Hey there. I need your thoughts and advice. For a decade, I funded my blog, my writing, and my social media work through sponsored posts. But there has always been tension about the sponsored content from readers, and from me as a creator too. The general feedback I’ve received is basically: We know sponsored posts are necessary so you can make a living, but we don’t like them, and we are going to scroll past, no matter who the sponsor is, or what the content is; we’ll try to be good sports about it, but we really don’t like sponsored posts.
Honestly, I get it. I understand. The mix of personal posts and paid-posts (which are also sometimes very personal!) can feel super weird. Plus, working with sponsors means I don’t always get to choose the topics I’m writing about — so some sponsored posts can feel forced. Working with sponsors is also a huge time-consumer above and beyond the content creation — the proposals, the back-and-forth on contracts, the project management, the approvals, the reporting. I’d rather use that time to create more content and connect with readers.
So 18 months ago, when we moved back to France, I stopped saying yes to sponsored posts. And since then I’ve been looking into other options for monetizing my work, but wasn’t having any luck finding an option that makes sense for me. Then, a few months ago, the people at Substack reached out and I think their platform might be the answer.
Substack is basically newsletter software where writers/creators can offer a combination of free subscriptions, and paid subscriptions that come with perks. Sort of like when you download a free app, but then you can pay if you want to unlock all the app-upgrades. Different writers/creators use Substack in different ways, but the general format is to offer a free newsletter that’s available to everyone, and then, if people want to pay $5/month (or $50/year), they will have access to additional subscriber-only content. The paid content can take various forms — as I’ve explored Substack, I’ve seen subscriber-only discussion posts, recipes, ebooks, live Q&As, podcasts, videocasts, essays, etc. It really depends on the writer/creator and how their subscribers want to connect.
After months of research, I’m hopeful this will be a good fit for monetizing my work. My plan is to write a weekly newsletter that is free for everyone. The newsletter will have a little bit of the feel of my Friday link-list posts, and a little bit of the feel from my Random Thoughts posts, and a little bit of the feel from my Twitter rants. I’ll write about a topic on my mind, and also include other links to explore with notes on why I’m recommending them. I want it to be a thoughtful and interesting place where we can be curious about everything. Again, this will be a free newsletter.
For those who would like more connection, interaction and content from me, I’m offering a paid subscription too. From what I can tell (via emails and messages) the main things people want from me are design advice, parenting advice, moving abroad advice, and they want to talk with me about current events and religion. So for paid subscribers, I’ll be hosting subscriber-only live Q&As, and discussion posts, where the community can choose the topics. If that seems to be going well, we’ll stick with it. Or, if paid subscribers are interested in something different (like maybe a subscribers-only podcast?), I can update the paid-subscriber perks as we go.
Oh my I want to make this so good!! I want people to find the paid-subscription valuable and worthwhile. And I want to be especially flexible as I start out, so I can adapt and respond to what people are looking for.
Anyway, THIS IS HAPPENING. I actually sent out the first newsletter on Tuesday. I wrote an essay about Woody Allen and how his custody battle brought the idea of parental alienation into the courts (which has since ruined thousands of lives — not exaggerating). Did you receive the newsletter? If you didn’t receive it and you’d like read it, no worries. I’ll link to it below.
My newsletter situation is a little bit odd because I have had a “subscribe to my newsletter” box here on the blog for a decade or so. And every single day there are new subscriptions, but I haven’t actually sent out a newsletter in years and years. (I know. I know. That’s not good.) There were a couple of months back in the day when I sent out newsletters, but the timing wasn’t right and I ended up stopping. What this means is that I have a long list of email addresses from people who have subscribed to my newsletter, but I’ve never sent them a newsletter. Until this week! I’m sure there were some people who were surprised to hear from me. : )
Here’s how the Design Mom Newsletter is going to work:
-If you previously signed up for my newsletter (anytime in the last decade), you’ve already received the first one. If you think you’re subscribed but didn’t get it, you can check your spam box — it was sent on Tuesday, March 16th from Gabrielle Blair.
-If you didn’t get the first newsletter, but want to get the next one, you can sign up for the Free Newsletter here.
-If you’re interested in the paid-subscriber option, here are the details:
For $5/month (or $50 for the year), the paid subscription will include extras beyond the newsletter like subscriber-only discussions, and live interactive Q&A sessions, on topics like design and religion and life in France and parenting. When I have something new to share, paid subscribers will get the news first — early access to new projects, and sneak peeks of upcoming work. You can sign up for the Paid Subscription here.
-If you missed the first newsletter — the one about Woody Allen — and want to read it, you can find it on my Substack archive page. It’s free to read! And there are already some really interesting comments happening. I also put some of my earlier writings (oldies but goodies!) on the Substack page, so my first newsletter wouldn’t be lonely.
Now, back to that advice from you. What are your thoughts on this type of thing? Are you already familiar with stuff like this? Maybe you support a few Patreon accounts? Or you already know about Substack? If you were thinking about signing up for a paid subscription, what kind of perks/extras are most appealing to you? Do you have any questions beyond the Newsletter About Page? I’m also curious to know, for those who have been reading here for years, have you noticed the absence of sponsored posts here on blog, or on social media?
I’ll admit, I’m very nervous about this new idea. I’m not really nervous about the free newsletter — I think it will be good and I like the first one I wrote. But I am nervous about the paid option. Maybe it’s not what people want? Will I need to abandon this after a short while because it doesn’t get enough interest? Will it be a failure and an embarrassment? On the other hand, what if it’s great?
If you were me, how do you think you would monetize my mix of work (which includes: personal writing and updates, Twitter threads, weekly link lists, discussions about current events and parenting, renovation and design, Instagram posts and Stories, travel posts, etc.)? Do you think this Substack idea is a mistake? Do you think I’m charging too much or too little? Let me know.
P.S. — For those who are curious about Substack monetization, here are all the details:
-Writers/Creators can set their price. They could pick $10/month, or $17/month, or whatever they want. The lowest price they can set is $5/month (which is what I’m choosing).
-The reason Substack set a $5 minimum, is that Substack takes 10%, and Stripe (the company that processes the credit card payments) takes a percentage as well (I can’t remember how much). Beyond this, writers/creators are also responsible for self-employment taxes on this revenue, which is approximately 30%. Because of this, Substack found $5/month was the minimum to make it still worthwhile to their writers/creators.
-Within Substack, the writers/creators can set 4 different price levels:
1. Free Subscription — Writers/Creators get to decide what they want to offer at this level. It’s most often a newsletter, but it could be also be an e-book, or a list of product recommendations, a podcast, etc.. Substack software can create newsletters, “blog” posts, and podcasts. In my case, for Free Subscribers, I’m offering a weekly newsletter.
2. Paid Subscription per Month — Again, writers/creators get to decide what they want to offer at this level. It can be anything beyond the Free Subscription offering. My rate for this level is $5/month.
3. Paid Subscription per Year — This level offers the exact same perks as the previous level, but at a discount. I’m doing $50/year ($5/month adds up to $60/year, so the rate I set is a $10 discount for committing to a whole year up front).
4. Founding Member — Writers/Creators can make this option be whatever they like. In my case, I’m not offering additional perks at this level, it’s just for people who really enjoy reading Design Mom and want to support my work beyond $50. (I have a $75 prompt listed for this level, but subscribers can choose any amount above $50.) But a writer/creator could also make this a really special or unusual perk, like one big sum for a personal zoom call or consultation.
