How Tyler Channell helps local publishers generate $$$$

Summary

In this episode, Tyler Channell reveals how his company Paywall Project helps small town news sites build subscription funnels that convert readers into paying subscribers. With real examples and data, he provides an actionable blueprint to implement key strategies like metered paywalls, free to paid content upgrades, and sponsorships.

Key timestamps:

1:41 – The problem small local news publishers come to Tyler to solve

2:10 – Publishers moving from platforms like Pico/Hype which lack flexibility

5:00 – Migrating off limiting SaaS platforms like Substack

7:18 –  Services that Paywall Project offers

9:04 – Example of a client earning $5k/month in a small town of 5,000 people

10:46 – Public notice revenue at risk, need for a subscription model

17:45 – Focusing on free signups over paid at first

21:01 – Typical subscription conversion rates Tyler sees

22:27 – Intermission questions

23:00 – Pricing strategy and how to determine subscription cost

31:45 – Newsletter sponsorships as an additional revenue source

33:43 – Range of rates that publishers charge for their ads

39:15 – How much should a publisher charge for a subscription?

44:50 – Tyler’s recommendations for email service providers

Transcript

00:00

If you’re a news or media publication running on WordPress, check out Newsletter Glue. It cuts your newsletter publishing time in half and enables you to manage your entire newsletter ops in WordPress. Go to newsletterglue.com to learn more.

00:17

Welcome to Sticky, the podcast that helps you build a must-subscribe, must-read newsletter through actionable case studies and playbooks. Today’s guest is Tyler Channell. Tyler runs Paywall Project, a consultancy that helps local news publishers generate revenue from their website via subscriptions, donations, ads and more. Many of the publishers he works with are in US towns with 50,000 people or less. And in some of these cases, Tyler helps these local newspapers get online for the very first time.

00:44

He currently works with about 50 publications, and he’s got the subscription funnel really dialed in to help them maximise revenue online. And that’s what today’s episode is about. The exact funnel that Tyler uses to maximise subscription revenue for these publishers. You’ll learn every step of the funnel, how long you can expect each step to take, and lots more insider information. I love this episode because it’s real. It’s not often you get to learn what’s actually working right now from an operator that’s neck deep in generating revenue.

01:14

who also has the breadth of perspective from dozens of clients. So let’s get to it! Hey Tyler, so glad to have you on the podcast. Hey, how’s it going? Great! I’m super excited to dig deeper into Paywall Project and learn what goes into building a successful new site. So let’s start at the beginning. When a new client comes to you, what are they typically struggling with the most? What’s the problem they’re hoping you’ll solve for them? Yeah, so a lot of the publishers that I work with…

01:41

Some of them will come to me without ever having a website. So for some of them, they’re not even thinking about revenue. They’re just thinking about, we need to legitimize our little news operation and make a website. It’s 2023, it’s time to do that. In some cases, they come to me in that way. And other, there are some more recently that are coming from existing systems. There’s migration involved and some of them have existing subscriptions, but yeah, they’re generally just coming.

02:10

because they want a website and the revenue is a secondary part of it. For the ones that are coming from existing places, what’s their tech stack typically? Recently, I’ve seen a lot of publishers come from… it used to be called Pico, but now it’s called Hype, I believe. So I’m seeing more customers from that platform, I think primarily because Hype has shifted their focus to YouTubers and content creators versus the local…

02:39

I don’t know if they were ever focused on local news, but not being focused on. Even less focused. Right. Exactly. So, and I think publishers are starting to feel that. And so they’re moving their operations. And whenever you’re involved in a SaaS product, you’re limited on what you can do. You’re limited on the data that you can collect. You’re limited on what you could do with that data because you might not have access to it. And so it presents a lot of problems when it comes to growing.

03:09

your publication and in the beginning it might be fine, but when you grow to five or 10,000 subscribers you start to need other things that might not be offered through the SaaS platforms. What kind of things specifically? Just being able to, for example, if you want to send your newsletter through a Newsletter Glue, you couldn’t do that necessarily if you were in a tech stack. Like for example, if…

03:35

you’re using Substack, you’re in Substack‚Äôs world. So you kind of have to play by their rules. If you wanted to migrate your data and like you need a list of all the emails and the passwords or something, like you wouldn’t be able to do that necessarily with the SaaS platform. So you’re sort of limited on being able to do other things. Yeah, but like, I feel like migrating their platforms isn’t necessarily something they want to do until they hit a problem. So like…

04:00

What kind of problems do they hit if they’re using Substack or Pico or something? It’s a good question. I think for local news publishers, I think, and this goes into what we’re probably going to talk about here in a minute, is sort of the tech stack, the funnel of how to get people from just regular consumers of news into paying subscribers of news. And one way to do that is through free signup or free registration. And so…

04:25

it’s not always easy to set those kind of funnels up through SaaS platforms. You’re sort of limited to whatever products or systems that they give you to set up. So if you want to sort of dial in and customize the way that the funnel looks and the way that your customers see the front end and stuff like that, or if you want to send a particular message at a particular time, it becomes more complicated when you’re relying on a JavaScript insert on your WordPress site that’s driven by the SaaS platform.

