Should You Offer a Paid Online Newsletter?

A client of mine has been entertaining the concept of offering a paid newsletter. It certainly seems compelling: Write an ongoing valuable stream of content to attract more and more subscribers, which equates to more and more profit for roughly the same amount of work.

My reply was to note that this model was more popular fifteen years ago, although it is certainly still in existence today. However, as the earlier success of online email newsletters grew popular, the concept of offering them for free, as a low-cost marketing media, also garnered success. So much so, that in this day and age, free newsletters of some sort are so ubiquitous that they REALLY need to be compelling to stand out.

Regardless, that does not suggest that you should not consider offering one yourself. Or stated more specifically, you should offer something free in exchange for the email addresses of visitors, so that you can build a relationship with them and keep them connected to you, which will make them more amenable to paying money to you.

Offering A Paid Newsletter

But I diverge. The subject here is offering a “paid” newsletter!

In simple terms, if you were to offer a newsletter that results in 1000 subscribers who pay $100 dollars per year, then you would establish a $100,000.00 annual revenue stream. Of course, if you were to double that number of subscribers, your revenue would double, and your workload would not.

But what would it take to generate 1000 paying subscribers?

Well, one thing is for sure, you’ll need to reach out to exponentially more than 1000 potential subscribers to hope for that kind of paid newsletter base. And that will take some amount of marketing and/or publicity, which also will take some amount of time.

And let’s not forget attrition. Some amount of subscribers will cancel their subscriptions. This is a routine metric to monitor for both free and paid newsletters.

In this day and age, with so much that is readily available for free on the Internet, the idea of paying for online subscriptions is a more difficult revenue model to master.

The point is that although a newsletter-only model would offer revenue, what it would take to make it really viable precludes it from being a basket to put all one’s eggs in.

Direct Response Monetization Model

Now, I’m not suggesting that a paid newsletter be ruled out. In fact, what I suggested for this client is a more traditional online direct response monetization model that would include a paid newsletter.

1) Attract readers and subscribers with free content (consider it advertising). Driving traffic to the free content could entail the use of any, all or a combination of the following: a blog, social media, pay-per-click advertising, search engine optimization, online lead generation services, online press release distribution, joint ventures, affiliate marketing and more.

2) Offer some product/service for sale, ideally including a relatively low-price information product that is high quality and fulfills a need. This may be a special research report, review, analysis, or “how to” manual that is less than $50. The idea is to make the barrier to a customer’s first purchase from your business low enough that it does not require too much of a commitment from a wary public. (You could even make the product less than $20 or $30). This is where a paid newsletter could fit, and/or at any (or each) of the following steps.

3) Offer a higher priced information product that is also high quality and fulfills a need. This might entail the creation and development of a more involved training or educational multi-media product, which would include a manual, a workbook, DVDs and/or CD’s with audio and/or video educational materials and perhaps additional references. This could be a few hundred dollars, or more, depending upon the uniqueness, need, perceived value and competitiveness of the market.

4) Offer higher priced products and or “services.” At this point, the term “services” is introduced as it could include access to your expertise. By that, it could mean access to you via teleseminars, webinars, live seminars at a hotel and/or personal one-on-one phone consultations. At this point the fees could be substantially higher, including several thousand dollars for a specific period of time (a weekend; training once a week over a month; or 6 weeks; 10 weeks; etc). Alternatively, the fee could be paid monthly, on the order of many hundreds of dollars (or higher) and the subscribers would continue to pay as long as they derive the expected value and/or achieve the results they are after.

Although this latter part may seem to be the fundamental economic engine for your enterprise, and worthy of the total focus of all your activities, each preceding lower-cost offering is an important step towards your most valuable products and services. Additionally, your largest revenue generation service would not require expensive outbound marketing, as it would enjoy inbound interest which is a result of all the marketing efforts directed towards the lower cost products.

Stated succinctly, the idea here is to continue to expand a circle of influence while inspiring those interested in your services to self-select themselves into a sales funnel that results in an ever expanding opportunity for higher cost, higher quality information, products and services, which could ultimately include a level of personal access.

Obviously, one would need to maintain high quality standards throughout the process, as the concept of a percentage of your buyers seeking greater and greater value, necessitates that their needs and expectations are met at each of the lower cost levels.

Internet Backlash

One more point is worth noting. The Internet is a fantastic media for getting your message out, and it’s just as easy for anyone else to do the same – and many do. But this includes a great variety of messages, good and bad. Really, ANYONE can say anything they want. And people do.

More to the point, along the way a small percentage of individuals are going to express disagreements, protests, mud slinging, etc., regardless of how well researched and accurately presented your products and services are.

Some of this backlash can be a source of valuable information for improvement and refinement. Some of it will just need to be ignored. As long as you are truly offering something of value, just consider that such backlash is garnering attention for your products and services and is additional promotion for your cause.


The net result of this client meeting was my suggestion that offering a paid newsletter service should be considered after getting more data, such as a survey of existing free subscribers. If that looked positive, initiate some test advertising to see what kind of results would be generated before committing to the content production required for full development of a paid newsletter.