If you have ideas about what you think I should offer at these levels, feel free to let me know. They’re set for now, but they are easy to change if I want to update them.
109 thoughts on “Sponsors vs. Subscriptions — How to Fund Content Creation in 2021”
As someone who has never supported herself through content creation, please take this as input rather than criticism and ultimately, you do you! I am so turned off by “exclusive content” on blogs or platforms. I have never been bothered by sponsored posts and I truly don’t understand the hate content creators get when they receive sponsored goods in exchange for coverage. There are times when it seems a bit forced but I understand it is the nature of the business. I also have found, in instances when I have chosen to support a creator via Patreon or something similar, that I start to have feelings of entitlement to new content (a personal failing, for sure) and it takes away from my enjoyment of what is being offered.
My number one complaint about blogs (I read almost exclusively for home design content) is when a creator shares aspects of their family life and then, seemingly out of the blue, has a mini breakdown about their privacy or the privacy of their family being invaded because people ask about details that for one reason or another they prefer not to share. I want to commend you on setting those boundaries privately and not airing your inevitable concerns publicly.
I do believe you should be compensated for your work and I hope you are able to find the right balance.
Thanks for the feedback, Robin. You bring up a really good point about “feelings of entitlement to new content”. It’s definitely a concern I have. What happens if I’m sick and can’t create content for a few days? Will my inbox fill with complaints and “unsubscribe” notices? Even now, while all my content is free, when I don’t post to Instagram Stories for a day or two, I receive many DMs about it, with the subtext that I owe them content, that I’m disappointing them. What boundaries do I need to set from the beginning to keep clean lines around the reader-writer relationship?
I would say the entitlement concern overlaps with what you mentioned about creators suddenly having breakdowns about privacy. I’ve seen it happen too. I’m sure there’s some behavioral psychology around it, but it’s been my experience that the more I share, the more people are comfortable demanding from me. I remember the first time I really talked about my depression and being on meds back in 2014. By far, most of the messages I received were amazing and wonderful and supportive. And I was so grateful. But a decent chunk of messages were really invasive. (Stuff like: What dosage of meds? Did they affect my sex life? Why haven’t I tried to wean off them? Do my kids have depression?) I’m sure it was just simple curiosity behind the questions, and I have enough experience that I just ignored questions I found to be inappropriate and didn’t answer anything I didn’t want to answer. But it’s definitely a strange thing to have people who are strangers to me (though I’m not a stranger to them) ask really personal questions with a tone that’s totally entitled — stuff I wouldn’t even ask a close friend.
I LOVE getting newsletters, especially working in the corporate world! It’s a nice morning coffee break activity. I like the idea of an additional newsletter for paid subscribers, or posts on more targeted design advice. While I can see the value in live Q&A type events, I think at the moment, with a year’s-worth of Zoom fatigue under my belt, doing more ‘live online’ activities is not something I’d be interested in right now. I think it’s so smart to engage your audience about how they think you should approach it. Love reading your content!
So true about Zoom fatigue, Meghan. I like your idea of a second newsletter that’s just for subscribers. I wonder if a discussion format post might be workable as well. Something like: I introduce a topic in a post (written form) and include a notice that I’ll be responding to comments for the next hour, and then come back four hours later and do another hour of responses. That way it wouldn’t feel like an “event” that you had to attend live? (Just an idea. Still thinking.)
Personally I never minded the sponsored posts, and I honestly found value in the brands you chose to sponsor – I trust you not to work with something terrible. I also like the idea that funding is coming from corporations rather than little folks who might budget every dollar every month. BUT, I can see the extra work involved in sponsorships, and I absolutely see great value in your work that should be compensated.
I do contribute to a few patreon, but I choose to make one-time contributions when I can. And I do! I don’t just say I do. Particularly when I read a really great article or watch a great interview (Jessica Yellin comes to mind), I send $20. But I know that’s less reliable for the content creator.
In summary, if it were up to me, I would choose sponsored posts and they didn’t bother me at all. I did notice that we hadn’t seen any and I hoped it was not because you didn’t have the option.
I always appreciate your content and frequently recommend you to friends/family. Thanks for doing what you do and exploring this!
Thank you for liking my sponsored posts, Caitlin! I always tried really hard to make sure the content was usable and relevant and interesting. But oh man, it would sure wear me down when I was fielding angry emails behind the scenes about how this sponsor doesn’t use the right packaging, and that sponsor had a lawsuit last year, and this other sponsor is causing traffic problems — or just that I’m selling out.
The good news is: by far most of my content will remain as it is — totally free. The blog will still be free. My Instagram will be free. My Twitter will be free. My newsletter will be free. So even if you have no interest in subscribing (which is totally fine! really!), I don’t think you’ll feel like you’re missing out.
Curious, does that mean that this blog forum here may migrate to the newsletter format? I still enjoy all the insightful thoughts, posts, links, so would likely gravitate towards the newsletter in that case.
In the end – yes to monetizing your work! It’s work! just because you’re paid in an unconventional, behind the scenes way, I’d imagine it takes loads of effort.
Such a good question, Vanessa. My plan is to keep the blog content and social media content the same — and keep them free. So the newsletter (also free) would be in addition to what I’m creating now. If the Substack audience grows in a way that it’s really providing a legitimate income, then at that point I imagine I would need to prioritize it over the blog. But until that happens (and it might not happen), I was still planning to upkeep the blog.
I don’t mind sponsored posts when they feel like a natural fit.
I could be wrong, but it seems as though creating two separate newsletters would be more work for you with potentially less ROI?
I hear you on “natural fit” Taylor. That’s the trick with sponsored posts. The creator doesn’t have as much control as you might guess. In an ideal world, creators would look at the content they want to focus on (for example, a house renovation), and then work with their favorite brands in categories like furniture, paint, appliances, bedding, wallpaper, lighting, etc., to create sponsored content related to the renovation. But it rarely if ever works that way. Different brands have different marketing goals, different budgets, different preferred marketing methods (maybe they prefer youtube over instagram), and different schedules. Lots of brands schedule out their budgets a year in advance — long before the creator even knows what projects they’re going to create.
So the way it works is, brands will reach out and they will have a specific campaign in mind. Like maybe a company has a sale on lighting and wants to promote a specific line of lamps. The creator may have no projects ahead that involve lighting (and might not even really like the line of lamps), so they’ll simply have to come up with content out of thin air, in order to create a sponsored post and earn money.
Often the brands may have nothing to do with current projects — it might be a life insurance company, or a bank, or a health supplement, or a new movie. In those cases, the brand will still have a specific campaign they want the creator to write about. The health supplement company doesn’t want the creator to just write: Hey, check out this company. Depending on the campaign goals, they want the creator to write about something really specific — maybe a sleep aide. So if the creator wants to earn money from that campaign, she has to come up with content about sleep, even if that’s not something she’s interested in writing about.
I don’t know any creators that have been able to limit their content to only “natural fits”. They wouldn’t be able to earn a living. With my current renovation, it seems like working with home-related brands is a no brainer, but again, I don’t have control of which brands reach out to me and have a budget and are ready to work together. I could pitch the brands I want to work with, but that’s incredibly time intensive and you have know the right contacts, and even if it’s a perfect fit, it still may not work because they already spent their budget months ago.