04:55

Yeah. You’re very limited to the five options that the SaaS platform has. And five is pushing it, right? It might be like one or two. Right. Yeah. And the thing is those SaaS platforms, not all of them, some of them are great. I mean, we all use SaaS platforms for a lot of things, including recording this podcast. But when they deviate from, you know, what they’re focused on, it can be a problem for

05:24

generating revenue. Right. Yeah. Or like when a publisher wants to experiment with something new, then they kind of run into a lot of sievings in terms of what they can actually test. And a lot of times, with a metered paywall, it’s super easy to get around them with SaaS platforms. You could clear your cookies, and you’re right back into free content. So being able to put that together.

05:54

in a system like WordPress gives you a lot more flexibility in how you lock things down and when you show certain messages. It also gives you better control over the data that you collect. It’s not going to their systems, it’s going to your systems. All around, it’s a much better ecosystem to be in. And you’re not being charged. Typically it’s 5% of every transaction that typically goes away when you’re not.

06:23

inside a SaaS platform. That’s true. So is that when they come to you, kind of like, and they come to you and they’re like, Tyler, so it’s either Tyler, we need to come online or Tyler, we’ve run into kind of roadblocks in terms of what we can do and we need, you know, someone who can set up a whole system for us to scale and experiment. Yep. So oftentimes they’ve like, they’ve kind of gone as far as they can with the SaaS platform.

06:49

you know, and maybe their revenue is starting to like lull a bit and, and now they’re, they’re looking to improve what they’re doing. And so that’s, that’s when they typically come to me and it’s rather complicated to get them out of those SaaS platforms. Because if you know anything about those Stripe, uh, migrations, when there is a percentage fee involved in a subscription, it’s rather complicated to untangle that mess. So that’s why I’m here.

07:18

Can you explain the services that Paywall Project provides in a little bit more detail? Yeah, so I set up everything for the publisher on the website side of things. So they’re not thinking about their hosting, they’re not thinking about the WordPress setup, they’re not thinking about plugins, they’re not thinking about plugins they need to purchase to make certain things work. I manage all of the tech stack for them. So the only thing that they really have to do is publish content.

07:43

Nice. So they don’t, they don’t have to worry about the strategy of, well, how many free views of content should I give away before requiring people to sign up? They don’t have to think about, you know, the Stripe, they have to sign up for it, which I helped them do that, but they don’t have to think about it. It’s just publish your content, publish your, you know, some of them still publish like e-paper, PDFs, like just publish what you do and I’ll take care of helping you generate revenue on, on the other end. Wait, so they, some of them publish PDFs and you turn that into…

08:12

text on their site? No, no, no, no, not that fancy. Yeah, it’s mainly just like, so a lot of them, like some of them will come to me and they’ll have websites and they’re just publishing a PDF on their existing website that looks like it was built 20 years ago. And that’s all they’re giving away. You sign up through this PayPal link or something and they’re giving you access to a PDF. So part of what I do is help them look, you need to publish this content.

08:38

in a WordPress post and publish this on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, whatever basis that you publish content alongside with the e-paper because if you know anything about the local news market, it tends to be older folks who do subscribe to the paper. So they want to see that e-paper and the link-based articles are really designed to pick up a younger group who are seeing it in that format, whether it’s on social media or someone sharing it in a newsletter or something. Cool.

09:04

So before we dive into the strategy and the funnel that you use to help generate subscription revenue for your clients, let’s talk a little bit about the results. What kind of subscription revenue do your clients typically earn? I can give you an example of a publisher in a town of 5,000 people. This was once a booming coal mining town in West Virginia. So back in the 50s, maybe there was 100,000 people in this town. So it’s dwindled down to 5,000 people in the last 100 years.

09:32

maybe less than 100 years. And so not a great market for creating a digital product. And they were able to, within two years, they started to literally, we launched a website two weeks later, COVID happened. So I don’t, I mean, maybe that’s some sort of.

09:46

influence over people being online, but they were able to amass about 500 paid subscribers at about $5 to $8 a month, $60 a year. And it’s on a recurring basis, so their retention was very high. They grew it, and they grew this without a newsletter. They were growing this primarily just posting content on Facebook, and people would come off of Facebook, they’d see the article, they’d sign up for free, they’d go on and try to read more articles, and then they’d be stopped and asked to do it.

