On My “Pay Wall-versary”, A Big Thank You To My Paying Subscribers
And Three Pieces of Advice for Aspiring Substackers
As a writer, nothing is harder to write than an introduction to an anniversary announcement. I mean, half the story is in the headline, right?
For those who don’t know—and I wouldn’t expect you to—today is the one year anniversary of when I announced a paywall last year.
Actually, I’m a bit late to the anniversary party, since earlier this month (8-May to be precise) was five years from the day I first published an article on my website. (Yes, I try to avoid calling my website a “blog”, which is probably pretentious.) So May is two celebrations-in-one for the me, the Entertainment Strategy Guy.
Like most entrepreneurs, I felt fairly nervous actually putting up a paywall. Whenever you make a big change to a business model, you never quite know what to expect. You can do your research, find some comparable businesses, make some guesses, but you’ll never know if folks will actually, you know, pay for what you want them to. When I build financial models, I even have a name for this, the “magic numbers”, which I color code purple. Those are the inputs you can guess at, but can’t really know for sure.
You can make all the projections in the world—and believe me, that’s what I do—but then reality decides how well you will actually do. And reality said to me, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” Because tons and tons of you signed up, both in May and June of last year, and then throughout the year.
Okay, so I’m six paragraphs in, and I haven’t said the most important thing yet. To not bury the most important part of this missive any further, let me make this very clear:
Thank you to every single paid subscriber over the last year!!!!
I’d add more exclamation points if I could, but my editor/researcher hates them. I couldn’t write this newsletter without your support. In the olden days of blogging, supporting a website as anything more than a hobby was nigh impossible, but Substack’s innovations have enabled me to make the writing thing more than a passing hobby.
(If you're inspired to subscribe, click here.)
As I’ve told people in the past, for the first three years of this website, I was basically “pre-revenue”, to use the start-up jargon of old (meaning two years ago). Then I got a few paid writing assignments and went from “pre-revenue” to simply “deficit-financed”. In the last year, I can say that I’ve successfully moved from deficits to “breakeven”, and I am incredibly grateful. (Have I paid back all the losses from those first few years yet? Not yet.) While I’ve hinted at this before, I work with a full-time writer/editor/researcher who also took a big pay cut to get this enterprise going; the support of paid subscribers made that possible.
Meanwhile, growth continues to, well, grow. Over the last few months, we’ve really hit our stride. Every article on the “winners and losers” of 2022 did very well. I had high hopes for “The Data Is In: Theatrical Films Massively Outperform Straight-To-Streaming Films”; sure enough, it’s our most popular article of all time. Even articles that I didn’t think would do well did well, like my articles on the WGA-AMPTP negotiations, my look at Nielsen’s top films and shows of 2022, and my musings on how Hollywood has been disrupted faster in the past, surprised me.
So thank you. Of course, some of you may want to know what comes next. One of my life philosophies is borrowed from the U.S. Army: “Improve the fighting position”. In short, always improve your situation. In this case, I want to keep getting better as a writer, analyst and publisher.
So in the next six months, I want to...
Publish more “best of articles”, like these on my website. In fact, I just published a brand new collection: “The Best/Most Popular Series I’ve Written”.
I hope to start appearing on podcasts very, very soon. The equipment is set up and I just need to do some final sound checks.
I’ll keep publishing great content, if I do say so myself. I’m pretty excited about my upcoming slate, including the U.S. subscriber estimates for 2022 Q4 and 2023 Q1, more articles on the WGA strike, more articles on the “streaming versus theatrical” debate, my regular “ranking of the streamers” using over a dozen metrics, and “what I got right/wrong 2023 edition” Plus, I’m hopefully going to publish a “definitions” page for the streaming wars this summer. And a whole bunch more.
I’m going to add Facebook to the social platforms I use to share my articles. Believe it or not, it’s still the biggest social media platform in terms of usage, and some folks have asked me if I plan to start publishing there. And I do. (Though I doubt I’ll turn on the comments. I’ve kept the comments off since I launched and plan to continue that practice. I know some folks like to “build a community”, but I don’t have the time to moderate the comments section.)
I’ll keep improving different parts of the website, updating the about page, why you should subscribe, and little things like that. As always, if you have any suggestions, let me know.
I will add “recommendations” to other Substacks and newsletter soon. A lot of other newsletters recommend me, and it’s only fair that I return the favor. That said, I like to keep a tight “blog roll”, thinking back to the olden days of blogging, so I’ll leave some folks out and inevitably hurt feelings. Such is life.
I plan to continue writing for The Ankler—a tremendous honor and source of growth/exposure for me—but I will drop from weekly articles to twice-a-month. 2022 was a busy year and I wrote a ton, so decreasing my output slightly should enable me to boost the quality of writing, research, data collection and analysis even more.
Going to a bi-monthly schedule for the Ankler may enable me to publish my “most important story” of the week column every two weeks. Folks love the strategy columns, and I want to get those articles out on a regular basis.
Three Pieces of Advice
After reading other Substack anniversary and milestone articles, I noticed that a lot them give advice on how to succeed on Substack. I have two pieces of advice, that are fairly “EntStrategyGuy”.
1. Spend 80% of your time on content. If you want to make a successful Substack, produce great content. That’s not just half the battle; it’s 80% of the battle and arguably more. A lot of folks think this is the opposite: spend 20% of your time on some content, then the rest on marketing or social media. Do the opposite. (For the single best tactic to implement this, read this surprisingly popular piece from Christmas vacation of last year.)
2. Find a niche. In particular, if there's a typical news story or subject matter that the traditional media doesn’t cover well, take that niche or subject matter for yourself, especially if you have expertise in that area or a unique point of view. Or the media has biases that prevent them from covering the subject well. Much of the media is still focused on “clicks” but if you have a newsletter, your focus is your subscribers, which opens up new journalistic perspectives and gives you the time to research and dig deep into niche subject matter.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different. If you look at my most popular posts, many of them just take commonly held beliefs and debunks them with data, whether it’s that the “algorithm is a lie” (more coming soon), that films should go straight to streamers instead of theaters, or my biggest prediction, that streaming was overhyped, especially in terms of being profitable. I went against the grain when the data and strategy said to while the rest of the media had herded around commonly-repeated narratives. Again, don’t be afraid to be different, especially if that’s what the data says.
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