That’s probably more than you wanted to know. But if you’re wondering why blogs don’t just work with sponsored posts that are a natural fit, that’s why.
Regarding the two separate newsletters, I’m not sure what you mean. There’s the free weekly newsletter that I just started this week, but what’s the second one?
Interesting! My main question is this: What will happen to the blog? Will the free newsletter posts also appear here, or are you switching exclusively to the new platform?
This could be a good option for you–it’s almost like paying for a magazine subscription but all the content happens digitally. I hope it works well!
Thanks for the encouragement, Mari. I was planning to keep the same (for now at least). That may change depending on how the Substack audience is growing. I don’t think I’ll put the newsletters here in full. But I will probably announce them and share an excerpt with a link to read the full newsletter on my Substack page.
A few other thoughts: I’ve read for a few years and had never thought of Design Mom as heavy on sponsored posts or sponsored posts that aren’t a good fit (whereas I can think of others that are). Another blogger who uses sponsored content well is Cup of Jo. I expect it from time to time and it never bothers me.
Hi again Taylor, it’s true — even before we moved back to France, I had scaled way back on sponsored posts, so if you’ve been reading for a few years, you probably haven’t seen many.
Thank you for being so transparent and clear, as always.
As for me: I did notice the lack of sponsored posts, now that you mention it. I think you do them well when you have to, but I do get that it’s not what you want to spend your time on.
Substack makes me cranky. I feel like I receive too much email as it is, and I’m so circumspect on the fact that so many “content creators” (ugh) I appreciate and respect are moving to this one platform. I feel like they’re losing agency and independence—which I know isn’t quite true.
My favorite model, personally, is the Patreon one (with or without using Patreon itself). I see it as a magazine subscription: there are a few writers (ah, that’s better than content creators) whose work I really value, on a daily basis. I’m happy to pay for what I’m reading, even if it’s not exclusive to paying subscribers.
I’d be happy to pay the 50$/yr to support your great work, but I don’t want the emails! Or to feel like I’m missing out by not reading the emails, or participating in the q&as.
Basically: this is me making things more complicated than they need to be.
I love and appreciate what you do—thank you—and once I untangle this little fit I’m throwing about email, I’ll upgrade to the paid subscription tier.
Really helpful feedback, C. I didn’t look into Patreon as seriously as I looked into Substack, but maybe I should have? Hmmm. And I hear you on not wanting the emails. Sometimes it feels like one more task in my inbox. If it helps, you can also read the newsletter content on my Substack page (and never get an email!). I’ll be sure to link to the Substack content from here, so if you’re still reading Design Mom, you shouldn’t miss anything.
And who knows, I still have some big doubts about this, and may decide it’s a bad idea. I wish there was an easier way to just turn on paid content right here on the blog. Like I could do 5 free blog posts, and then a paid one (or some variation of that). And readers could choose to pay for a year-long subscription that gave them access to all of the free and paid content, or they could pay just pay $1 to access a particular paid piece of content (but then ignore other paid content they’re not interested in). From the (admittedly not exhaustive) research I’ve done, there’s not a good option.
Regarding the term “content creator” I know it’s irritating. Maybe less irritating than “influencer” but still irritating. Sometimes I use the term writer, but sometimes I don’t because it doesn’t always fit. Yes, I’m a writer, but to do the work I do I also have to have pro-level skills at interior design, graphic design, photography, social media content, videography, and more. So writer doesn’t always cover it, you know?
I’ve been a daily reader of Design Mom since before your family moved to France the first time! I enjoy Design Mom very much, but sadly subscription based content is not in my budget. I will miss Design Mom and this community. Lately it seems like many established bloggers are transitioning to this model to fund their work, which I find curious. Sponsored posts, affiliate links and even actual ads don’t bother me in the least. I’ll be happy to support more “up and coming” bloggers and content creators who are funding their work without subscription only content.
Hi Amy, thanks for your comment. I think I must have miscommunicated. I don’t see any reason you need to “miss Design Mom and this community”. Happily: The blog will still be free. My Instagram will still be free. My Twitter will still be free. And the weekly newsletter will still be free.
Plus, I’ve offered to gift paid subscriptions to anyone who can’t swing the $5/month (I totally get it and have been there). I’d be more than happy to gift one to you. (This was mentioned on the Substack About Page I linked to, but I realize I forget to write about it in the blog post — sorry!)
I’m glad to hear you don’t mind affiliate links and actual ads. As you have seen, I do have display ads on this site, and once in awhile I use affiliate links too (mostly with gift guides at the holidays). But sadly, they don’t come close to providing an income that matches the amount of time required for this work. I could definitely increase affiliate link income if I transitioned to only creating shopping posts, but I have no interest in that – I want to be able to write essays and host discussions.
Also, sponsored content goes through shifts and waves. Some years sponsors are plentiful, and others years they can be few and far between. Or suddenly, sponsors don’t want to advertise on blogs anymore and just want to work with TikTokers, but maybe the blogger doesn’t have a big audience on TikTok. Sponsored posts are really out of the blogger’s control. It’s almost impossible to create a monthly budget, because the blogger doesn’t have reliable or consistent income. I think that’s part of why this subscription model is becoming more popular.
But honestly, I don’t know if it’s sustainable, and at some point, I may decide it’s not a great fit after all.
I love newsletters and am a proponent of supporting the writers I read and learn from. I’m a reader who tends to skip sponsored content, not out of principle but usually out of boredom. (I’ve been reading and writing online since the early 2000s, so I’ve also been around for the angst over even allowing ads on blogs.) But I also understand its role in allowing writers to earn income in a media world that is increasingly hard to make a living in.
My time is limited, I want to read worthwhile writing, and I’m willing to pay for what I read. Without reader support, we end up generating listicles for clicks and again, I’m so bored by those. So I’m fine with checking my email to see what you’re writing! I appreciate your thoughtful and professional approach to this change.
Oh Amy, I appreciate your comment so much. I value your perspective as someone who has so many years of experience writing online and has seen how this industry has transformed. I feel like I’ve lost count of how many ways I’ve reinvented my blog and my content over the years. Thank you for being so matter-of-factly supportive.
I am probably going to parrot those above, but you are the bright spot in my inbox or IG feed (I don’t do other social media).
Like you, I am in business for myself, my time is valuable and important so I appreciate the work and thought you have put into your Designmom blog. I am more than happy to pay so you can keep doing what you do.
And I may want to hit you up for design advise, just bought a new house and love your eye and trust you more than anyone else.
Keep going! You are worth it!
Congratulations on the new house, Rebecca! That’s always such an exciting and daunting (in a good way) project. Hooray!
You and NieNie Dialogues were the first blogs I ever read! You both helped a new mom feel not so alone! As an introvert I loved feeling like I could connect and get support and advice from other moms. I’ve always been so appreciative of the work you’ve done! Also! As a very small business owner (remember Lilapops!) we got most of our business by saving up our pennies and only advertising on your blog! So, in short, thank you! And best of luck in your new adventures!
So great to see your name here, Leslie. I’m so grateful you’ve been here since the beginning.