10:16

I have a lot of publishers like that. I mean, yeah, it’s not like hundreds of thousands of dollars, but for a small local operation, like $5,000 extra per month is a lot for them where there was no revenue before. So a lot of local newspapers, at least in West Virginia, a lot of them rely on advertising in the print product, but they also rely on public notice, like tax requirements. So like companies having to publish notices about things legally.

10:46

And those requirements may not be around forever. Like some states are changing that so that you’re no longer required to publish in the newspaper about whatever it is that you are compelled to publish by law. So this push to get publishers on the subscription route, like it’s gotta happen and it’s gotta happen fast because in the event they lose that public notice requirement, it could maybe wipe out half the local news publishers in the U S.

11:13

Wow. Or at least in West Virginia. I don’t know about other parts of the US where the requirements are, but it could be a devastating thing. I never knew that the tax requirement thing was a thing, and it would never have occurred to me that that’s the source of significant revenue for these local publishers. I had no clue either. When I first got into it, I was like, wait a minute, how are you guys staying in business? What’s the thing? Why would someone purchase a local newspaper in a town of like 6,000 people? Where is the upside there?

11:42

you know, and it comes back to that public notice requirements in a lot of publishers. Maybe not the sole reason that they purchased it, but it’s certainly a big benefit. But again, those requirements may not always be around. So that’s why the digital subscription, recurring revenue from online content is so important for them to get on board. Can you talk a bit more about that from a bird’s eye view? What’s the strategy here to get more subscription revenue? Yeah. So.

12:08

Part of that strategy is you gotta give away some content for free to get people to read it. You can’t just… I was looking at an article just before this podcast about office space and San Francisco. I couldn’t read the article. I actually haven’t been on the San Francisco Chronicle in I don’t know how long. But I got a pop-up that was like either go back to home or subscribe. And that was it. So there was no free content. There was no way for me to sign up for free to see that content. And so part of the strategy is…

12:36

giving away some free content to everyone who visits the site. And then after that, asking them to sign up for free and then sending them to your newsletter. So now they’re on your newsletter. They’ve also created an account inside of WordPress. So they’ve got a username, they’ve got a password. And now they’re able to see that article that maybe they weren’t able to see because they ran out of free views and they can read it. And now they’re getting your newsletter every week or every day or whatever the schedule is. You’re sort of building that relationship with them.

13:06

with the goal of hopefully getting them to pay. Usually doesn’t happen that fast, it’s usually like three, four, five, six months sometimes to get people to a point where they’re ready to subscribe. But the newsletter is sort of the secret sauce in getting them acquainted with your publication. They’re getting a taste of daily content, weekly content, monthly content. Okay, so what I’m hearing, just to make sure I’m getting it right, the pieces are free articles, X number of free articles, and then…

13:35

They subscribe for free, right? It’s a free subscription. That’s right. And that gives them the newsletter and additional free articles. That’s right. And then at some point down the road, like 4, 5, 6 months, they may or may not subscribe. That’s right. A good percentage will sign up right away. Like they’ll burn through the free views that you give them after they’ve signed up, which makes sense because they’ve enjoyed like 2 or 3 articles for free, and now they’re getting maybe 1 or 2 more for free, and if they’ve gotten that far and they really are engaged with your content…

14:05

then signing up for Page shouldn’t be a huge leap at that point.

14:11

Key takeaway: So far Tyler has given us an awesome idea of the revenue model of most of the small publishers that he works with, as well as the subscription revenue he helps them generate. He’s also given us the Big Picture Funnel, which helps drive this subscription revenue. Okay so now we’re going to dive into the details and I’m going to talk to him about each step of the funnel and what his recommendations are for them.

14:36

How many free articles do you typically recommend and for what time period? Yeah. So typically one or two for free. This allows a couple of things. It allows people to get acquainted with your, your, your content, but it also allows for search engines to pick up your content. So you still want Google and other search engines to be able to pick up your content in front of the paywall. So that’s an important component of it. After two articles.

15:04

every 30 days typically is what I do, then sign up and you’ll get one or two additional free articles. Right. Yeah. I have some publishers that run a hard paywall, like literally nothing for free. And that is possible. That is a strategy that does actually work. There’s a lot of variables and a lot of reasons why you shouldn’t do that, but there are some reasons that validate going that route. One of them being…

15:33

If you’re a legacy publisher that’s been around since the dawn of time, like I have one publisher that’s been around since like 1862. And yeah, if you’re still around and people, they know your brand, they know your legacy, then it’s a lot easier to just like either pay or not, you decide. Whereas if it’s a publisher that’s only been around for a couple of years, it’s a lot harder to get people to pay for something that they’re not that familiar with. Yeah. What kind of pop-ups or forms have you seen work really well to…

16:02

convince people to subscribe, the free subscription. So I don’t do any pop-ups per se. I do, you get a couple of articles for free that you can see the whole thing. And then when they get past that one or two free articles, they get that third article, they’ll get sort of a display box inside of the article after let’s say a tweet’s worth of content. And so…

