes?

      1. 2

        Thanks Channing.

        For me, building my audience is my primary goal. It gives me a chance to have a pool of people to better understand their needs. One thing I want to continue doing is engaging with readers

  9. 2

    This Mailbrew is associated with the Morning Brew? Because this Mailbrew also seems publishing newsletter with the same name, Morning Brew. Don' they have any copyright for it? Also sucks using the same name.

    1. 1

      Mailbrew sources content from third-party publishers including Morning Brew. And of course there are similarities in their names, but "Morning Brew" is meaningfully different than "Mailbrew" imo.

      1. 1

        After this post, I started using the service, Mailbrew. Now understand clearly what is what. But my main point is not why they use the name Mailbrew, I've nothing against choosing similar sounds, but they use "Morning Brew" as one of their newsletters. Which you can change though once you start customizing. Wondered about the copyright, I guess Morning Brew doesn't have.

  10. 2

    Anybody else getting broken image links on thehustle.co? Seems like it would be a pretty easy fix.

    1. 1

      I saw them too yesterday but it seems they've been fixed?

      1. 1

        Yep, must've been some glitch. I noticed Inc. Magazine was down for a couple of days as well. Love this thread, too, BTW!

  11. 1

    Thanks, @channingallen. I really enjoyed this episode. Lot's of great information shared by Sam. Sam's a real indie hustler, and he's directness /get it done attitude puts him ahead of the pack.

    Seeing 'Daily Brew's' & 'The Hustles' success and I am actually considering this as a channel to explore, aiming at the UK small business segment.

    QUESTIONS (for everyone)

    Does anyone know how Daily Brew publishes their newsletter on their website? What sort of flow/solution could achieve this? It's very clean and works well for SEO I think.

    Thinking about the regularity of the newsletter, I feel daily might be too much for the audience I am thinking. But I imagine the newsletter economics changes drastically if you send a newsletter once a week given it would be paid on open/sent. Anyone disagree here?

    I feel going on Substack reduces the degrees of freedom that I would like to build a something sizeable to perhaps exit at some point. So current I am looking at Revue based on @jayyoms recommendation. I know Mailbrew use Campaign Monitor so that's probably a very strong option.

  12. 1

    It would be interesting to see a couple of data points on number of subscribers, MRR, and monetization model (subscriptions vs. ads) for a couple of newsletters. It still feels like a black box what a newsletter of a certain size could be worth. (Of course dependent on what the audience is).

  13. 0

    If anyone needs a customised newsletter website built with sendgrid and stripe - you can email me at [email protected]

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