I totally understand your choice to switch to the newsletter/subscription option and empathize with the fatigue that comes with producing sponsored content. However, I was never bothered by the sponsored posts as I trust your voice and opinion. I do see value in your content as well but personally, I already have “subscription fatigue” and financially couldn’t swing $5 a month for every blog I read. One of my other favorites Dinneralovestory has already switched to the subscription format too. Maybe other readers feel the same, maybe not. We may all be on the same sea but in a variety of different sailing vessels, if you know what I mean… Regardless, thank you for your voice and for saying the hard things. xoxo Ginny
So glad you brought that up, Ginny. I have the same concern and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been so slow to try the Substack option (we’ve been discussing things for months and months). If people read many blogs each day, it’s unreasonable for them to support each one individually. So I worry this isn’t ultimately sustainable.
Maybe it’s something I try for a year, and then look into other options. Not sure. I’m still talking to people about a potential show (which would be awesome), but will take quite awhile to actually happen. I mention it because who knows what my revenue options will look like in another year or two.
Related, I mention this on my Substack About Page, but I haven’t mentioned it here: I’m more than happy to gift paid subscriptions to those who want to participate fully, but can’t swing the $5/month at the moment.
While your question was probably intended to be largely rhetorical, I’ll add this about boundaries… I read your blog for your perspective and what you choose to reveal about your homes and family. I appreciate your handling of people threatening to quit reading for your anti-Trump sentiment – essentially buh-bye! I hope you will never prioritize “engagement” or ingratiating yourself to your readership over authentic sharing of your (exciting, brave, and aspirational) life experiences, which is more than enough to keep me interested and clicking.
I honestly did not notice the absence of sponsored content but I think that might be largely due to my overwhelmed frame of mind this past year. I am so grateful for everything you put out in the world. I recently listened to your podcast episode on the Adult Conservations podcast and have been discussing it with a close friend over Voxer the past few days. Although I had read your Twitter thread about abortion when you first posted it, that podcast was still super illuminating and provided a ton of food for thought, especially since I am a mom of three boys. I have started to pay bloggers and podcasts more directly in the last few years and it has felt like a worthy investment to me. I enjoy the extra content a lot and get a lot out of it. I already signed up for your Substack subscription – even though I know it may or may not be a long-term thing for you, I have benefited so much from all of your free content over the years (many years, like maybe back when you lived in NY?) that it really felt like the least I could do. And I honestly don’t have any specific expectations – I always try to approach people online with a lot of grace and recognition that they don’t owe me anything and they have lives and deserve breaks. Also, my life is busy enough that I’m generally not keeping track of schedules or when people do or don’t post. Thanks for asking for feedback from your readership – I hope this is a positive change for you!
Kathleen, your comment made my day. Thank you for appreciating what I create. Thank you for the compliments about the podcast interview. Thanks for sticking around since New York. And thank you for not hesitating to subscribe to my new project. It means a lot. Sincerely.
Thanks for sharing your situation as a content creator with your audience. I appreciate the opportunity to weigh in on what you’ve decided, and I’m sure it’s not easy to take in everyone’s opinion.
I absolutely love your blog, it is one of the highlights of my day. I have been following for a long time, and I really enjoy the combination of posts that you provide. I also share your content with others and always highly recommend your blog.
I haven’t ever subscribed to content, I’ve always consumed what others have provided for free. I never minded the sponsored posts, I understood the need for them, and I often enjoyed them as well. I understand and appreciate the additional work it takes to create that content, and the emotional effort to deal with those who have complaints about the posts and sponsors is an additional cost I wouldn’t want to deal with! So i understand your decision to move forward with paid content.
Recently I have been considering subscribing to some online content, such as newspapers or periodicals that I find myself regularly reading, but blocked from because I’m not a subscriber. I haven’t made the jump yet, as it could easily turn into quite a few subscriptions and the cost being more than i intended to spend!
With that in mind, I am considering subscribing to your content, but my concern is the format. I have a little bit of FOMO – I would hate to miss out on any of your content! – but I also know I am a reader of content. So an important part of the decision for me is how much of the subscriber content is live? I am usually unable to do any type of live participation, so if the bulk of the content is provided in that manner, I would probably not subscribe. I realize you may not yet have that figured out, but if you have an idea at this point, I’d love to hear!
Hi Leasa. Thank you for the kind words. And I appreciate your question: How much of the subscriber content is live?
I don’t have a solid answer yet, because I’m still trying to figure that out. No matter when I do live content, there will be people who can’t participate (because of work, time zones, schedule conflicts, etc.), so if I’m going to do live content at all, I should probably vary the time of day and day of the week as much as possible so that the most amount of people get a chance to participate.
That said, maybe it will turn out that the “live” aspect isn’t important. When I think about doing a live Q&A, it wouldn’t be on camera, but instead would be typing out responses — like: I’ll be here responding to your comments for the next hour. And maybe the people who left the comments won’t see my responses until the next day. So maybe it doesn’t even really need to be “live”. I’m not sure yet. As you guessed, I’m still figuring it out.
I just happened on this article. It might be a good read for you.
I can’t afford to subscribe to substack for the set of blogs I read regularly, so I think everyone moving to substack would just end my ability to read them.
I bought a lot of my Christmas gifts from your affiliate links as you have such great ideas.
Thanks Susan. I’ve read that article, but found it odd. The writer seems to be shocked about the the Substack-Pro program, but it’s very public information that Substack has a Pro-level who they offer an advance to — Substack themselves has been writing about it publicly for quite awhile. They offered the Pro-level to me, but I wasn’t interested, because I didn’t want to commit to a year. I prefer to take the risk, and have more control.
I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I don’t plan on giving up my blog, even if I’m using Substack. That seems like it would be really unwise. I will still be blogging, and the majority of my content on Substack will also be free. So hopefully, even if the blogs you read are on Substack, you’ll still be able to access them at no cost.
Not sure if I’m explaining myself well, so I’ll restate: I don’t think anyone needs to worry if the blogs they read start a Substack. The whole thing with Substack is to offer your best content for free, so your readers will still have access, even if they don’t want to get the “extras”. If anything, this move should be good news because you’ll be getting more free content from me, because I’ve added a free newsletter to the free blog content I already create.
I’m glad to hear you found the gift guides helpful. I think 2020 was maybe my last year of Gift Guides. I’m not sure if I’ll ever do them again. They take so much work, and don’t create much revenue. Affiliate links used to be better, but rates have decreased. Because of the pandemic, more people are shopping online. So my gift guides from 2020 generated more sales than from any other year I’ve shared Gift Guides. Which seems like good news! But even though there were more sales, I made less money from the gift guides than any other year. The industry is always changing.
Have you thought of doing a donate button? And do a yearly donation drive? I love this blog and would happily donate $50-100 a year and if it comes with some kind of member perk, that would just be extra. I donate to other blogs and podcasts where I consume the content on a daily or weekly basis. Just make it super easy like an apple pay button.
I personally don’t read newsletters even if I subscribed to them. I was pleasantly surprised by your newsletter but I did not read it! And sponsored posts are so awkward. Especially if it’s a brand I don’t love, then sometimes I’m offended. Just being honest here.
I actually like affiliate links in the content when it’s curated and coming from an expert. That’s how I normally shop. Whoorl, Cup of Jo and Emily Henderson does a great job with this type of content.
I haven’t thought of a donate button. Maybe I should. I haven’t ever met anyone who’s had success with one. But then again, I haven’t really asked. Maybe they are great.