16:25

I try to keep it super simple. I don’t want a lot of options, like either subscribe, sign up for free or log in. Big buttons, less options, seems to do the trick. Nice. Have you tested how much, you know, you mentioned the tweets worth, have you tested, oh, you know, like showing 250 characters works better than a thousand characters or something like that? Is that something that you’ve looked at a lot? Not a lot. I, a lot of times…

16:51

I will let the publisher make that call on how much they want to give away for free. But generally, most news stories start with the most important part, so you don’t want to give away too much. So if you give away everything halfway through the story, the last quarter of the story is going to be background information about something, about whatever topic it is you’re talking about.

17:18

You want to gate it pretty quick, maybe after the first paragraph. With the gated form, do you also talk about like sign up for free or subscribe, and then like four or five dollars or something like that? Or do you kind of push it mainly to the sign up for free part of things? So there’s usually two buttons. The sign up for free is a little bit, you kind of are pushed in that direction. Just because I know it’s a heavy lift to get people to just put a credit card on the line right away, that’s very difficult to do. So.

17:47

It’s just literally register for free to continue reading essentially. And they know that if they sign up and get their email, then this will unlock the story and then they can continue. And the messaging is a little bit different. Once they’re logged in, they’re going to get more of an upgrade for unlimited premium access to a text publication. So what’s the flow there? They sign up, they put their email in. Do they have to then confirm email type of thing, or does it immediately unlock and who cares if they put in a spammy email?

18:16

Yeah, I’m in the second part of that. Just like, who cares if it’s a spammy thing? There’s some that will do that and you can see it happening. I have a lot of my publications, every time there’s a new subscription, it pings a Slack channel. So I have like a Slack channel where there’s like, there’s hundreds of notifications throughout the day. So I do it not so much because, like I wanna see every subscription, but I do it as like a way to make sure things are still working, but also allows you to understand that like they’re performing at a good rate.

18:44

How do you prevent bot signups or how do you clean the lists then? The bots could just keep signing up, but they’d have to get through a captcha, which is, you know, prevents like 90% of it. Mm-hmm. When they’re signing up, it’s like invisible, so people don’t have to actually click a box and go through that process. That would be the ultimate amount of friction on Earth to have to do that for a local news publisher. But having that captcha prevents most of those bot signups. You can’t stop a human!

19:10

from signing up with bogus emails, but those emails, those bogus emails do get dropped from the newsletter at least. They’re still signed up on the website, but it doesn’t matter too much. And then on the email, you clean the lists regularly. Yeah, yeah. The way that Amazon sends back data to Sendy and then Sendy cleans whatever, like this bounced remove, this bounced remove, which keeps your Amazon sending rate at an acceptable level. Yeah. Okay. So now, a reader has become a subscriber, a free subscriber.

19:40

Do you send like a welcome newsletter when they first subscribe? Some publishers set up like drip campaigns where they’ll sign up and then they’ll get five minutes later, they’ll get a welcome one day later, they’ll get kind of a mission statement and you know, we’re independent, we’re serving your community, that kind of thing. Um, and so I recommend a lot of publishers to do that, especially those that are large, larger, like regional.

20:02

outlets where they’ve got a huge audience and they have a lot of free signups. So it’s, it’s important to keep that messaging flowing outside of just the regular newsletter that you send. You want to continue to send like additional emails on an automated basis that you don’t have to worry about. Have you seen those convertbell paid subscriptions? Uh, yeah, yeah, for sure. They work the buttons inside of the, of those newsletters work. Uh, I always tell news publishers, you know, a lot of people don’t realize that, that you’re, you’re strapped for cash. They don’t know that you need their support. They think a lot of.

20:32

People might think that you’re supported by the federal government, which you are not, so you should make a plea to them that you need their support. We’re not going to be around if you don’t support, like please consider donating, subscribing, whatever it is that you offer, and go from there. If I was to set this up today for my own local newspaper, what kind of conversion rates should I expect? Good question. So the more local the publication, so the smaller the population.

21:01

the conversion rate tends to be very high. Like if you wanna look at like, I get the question often, like what is the percentage of the population that I should expect? Some small publishers might see 30 or 40% of the population will be like signed up, at least for free. Whereas some of the larger like metro size, like maybe not New York City, but like a Pittsburgh size city or something like that, it might be closer to like 5%, you know? Which is still huge.

21:30

It’s still huge, right? So there’s still scale at that. So yeah, it’s a lot easier on the local level to get people on board because really you’re the only game in town for news. And in most cases, like there’s not a lot of local news competition and you’re also not competing with national and regional outlets. Like they might cover some of your regional events but they’re not covering like city council meetings and not covering like county wide meetings.

21:59

So I always tell publishers like you have a monopoly on this, like this is your content. Don’t be afraid to charge for it. You know, don’t be afraid to charge even maybe what the New York Times might charge for their content because you can get New York Times national news from other national outlets. You can’t get your local city council or your local high school, middle school sports from anywhere else typically. And now it’s time for our intermission. So far we’ve already learned a lot from

22:27

about the subscription funnel that he uses and the paywall that he sets up. So I thought it’d be nice to take a quick mental break and get to know Tyler a little bit better. I’m gonna kick things off with a bunch of quick questions and feel free to answer in a single word or a sentence, but we’ll kinda keep it short. Alright, question one. Alright. Bangkok or Tokyo? Bangkok.

22:51

Question 2. If you could pick a photo of yourself to put in a time capsule, what kind of outfit would you be wearing? Hmm… The first thing that comes to mind is like a first grade photo, where I’m wearing this like, you know, colourful painter’s outfit. Like overalls of Higgs Betts? Yeah, pretty much. Something that we all, all of our mothers have on their fridge. So probably that. Outside of work, what’s something you’re really really into? I love to golf.

23:20

hooked on it with my grandfather when I was like five years old. There’s maybe some nostalgia around it just growing up remembering him and stuff. Oh nice, what’s your handicap? Probably plus 15. How often do you play? Probably once a week at least when it’s not, you know, negative two degrees in the US. It’s nice now, the sun’s out, the flowers are out, so good time to play. What’s your favorite book from your childhood? Ooh, I remember a book that sticks out.

23:50

It was called Tuck Everlasting. It was like… I must have been in fifth or sixth grade maybe? Tuck Everlasting? Uh huh. Yeah. T-U-C-K. I just remember it being about the sky that can live forever. And we figured out how to do that somehow. So I inputted some of your answers into ChatGPT and wrote you… Oh boy. And well got it to write you a limerick. I’m gonna read the limerick to you. Oh my god. Okay.

24:20

So here goes. There once was a guy named Tyler, whose love for Bangkok couldn’t be finer. He played golf as a lad with his grandpa so rad, and Tuck Everlasting made his heart lighter. Nice! Alright. Not bad right, ChatGPT? Cool. Yeah, that’s pretty good. Pretty good. Saves a lot of time right? You can just throw that out and… Yeah, and you get a poem keepsake from your time on our forecast. Yeah.

24:48

I’ll print this out and put it on my wall.

24:54

And back to the episode. Just for a quick recap, so far we’ve talked to Tyler about the paywall that he set up in order to get people to subscribe for a free membership. And now we’re going to talk to him about what happens next. So now that someone has become a free member, how do we then get them to upgrade to a paid membership?

25:15

Let’s assume they go past that one or two articles and they’re trying to look at article number three and they’re logged in. They’re getting a snippet of content again and then they’re getting the another call to action but this time it’s more of an upgrade type messaging so it’s like upgrade for unlimited access to our local publication. You might have a little bit more of your mission inside of that, you know, telling people why it’s important that you pay to do this and that’s when they have to make it.

25:44

decision to either subscribe or wait 30 days or whatever. And so now they’re receiving the newsletter as well, right? That’s right. What kind of stuff goes into the newsletter? Yeah, it depends, right? If they’re signed up for free, they’re getting the free newsletter and every publisher is a little bit different. Most of my publishers are running Newsletter Glue to send out their news articles through your my favorite little block, the post embed. So publishers will…

26:09

We’ll go in and they’ll type in a couple of key phrases and just add every post that’s relevant for that week. A lot of them, I set up sort of a basic template and then try to compel them to add their own local flair to the messaging. Not just, I try not to just have them find the articles in this hit published. Like I try to make them make it a bit more personalized, but it can be difficult to do that. So I’m just happy that they send out a newsletter on a consistent basis because it’s super important.

26:35

And the paid, the only real difference with the paid for a lot of publishers, I think I’ve only got a few that do a paid only newsletter. Some of them send out content early. So maybe you get it like a couple of days before everyone else. Maybe you get the full text of a specific article that you don’t have to log in and go through that process. Just read it in your inbox. Yeah.

26:59

And that’s really the biggest difference. And in the free, there’s more of a call out for those that do send a free and a paid. There’s more of a like, subscribe now, get on our premium newsletter, our premium unlimited content, that sort of thing. So the messaging is slightly different. Cool. And what kind of conversion rates do you see from the newsletter and also the articles? And is there a way… And do you also track like kind of the journey and see kind of like what they open and kind

27:28

what they need to see before they typically convert? Yeah, yeah. Um, I, I’m mainly tracking the amount of time, uh, it takes. So like if they sign up in January, then I can see that they’ve subscribed for paid in June, you know? Um, and if I, if I have a publisher that does not run a newsletter, it takes a lot longer sometimes to get people to subscribe so you might.