I hear you on those blogs doing a great job with affiliate links. Maybe because I’m not actually much of a shopper, I tend to feel cringe-y creating shopping posts. They’ve never been a natural fit for me, and when I’ve made them in the past, they don’t generate enough to make it worth my while. I have done holiday gift guides on some years — I think they don’t make me feel as cringe-y because I’m actually shopping during those months as I buy gifts for family and friends. I mentioned this in another comment, but even gift guides don’t seem to be worth it any more. My 2020 gift guides generated more sales than earlier years (because pandemic online shopping), but even with the increase in sales, I earned less revenue from the guides than other years. Affiliate rates have changed.
Jen, just thinking about your Donate Button idea. Couldn’t people just treat the Substack option as a donate button? Like anyone could go sign up for the paid option, but then not actually read the newsletter, or direct it to their spam box, or just pay the subscription fee, but then ask to have their email address removed from the mailing list.
I never comment but love to read. I am a mom of two elementary aged kids, working in a school setting. I have most enjoyed your work around family traditions and home renovating. We’ve done all the Halloween crafts, tried the recipes, attempted a book loft. I appreciate the evolving discussion on politics and human rights. I think you are a beautiful writer and could make a sponsored post on toothpaste seem inspiring somehow.
My tiny little opinion is I simply can’t handle another feed or stream to check. I can barely figure out television anymore with all the different streaming subscriptions and I work day and night to beat back my email and have no room for another newsletter. It’s all very interesting but as blogs move in a new direction, I feel myself being pulled back more into magazines and music. The screen already holds me hostage enough. Good luck on your new venture. Your voice is so distinct and ideas so creative that folks will follow you wherever you go.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jen. If it makes you feel any better, you’ll still be able to read my Substack newsletter even if you don’t want to receive it (I totally get not wanting to clog up your inbox). I’ll be sharing links here (just like I share other article links on Fridays), and you’ll be able to click over to my Substack page and read what I wrote if you’re ever interested.
If it’s not clear, the newsletter gets published on my Substack page as a blog post, as well as in email form.
I find myself shedding Internet engagement (I think I am officially *old*) but I do keep reading Design Mom, among a few other blogs. I love your voice, the incredibly great comment sections, and perhaps most of all the pointers toward new books, brands, products, trends, ideas, etc. I have too much email as it is, but I am 100% behind your fair compensation for your work! I have loved your home design book and bought many copies as gifts for friends. Wishing you success in whatever way(s) you proceed.
Thank you for the encouraging words, Angela!
I’ve been reading since you lived in NYC, maybe before?? I have never had an issue with your sponsored content but gosh, I can see what a pain it is. I believe you should monotize your work in the way you see fit. Your writing and insight is deep, thought-provoking and entertaining. I look forward to all aspects of it. I’m certainly guilty of several late night, long-winded comments. The substack distribution part concerns me and I can’t really put my finger on why. Perhaps it’s the 50% they take from you. That seems like A LOT. You do all the work and they take half?? Even Patreon takes between 5-12% at the most. Should I become a paying reader, I don’t want to fund substack. I want to fund YOU. Best of luck in this new venture. I admire that you don’t shy away from trying new things.
Oh shoot, Jeanne. I must have miscommunicated. Substack doesn’t take 50%, they take 10%. I’ve only looked into Patreon a tiny bit, but from my understanding, the fees they charge are pretty much identical to Substack. But speaking of Patreon, enough commenters have mentioned Patreon, that maybe I should have given it more thought as a possibility. Or maybe readers who want to support my work through a Patreon-like donation, could just sign up for the paid Substack and then ignore the newsletter (or assign it to spam).
And thank you for sticking with me since NYC! I love hearing that. And I always appreciate your comments.
This is a coincidence. After commenting, I clicked over to read Jason Kottke’s musings of the day and found this writer’s opinion.
Yes. I’ve read that too. I was a little surprised by the author being surprised about the existence of Substack Pro. I’ve known about it since they reached out to me, and I’ve seen Substack write about it publicly, so I figured it was well known. Apparently not.
Gabby, I have followed your blog and instagram posts for about 18 years. Yours is the only blog I read. I never minded the sponsored posts and I totally understand your need/desire to monetize your work in a way that makes sense to you. Just two years ago, before I retired I probably would not have subscribed to your new platform for the sole reason that I simply would not have the time to take advantage of the “extra” content. Today, I have more time and am happy to subscribe. I wish you the best with this new venture.
Huge congratulations on your retirement, Ruth. And I really appreciate the support.
Hi Gabby! I like the idea of a Substack newsletter a lot. I do one too and it’s been healthy for my growth. You already have an established audience–I think it would be fantastic for you.
I also imagine a very successful Design Mom Patreon. I think there’s lots of people that would be HAPPY to pay $50+a year to support your work, without creating any additional work for you. I would just do a flat rate per year or month and call it good.
So interesting, Koseli. I have not considered doing both a Patreon AND a Substack. For whatever reason, in my mind it was like choose one or the other. I’m still not totally convinced Substack will be the right fit — though I’m convinced enough to try it. Even if I decide not to use Substack, I’d still like to write a free newsletter. I’ve always felt bad that I had people subscribing to my newsletter all these years, but I wasn’t sending anything out.
It’s been interesting to see the varied responses to the idea here.
It also occurs to me: if someone wants to support my work, but has no interest in the Substack, couldn’t they just treat the Substack as a place to donate? It seems like overkill to promote both a Patreon and a Substack. For those who don’t want the newsletter or extra content, perhaps they would still be willing to donate via Substack.
I have to say I’m not a fan of newsletters and tiered subscriptions – more email, more complicated, more decisions, more issues of entitlement or feeling left out… *And* I totally want to support you (and others) for the work you do, just like I want authors to be paid for books, musicians for songs, cooks for food, etc. What about a membership drive kind of thing? (Maybe Kottke does something like this? And NPR of course!). Once a year or however often, you remind us about your worth, and people pay what they can and want to, monthly or annually, and those who pay support you and underwrite the rest. I have to think you have enough readers who would do that to cover those who couldn’t afford it or who chose not to or always mean to but never get around to it… Then you do whatever you want, content-wise, without worrying about subscribers v. free. And I suppose you could always offer one–time ticketed events if more interaction with smaller groups is on your mind. Whatever you do, I want to add my voice to the chorus of longtime readers: I truly admire and appreciate how thoughtful and articulate you are, and how you don’t shy away from things that matter to you. Thank you!
I really appreciate the kind words, Claire. Thank you. I’ve never really considered an NPR-style membership drive, but I like that idea. I’ll have to think about it. I wonder if people who want to donate to support the work could just sign up for the paid Substack even if they don’t want the extra content. As I think about it, it doesn’t seem much different than a membership drive to me. People can make a monthly or one-time donation, but instead of sending a tote bag as thanks, there’s a weekly newsletter and some other optional perks.
I love your work and am excited you are looking at monetisation options! My only feedback about subscriptions is I would love to get exclusive content, not just live Q&A sessions. I’m in Australia so they are never on at a time I can attend. I also ADORE when my favourite bloggers bring out ecourses or mini workshops that I can buy. I love taking online learning classes from creatures I love and often run out of courses to buy. I’m excited to see how your experiment goes!
Really good point on the issue of time zones with live content. Thank you, Leonie!