27:54

see that funnel extend by several months. Maybe they never sign up for paid. So the newsletter is the single most important part of the funnel. It’s essentially your version of social media for your consumer. Like you can go in directly to their inbox. You don’t have to publish it on Facebook. Like they’re getting it every week. Basically what you’re saying is the conversion rates are a lot higher if there is a newsletter versus if there isn’t. Is there a difference between the…

28:22

how often they send the newsletters or how many newsletters they send? Uh, I don’t know because most of my publishers are publishing once a week, so they all sort of have the same time frame. I mean, I have a few that do the free and the paid, and they might send a couple of emails a week, but once they’re on the paid, they don’t really… they’re not as… you don’t need to track that as much. You do want to track that they continue to be paid, and the newsletter is key to keeping churn from occurring.

28:51

If they stop receiving a newsletter, even if they’re paying for just access to content on your website, that newsletter is, is key to just letting them know, Oh, by the way, you know, you’re getting value. Here’s some value every week. Uh, letting them know that that six or $7 per month is actually something they’re, they’re seeing, um, often. So, uh, if you don’t do that, sometimes your turn rate can be, can be higher because of that. Yeah. What kind of turn rates are typical? I don’t.

29:21

I haven’t checked in a while. I could check now if you want me to look. Yeah, why not? You can have it on hand. Yeah, why not? Yeah, yeah, yeah, let me, give me just a second. Fairly consistent in that the more local, the publisher that less likely people are to turn, but the more regional the content or the publisher, people will turn more often. But also it comes down to like not every publisher that I work with has a newsletter. And so sometimes their rates can be higher. A lot of these communities are very, very…

29:51

So they’ll actually know the publisher. They might actually go into their office every now and then. I bet that definitely helps with churn as well. For sure, for sure. If you can put a real human face to who’s doing your news, for sure. Yeah, so the churn rate was, looks like 5%, like a month. That was more of a regional outlet. Without a newsletter, I’ve got one over the last six months, 0.4%.

30:21

10,000 sends a newsletter on a weekly basis devoted to local news in the community. It’s been around since probably the early 1800s for this publication. So there is something to be said for that legacy and the brand that they bring along. The turn rate is certainly low for those publishers. But as long as you’re sending consistent content on a weekly basis at a minimum,

30:48

And people see that they’re getting value, like that turn rate tends to be fairly low for publishers. Cool. I can say. Yeah. I kind of keep an eye on it on a daily basis in that way. Nice. Cool. So as long as you’re sending a newsletter and you’re a local publisher, things are looking really good for you in the recurring revenue. That’s right. Nice. Super important. It’s probably the most important thing next to your website having that too as a place to collect your…

31:17

customer data. The last thing I want to talk about is sponsorships and ads. What does your overall strategy look like when it comes to ads and sponsorships? Anyone knows anything about the news space. It’s that digital ads have been completely, for the most part, gobbled up by the tech giants like Facebook and Google have completely demolished that sector for publishers that were participating in digital ads. A lot of them weren’t even participating in that to begin with. So…

31:45

there’s not a lot of revenue to be had and then you try to get some local advertising, but a lot of them will try to go to Facebook and Google and spend their money there. But one thing that I’ve found that has been working for publishers is offering ad space within their newsletters because completely different than putting a display ad on Facebook and targeting a specific community. In this way, you’re actually landing in the inbox for people within your community, which…

32:14

A lot of publishers, their open rates can be over 50% every single time. Like people open and they click, the click rates are very high too. So there’s more value for a local advertiser to be in a newsletter, in a community and be in land in the inbox versus just being on a random rotating display ad on different sites. 

Ad: Newsletter Glue cuts your publishing time in half by enabling your team to publish newsletters the way you publish articles in WordPress. Find out more at newsletterglue.com Now back to the episode.

32:49

More recently, partly due to Newsletter Glue, I’ve got publishers that where they were used to using something like MailChimp or some other ESP, they’re familiar with WordPress and it’s easier for them to sell sponsorships. So like branded content for, for, for a local business and also putting display ads, like traditional display ads work inside of those newsletters and people click on them and I think partly because people see like

33:16

local businesses that maybe they’re somewhat familiar with and the trust level is very high because it’s coming from the news publisher. So I always tell news publishers to be very selective about who you allow into your newsletter because you certainly don’t want stuff that’s not relevant to your audience to land into, especially into a paid newsletter. And it works. I’ve got publishers, whether they’re regional, whether they’re local, are seeing…

33:43

success with charging local businesses for advertising inside of a newsletter. I’m sure it differs across the board, but do you have a ballpark range of rates that publishers are charging for their ads? Yeah, some will charge like based on how many times they send it. Some, some are just like simple. It’s 500 bucks a month and you get four cents and that’s it, you know, and uh, they’ll send over here’s our, here’s our open rate average is 49%.