I have just signed up – I look forward to the content, but more than that I am so happy to have a way to directly support your work which I have happily consumed for years. I hope this is a surprisingly lucrative move for you! Thank you for all that you do.
Wow, Moira. Thank you! That means a lot. Your enthusiasm is encouraging.
Honestly feeling a little frustrated for yet another creator to be going the Substack track. I completely understand the need to fund the work and as such have tried to ensure I’ve read the sponsored posts here and elsewhere (other blogs, IG, etc) and recognized they are the exchange for the free content. Love when creators label something an Ad Break on IG (see @grillodesigns for an example – and maybe for the start of it?).
My biggest concern about things going to Substack or other such platforms is a risk of an even more narrow view of the world. People will subscribe, and esp pay, for the things that already know they are interested in vs stumbling into new places. It feels like a path many people I’ve loved to read are headed down so maybe I’ll find my way there as a follower but frankly I’m not certain.
Amanda, I’m not getting the connection you are making between subscribing to a newsletter and the risk of a more narrow world view. I would say people are just as likely to stumble on my newsletter (which is free and shareable) as they are to stumble on my blog (which is free and shareable).
It really seems like a lot of people commenting here are not understanding that the newsletter I’m announcing is free. I’m new to Substack, but from what I can tell, 99% of what’s on Substack is free.
I love that you are writing so openly about it (this is what I love so much about you).
I honestly don’t mind sponsored posts done well (you and Cup of Jo do them really well) and if it’s not my thing, I ignore the links and move on. Same on podcasts – I don’t mind advertisers one bit and have found many new products and services from those same podcasts.
What I really struggle with is this: I am very intentional about my time usage and on principle, I would never sign up to get more content (blogs, podcasts, newsletters) when I feel like I already can’t listen to everything I’m interested in. At one point last year I counted – because I’m a numbers person – and I had 90 podcast episodes, all unread. I realised that I wasn’t going to get an additional 80 hours of listening time (not all are one-hour episodes) so I did a hard unsubscribe on many, many podcasts. And I’ve tried to not add them all back but listen to the episode linked, and then delete the podcast.
And yet, everyone is putting out extra content via their Patreons. I want to support people’s work but I would much rather have a once-off thing every so often so I don’t feel like me supporting others is adding to my (already full) plate. Additionally, how is it possible that all these people have all this time to listen to all these extra podcasts? or do people simply pay the $5 and never listen? I don’t know.
Thank you for always creating thought-provoking content. Pop a donate now Paypal button up in your posts now and again and I’ll happily donate :)
“Additionally, how is it possible that all these people have all this time to listen to all these extra podcasts? or do people simply pay the $5 and never listen?”
Marcia, you nailed it. You could think of the option to support a Patreon or a Substack as just a fancier “Donate” button. In general, people want to support the writer/creator so they sign up, even if they won’t be able to read the newsletter or listen to the podcast.
But personally, I much prefer the Substack model to a Donate Button. A donate button can really put some people off. And I get it, it doesn’t feel right to me as the writer/creator either. A donate button feels like something you do for a Go Fund Me for a medical emergency; it’s not a way to make a living.
And I don’t want people to donate to me. If they read my work and appreciate it, I’m asking them to pay for the work they appreciate. A donation feels like a gift, which is nice, but I don’t want a gift. I want to exchange my work for money. I want a job. I want to sell what I write. So for me, it’s like saying: Hey, I’ve been writing a virtual book of essays and commentary for a decade. If you’ve been reading the essays, perhaps you would consider paying for the virtual book.
I know there’s technically no difference between someone sending money through a Donation Button, and someone sending money through a Substack subscription — in both cases it’s money moving from one account to another. But it definitely feels different to me. I can’t see myself ever putting up a Donate Button. Maybe I’ll be convinced otherwise, but I doubt it.
But back to your point of having too much content already: Yes, that’s a thing. It’s true for everyone. People have lists of movies they haven’t watched yet, stacks of books they bought and haven’t read yet, and a lineup of podcasts they haven’t listened to yet. We can’t support every writer/creator we would like to, and no one is asking us to. Think about the writers/creators (that includes podcasters) you frequent most and choose a few to support with a financial contribution, and then enjoy the rest of the free content out there as your schedule allows.
And if you decide to support my work with a paid subscription, but you never read the newsletter or join a discussion post, I will not be bothered at all. I will totally understand that you want to interact with my work in a different way, and that’s fine by me.
I don’t mind sponsored content. You should get paid for the work you do. You always seemed to do a good job of selecting partners whose products were at least somewhat of interest. And if they weren’t, I’m a grown ass woman who can scroll past things I don’t want to read. I would never complain to you about the spon con, or demand more of X type of content. I think of it like turning past a full page ad in a magazine i.e. no big deal and certainly not a personal affront. I stop reading blogs/sites when the overall content starts to consistently diverge from my interests, but your site has never done that. I’ve only signed up for one newsletter and am surprised to find myself ignoring them, as much as I love what the author brings to other platforms. Something about receiving an email feels like “work” to me, where perusing your blog/IG feels like “learning” and “recreation.”
“Something about receiving an email feels like “work” to me, where perusing your blog/IG feels like “learning” and “recreation.””
I get that Steph, a LOT of my work day happens in my inbox. You’ll be glad to hear that you if you’re ever interested in reading what I wrote in a newsletter, there will be a link you can click and read it online (just like a blog post) instead of in your inbox.
I love that you are exploring new options. You have always come across as brave, in addition to a lot of other wonderful adjectives😉. And as my nine year old told me the other day, “hope feels like courage”. Which beautifully expressed how I feel at the edge of my comfort zone.
I will definitely subscribe to the newsletter. I’m not sure yet about exclusive content. But I’d consider it.
Thank you, Nicole! And what a wise 9-year-old you have. I love that: “Hope feels like courage.”
I definitely understand your decision and know that you put a lot of careful consideration into it. I have been a huge, huge Design Mom fan for years. I will still follow your free content but I do not think I will subscribe. As someone else mentioned above, one of my fave bloggers Dinner a Love Story also switched to Substack and I no longer check her website (do read her on Cup of Jo and have bought her cookbooks). I am worried all my faves will go to Substack and I can’t pay for every blogger I would like to follow.
Not sure if know this, Chris, but like me, Dinner a Love Story has a free Substack (the paid perks are optional), so if you’re missing her work, you don’t need to be. You don’t have to put in a credit card or something like that in order to read the posts on Dinner A Love Story’s Substack page.
Gabby, I’ve subscribed as a founding member. I’ve been reading since I was an unmarried grad student – the LAST time you lived in France – and now as a married mother of two with plans to move our family to Germany within the year. And I am so much on board with your new plan. I’ll be there!
Thank you, Amy! So cool of you. And so exciting about your upcoming move to Germany!
I completely understand the quandary that writers are in. I suppose my biggest concern is on a larger scale. If good, quality writing primarily resides across a paywall….what is left? What does an internet look like that only has ‘free content’?
Jody, it seems like a lot of people commenting here are missing the fact that writers are creating free content on Substack. The weekly newsletter will be the bulk of what I create on Substack, and it’s free. You can read it in your inbox, or as an online post. No paywall. So concerns that “the best content will be behind paywalls” seems unfounded.
As I read the feedback, it makes me curious about what would have happened, if I just announced something like: Hey I just relaunched a weekly newsletter, the first one went out on Tuesday, it’s free to subscribe, here’s the link.
If I had done that, and NOT mentioned the paid option, I think no one would have been bothered at all. Bloggers start newsletters all the time, no big deal. It just means more content, right? Readers could have chosen to subscribe to the free newsletter, or they could read the link online for free, or they could just ignore it.
It would have been interesting to only mention the newsletter here, and then, when people had received and read a few of the weekly newsletters, I could have included a notice that said something like: Hey, if you’re enjoying the newsletter or the blog, and wish you could get more content from me, here’s an upgrade option.
I wonder if there would be less angst about it, if I had done it that way. It seems like many people reading my post are fixated on the paid option, and miss the bigger news: I’m creating a free weekly newsletter. So yay for more free content!
Hi Gabby, very long time reader and general fangirl here. Also, I have been a huge fan of my favorite writers using Substack as a sustainable pathway to monetizing their work. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the critical conversation happening right now regarding some of the Substack Pro writers producing content considered extreme right wing in general and very anti-trans specifically?
While I personally don’t have a problem with the concept of the Pro program (it makes sense to me), I do find the way the Substack folks are handling the questioning around their role in that content creation troubling. They seem to deliver a utopian hands-off approach to moderation that feels naive, and honestly I found their responses to fair criticism (how are you not a publisher if you choose and pay people to write) as patronizing and bordering on gaslighting. There’s a certain Zuckerbergian quality of just reiterating their general talking points over and over again, not actually answering questions, telling the questioner their assumptions are incorrect, and not engaging in any kind of meaningful dialogue to make the product better.
Curious to hear your thoughts on the issue.
I guess I don’t really care if they call themselves a publisher or not? From a writer/creator point of view, I just need them to offer a platform that works (it’s still in beta, and still has plenty of kinks to work out).
If we’re talking about whether or not someone should let Nazis use their platform, then my answer is: No, they should not. I’ve been vocal (and will continue to be vocal) that companies should de-platform Nazis. Twitter should aggressively kick them off. Amazon Web Services should not host their websites. Facebook should not allow them to advertise. And Substack should not allow them to create a newsletter.
For someone who is concerned about whether they call themselves a publisher or not, I can tell you that I’ve worked with lots of publishers — my book publisher, multiple magazines, Medium, etc., and I know what publishers do and how they interact with their writers/creators, and what kind of editorial contracts they put in place. If that’s the definition of what a publisher is, then Substack is not one. Substack’s interaction with me has not been as a publisher at all, I have signed no contracts, and had zero conversations about content — they have not asked about what I plan to write, and I have not told them.
My interactions with Substack have been closer to my interactions with a platform like WordPress. Substack has given me instructions on how to set up a newsletter, and tutorials on how to use their software. That’s it. (Obviously, I can’t speak to how they interact with other writers/creators.)
Overall, I guess I’m not understanding what people are worked up about.
This short Twitter thread about Substack (and the comments) is basically where my head is at.
Good on you for looking into other ways of monetizing. Your content is great and you should be paid for the effort you put into it. I read a number of blogs and sponsored content, affiliate links and ads have never bothered me because I truly believe that creators deserve to be paid.
I don’t tend to subscribe to email newsletters from bloggers because I use Bloglovin, so don’t miss posts, and blog reading is solely a weekday morning thing for me. I do subscribe to some newsletters through my work email – ny times daily update, a local news daily update, and newsletters that are specific to my job – but I guess I have a very clear delineation between blogs (for me, for fun, and for the mornings) and newsletters (for work hours, they need to be quick to consume for that reason, and current affairs or work focused).
This is obviously a very personal perspective, there’ll be many different styles of blog consumption! I wish that there was a way of integrating sub stack with your blog platform so you weren’t having to add to your workload, but instead able to monetize this space better (without relying on things like donate buttons, which seem too fickle to me).
Wow, what a longwinded way of saying I don’t have a clue what the answer is. 😂 but good on you and I hope it’s successful. Overall the issue of how content creators make money still needs a satisfactory answer I think. I consume lots of ‘free’ content and my attention does convert into dollars for *some* people (I see lots of ads that must make Instagram a decent amount of money!) but it doesn’t seem to be the people who are putting the effort in, all too often. It’s a problem!
“Overall the issue of how content creators make money still needs a satisfactory answer I think. I consume lots of ‘free’ content and my attention does convert into dollars for *some* people (I see lots of ads that must make Instagram a decent amount of money!) but it doesn’t seem to be the people who are putting the effort in, all too often. It’s a problem!”
You’ve summed it up perfectly, Hayley.
Content Creators have tried to solve this over the years. New platforms like Medium, Patreon, and Substack have tried to solve it too. I’m not sure if we’re there yet.
I support you, love your content, and feel like I’ve gotten it free for too long! I am in a place to contribute financially and am happy to do so. While there is so much free content out in the world, it’s not all valuable to me. I want you to be able to make a living doing what you do and while you have to be responsive to your readers, I trust that you will navigate the path that works best for you. Thank you.
Erin, thank you! I really appreciate your trust and support. THANK YOU.
One more voice for Patreon here vs. Substack. I’m trying to figure out what it is about Patreon that makes me more comfortable and less hesitant to support monetarily via that, but I do know that anytime a newsletter writer has asked me to pay via Substack, I always just subscribe to the free content. This is the first time I’ve thought twice about doing that because I so want to support you. One feature I like about Patreon is the ability to pay what you can afford–so for example the creator sets the tiers, but if you don’t care about getting the tiered perks and just want to support them with some cash, you can pay less each month. (E.g. say the first tier is $10/month, you can still become a supporter at $1-$9/month. Also it turns out you still get some perks!) Maybe on Substack it seems like people always make the perks things I’m not interested in, like live Q&As or book club discussions, so I come at it from a place of not wanting to pay for things I don’t use, vs. with Patreon it’s framed first and foremost as “if you like my work and want to support it, here’s how….and if you’re interested here are some perks.” Seems much more similar to a donation drive style thing that other commenters have mentioned.
I also have never been bothered by your sponsored posts and thought you did a great job with them. Not bothered by affiliate links or web ads either–I don’t understand people who don’t get that these things make the content “free” for readers! That being said, this industry continues to evolve, and you have to evolve with it, so I totally support what you decide to do and appreciate your transparency.
Thanks for your thoughts on Patreon, Kara. Good to know.
I have been supporting about three creators at a time on Patreon for years and love that way of getting new fiction, recipes, early access, and exclusive content. Any guilt I feel about accessing privileged content is balanced by the guilt I feel when I decide I’m no longer getting enough out of a creator’s content to keep paying for it. I’ve been watching the SubStack trend snowball over the past year and recently came to the conclusion that I would soon need to pick one or two creators to support through SubStack. But those subscriptions add up! I don’t love sponsored posts and have long had the policy of just opening the post to give the creator the click, but not reading them. Content creators need to get paid, but I do get subscriber fatigue. I would love to have some kind of bundled subscription, where I can chose a preset group of say five creators, or for a little more money, pay one price for five creators of my choosing. I do love that we’re starting to move on from the sponsorship model.
Ooooh. I like that Bundle idea, Amy. That is something Substack should consider for sure.