34:13

I have a couple of publishers that publish multiple newsletters. So some that have a free and then some that have a paid. It might cost you more to get in that paid newsletter than it would to get into the free newsletter because these are much more qualified potential customers for the local business. I’d have to look and see what most of them are charging based on the number of subscribers. But really I have them lean on their open rates because their open rates are…

34:43

super high and off the charts compared to just like a random newsletter that you’re signed up to. Yeah. Even though it might only be 3,000 people in town, like they’re highly engaged, 3,000 people. So I try to get them to charge accordingly to that. Are those generally based on subscriber numbers or are they just kind of like, I think $500 seems like a fair amount and so let’s just go with that. Yeah, I think sometimes it’s just like it’s simple, 500 bucks and…

35:08

You get access. I think some of them might be undercharging a little bit for the number of times that they send out their newsletter, especially given the click-through rates and the open rates. What does 500 get you? This particular publisher has, this is huge because it’s virtually the whole town. There’s 7,400 people on the list and the town is only like 10,000. I know they’re not all concentrated in that town.

35:34

There’s certainly people on the newsletter that maybe lived in the town at some point but still have an attachment to the community in some way. 7400, they’re sending that once a week at least. Looking at their history of scent. I think they do it four times, so it would be for a whole month. So they’re charging 500 bucks for that. And the open rate is over 40% on average. So click-through rate is over 3-4% on average.

36:01

Yeah, I think maybe that’s a little too cheap. Just given how many people are on that list, considering how small the town is, which is unbelievable to me. They’ve been running a digital operation for a long time and have been very much focused on the free signups well before they became my clients. So I think I would say that they’re pioneer in the local news, like digital world. What do you think they should charge if you think 500 is too little? I don’t know. I mean…

36:29

You’ve got 7,500 people in a small town who are at least somewhat interested in the local news or engaged in the community. I would maybe go closer to a thousand and start there. But for a news publisher in a small community, if you’re able to rake in an extra 500 bucks off of four newsletter sends, that is fantastic. And you could have multiple, I wouldn’t go crazy, but you could have multiple sponsorships and ads in your newsletter.

36:59

and make it even maybe a little bit cheaper for, you know, if you’ve got two ads running in it, maybe instead of charging each publisher $1,000, maybe each one is paying 500, I don’t know. I mean, there’s ways to do it. And I like this model of advertising in a newsletter, primarily because it’s not something you can get really anywhere else. Like, yeah, there are newsletter ad networks, but there’s nothing that’s gonna be focused on like a local regional location. For sure. Like in a small town. So it’s just, it’s super.

37:29

know, litchy. I bet they could do like a large display ad and then also like one-liner classifieds at the bottom and like charge like 50 bucks for the one-liners because like the other thing is also a thousand bucks per month for the local real estate agent or car dealership is super reasonable right but like a thousand bucks a month for

37:53

the local bakery to advertise their Donut Tuesdays is not reasonable. Yeah, it’s a lot. Yeah. That’s right. Whereas like the local bakery could probably afford $50 for like a line that just says half off donuts every Tuesday or something. Yeah, and that’s what’s great about a newsletter. It’s like you have a lot of flexibility on how you display those ads and not to keep plugging Newsletter Glue, but you know, you can use blocks to just like insert whatever ad you want, whether it’s text-based, image-based or…

38:22

post-based, whatever you want to do, you can set it up and it’s quick. And I think that’s why a lot of publishers have even just started thinking about this because they’re familiar with the WordPress block system. So being able to insert ads is a thing that they know how to do. They can upload it to the media and library. It’s all common kind of common knowledge for them. Whereas not to bash MailChimp, MailChimp’s a fine system.

38:46

But if anyone has logged into MailChimp in the last several months, you know that it’s very complex and there’s so much you can do. And it reminds me of Google Analytics. There’s just like 20 million things that you can do in here. My publishers just need to know how to send it and how to put an ad in. And so if I can simplify that process, they’ll end up sending more ads or selling more ads. Cool. The last question that I wanted to talk to you about before we wrap up is a pretty common question.

39:15

which is how much should I charge for my subscription? Yeah, I get this question a lot. Like how much should I charge? Typically they’re charging way too little. Like a lot of publishers are like charging $30 a year just for their print PDF on their website, which is really low. Typically I had them start anywhere between seven and $12 a month and just work up from there and see, see how it goes. You’ll figure that out pretty fast based on your, on your areas, demographics and what people can afford.

39:44

Isn’t it awkward though if you’re a local newspaper or news publisher and you’re charging $7 and then like a week later you change that to $10 and then people are upset and gossiping about you in the local supermarket or something? Well I hope they’re talking about the local newspaper in their local supermarket. That’d be great for local business. Can you believe what Rob did last week? I can’t believe it! It’s $9!

40:10

How much are you paying? It’s like a flight on an airplane. How much are you paying? Everyone’s paying a different rate. But we never talk about it, right? We just kind of assume that we’re all, someone paid lower than me or higher than me. Yeah, I mean, you can run into that. I mean, an example of where I used to run into like gossip like this, publishers when they first started putting up paywalls and people used to go crazy on social media and screenshot the articles and post them on.

40:36

Facebook and publishers would get upset and be like, what should we do? And the answer is nothing. It’s fine. You’re going to have that. That’s just part of asking people to pay for content where they didn’t have to do that before. So you’re sort of having to change expectations around news and how you get news and that changes having to pay for it in some form. So, right. So you just kind of write it out. Yeah. Write it out. It’s okay.

41:02

try it for like three months that way you get a good idea of what’s happening and then go in for an increase on your pricing even if it’s just a dollar just to see and typically with publishers like they’ll ask me do you think we should raise it for everyone else and I typically tell them just keep the rate for them if the credit card fails then they’re gonna have to sign back up for the new rate but as long as they’re recurring every month or every year then that’s fine just let it be

41:27

what amount should they raise it by? I had a publisher kind of on the left field, but he had kind of a pay per article and a subscription option. And this is maybe not as relevant to local news publishers because it doesn’t always work, like pay per article because the ask is so high in order to get a single article. But this particular publisher offers guitar lessons and he found that he could charge $3.99 per lesson. Nice. Or $4.99 per month. And so…

41:56

He found that people, and I can see this by his data, that the same person will order like seven articles or seven posts and never subscribe. But they’ve literally subscribed for a whole year based on how much they’ve spent. So some people are just subscription adverse. I mean, I get that. But yeah, start in small increments. I wouldn’t do like 750. I would make them round numbers. The only time I might not do a round number is if I’m going up to like, you know, $10, maybe do like a 9.99.

42:25

I haven’t seen like a huge difference. I think people like, it’s kind of gimmicky, right? To go from like 9.99 to 10, just like call it $10, call it like you see it. But do it in whole round numbers if you can. Hearing everything that you’ve said today, it sounds like Paywall Project actually pays for itself because once you’ve gotten everything up and running, you’re generating at the very least low thousands of dollars in revenue which you weren’t generating before using you.

42:54

Now you’re adding on top of the subscription revenue, advertising revenue, which is already at $500, which you think is too little, the cost of paywall project. Right. So once they’re ready to, to scale up and get serious about their publishing, it’s free to use you actually. Yeah. I mean, I mean, I think we both follow a lot of like WordPress people on Twitter and people who are kind of starting their own SaaS products and.

43:22

WordPress based plugins and stuff. If you create a product or a service that also generates revenue, like creates a lot of value for your customer, they stick with you forever. Like, you know, I’ve had a couple of publishers who have just decided to go into different businesses and stop publishing, but the turn rate is low and they’re excited and happy to pay you whatever you ask for a month to continue with the service. So if any…

43:52

WordPress developers, marketing people are looking to create a product. Think about products that might actually generate revenue for the end user versus just being kind of a fun tool that they use. All right. So before we end the podcast, I wanted to ask three quick questions. So the first is what’s your favorite email service provider and why? I like using Sendy and then using Amazon SES to do the…

44:22

the email lifting part of it. And why? It doesn’t charge you based on the number of subscribers that you have. So if anyone’s familiar with MailChimp or any other service, you know that after you hit a thousand or hit fifteen hundred or hit two thousand or there’s literally almost like a tax bracket of charging you per month based on the number of subscribers. And so with Sendy, that isn’t something that happens. And it’s also compatible with these. So that was a big, it was literally…

44:50

For me, it was having to find something that was compatible with Newsletter Glue, but also with it had webhooks so I could import data into the system when people sign up for free. Cool. All right, and last question. What’s your favorite piece of advice for newsletter publishers? Actually publish on a consistent basis. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve got some publishers that just publish on random times whenever they have new information.

45:15

Try to create a schedule for your audience. Let them know that they can expect something from you on a weekly basis. And just be consistent. Thanks for coming on the show and sharing all this awesome knowledge and experience with us. If people are interested in learning more about you and Paywall Project, where can they find you? You can find me at paywallproject.com and also on Twitter at paywallproject. Thanks, Tyler. Yeah, thank you.

Show notes

Paywall Project

Hype

Substack

Newsletter Glue

WordPress

Stripe

San Francisco Chronicle

Sendy

Amazon SES

Slack

Mailchimp

ChatGPT

Guest

Tyler Channell Twitter/@TylerChannell

Paywall Project Twitter/@paywallproject

Paywall Project

Host

Lesley Sim Twitter

Lesley Sim Website

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Twitter

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