And I agree that it’s good thing that we’re starting to move on from the sponsorship model. I noted this in a comment below, but I think that ultimately the sponsored content path may have been a mistake. It set expectations that internet writing would be free for readers, underwritten by sponsors. It’s a strange expectation — we don’t do it for any other creative work. This is not a perfect comparison, but it would be like telling a movie maker: I love your movies, I see them all the day they come out in the theater, and I think you should definitely get paid, but I’m not going to buy a ticket. So go get a sponsor and tell the sponsor to buy my movie ticket.
I’ve never clicked through to pay for a subscription so fast. I’ve also never left a comment in years. I’ve been reading this blog for like ten years (I was 18!! so young!!) and it has shaped so much of the way I think. I don’t even check email newsletters but am thrilled I can FINALLY support you in a way that feels authentic to me (I just don’t need a lot of stuff/I don’t like buying things/none of the linked items applied to me in a different stage of life so I’ve never been able to buy from an affiliate link – I did buy your book though ;).
Gabby you are the one person I’ve read consistently for so long, I’ve learned so much from you. Thank you for your work, and I hope the subscription model pays off in a big way. I’m so excited to continue reading your work.
Ps I can’t WAIT for your parenting book. I don’t even have kids!
Aleena. Wow. Thank you. This comment makes me teary (in a good way). It’s really wonderful to hear from someone who has been reading here for a decade and is delighted about having a way to support my work. I can’t thank you enough. Sending all the high fives and heart eyes.
Yes, the gift guides are excellent. I love those. So please keep those going. I guess it’s mostly a branding thing. Signing up for a subscription vs. a donation. The end results might be the same but a donation sounds like a one-time thing vs. subscription is a commitment that I need to keep track of.
I want you to be compensated absolutely, but like many folks, things are pretty awful financially and I don’t see a way out. No less than twelve blogs I read regularly have gone to Substack. I understand you’ll have some free content and hope to be satisfied with only that. I follow you on Twitter and enjoy that, too. But I admit my heart sank. Otoh I really want you to be compensated. Good luck (really!)
Totally get that Susan, and I’m happy to gift a subscription who anyone who wants the perks but can’t afford them at the moment.
I 100% agree with “C” who said, “Substack makes me cranky. I feel like I receive too much email as it is, and I’m so circumspect on the fact that so many “content creators” (ugh) I appreciate and respect are moving to this one platform.”
I read your blog on Feedly, along with dozens of other blogs. I like having this type of content all in one place, separate from my email inbox which is already too full of lots of other kinds of content. If anything, I’ve unsubscribed to more email newsletters in the past year than subscribed.
I look forward to continuing with your blog on Feedly. I will sign up for your email, as I’ve really grown to value your voice over the past decade, but I don’t know how regularly I’ll read it. Most likely, I’ll binge a month’s worth all at once when I’m trying to clean out my inbox. (Insert sheepish shrug emoji here.)
I love your blog and I would love to continue to read it. So I would consider Substack, but I wondered if you considered this: when you work with sponsored posts you only depend on a couple (multiple) companies that you decide to work with. That is your decision and you keep it in your own hands. When you have hundreds/thousands of subscribers you depend on all those people and their decisions. And there will be pressure to keep ‘delivering’. I wish you wisdom in finding the right path for you. I didn’t mind the sponsored post by the way
Ah but that’s the thing, Lucia. I already have hundreds/thousands of readers that I’m mindful of. I feel pressure to keep delivering every single day, and have felt that pressure for 15 years. Whether they choose a paid subscription or not, I already respond to comments and DMs and emails. Just look at these comments as an example. How many hours have I spent responding to comments on this post and trying to explain things clearly and openly? (Lots of hours!) And many (if not most) commenters here have clearly stated they will not be choosing a paid subscription. Whether I work with sponsors or not, the readers will always require my attention.
Hi! I’m a long time fan of your work. Saying that, I’m guessing it was a vocal minority who complained. I’d much rather scroll past banner ads or occasionally read a sponsored post (the bulk of yours are thoughtful and still good content) than pay for a subscription. If this the way you want to do it, GREAT! But I hope this isn’t a response to complainers because I’m sure the bulk of us would prefer free content! I know many bloggers are turning to this model and you certainly deserve to be compensated for all your hard work. The only other thing is I’m not a fan of emails (I’m drowning already and don’t want to open my inbox when I’m having a peaceful moment.) Can you get the newsletter through the app?
Hi Kate, it might seem like a vocal minority to you, but it is definitely not. Anytime I’ve done surveys on this kind of thing, readers make clear they do not like sponsored posts. They do not like feeling that a voice they trust is “selling them” something. They feel frustration that a blogger is saying all these nice things about a sofa or appliance or bike (or whatever) that the blogger didn’t pay for, and that the reader may not be able to afford. Readers get frustrated about sponsored posts for products they don’t approve of — like maybe they feel like vitamins are a scam. And it’s not the same readers getting frustrated every time, it’s a different groups of readers depending on each product.
Further, if there’s drama in the comment section (which there often is!) it makes other sponsors less interested in future sponsorships. Of course, if I delete the drama from the comment section, that creates more drama, when readers feel like I’m trying to shutdown conversation. For sure there are blogs out there where sponsored content doesn’t feel so harrowing, but Design Mom Readers are really smart and like to discuss things, and the nature of capitalism means there will always be readers who have issues with every possible sponsor.
Looking back to the beginning of blogs, I think it was probably a bad move for blogs to embrace sponsored posts. It has created an odd dynamic. There are several comments on this post saying something like: I really like reading your content, and I put up with sponsored posts, because I think you should get paid, but not paid by me.
I say that’s an odd dynamic because we don’t really do this with other kinds of writers. Like we would never say to our favorite novelist: I really like reading your books, and I think you should get paid, but not by me. Instead, I think you, the author, should go out and get a sponsor to pay for the books I want to read.
That would be absurd, right?
Probably the closest thing in traditional media to a blog is a print magazine. A print magazine typically has 25% or more of its pages dedicated to ads, and it sells subscriptions, so it has two revenue streams. Once in awhile a magazine might have an “Advertorial” which is an ad that looks like a regular article (but will be labeled as sponsored content at the top in small print).
Display Ads on blogs are like the pages of ads in a magazine. Sponsored posts are like an Advertorial.
Looking back, maybe it would have been better to follow that print magazine model — to dedicate 25% of our website space to Display Ads, and then create subscriptions to our blogs, so people didn’t get used to getting all their content for free, subsidized by sponsors.
Regarding drowning in emails, I totally get that. I feel that too. And you can definitely read the newsletter without receiving it in your inbox.
Lastly, I’m troubled by your comment that “the bulk of us would prefer free content”. I think I must have explained things poorly, because what I’m announcing here is MORE free content for you, not less. The newsletter is weekly and free (and you can read it online if you don’t want it in your inbox).
Agreed! I have absolutely no interest in reading newsletters that come to my inbox. One of the things I love about blogs is that I can pop over to them and read them whenever I want. When I have a moment, I can visit one of “my” blogs and see if there’s any new content. If I’m busy for a few days, I can go back and scroll through the last few posts.
Blogs feel like something that exist in a particular space on the internet, and I can visit them at my leisure.
With newsletters in my inbox, it feels like something I have to either read when I receive it, or remember to go back and hunt through my inbox for it. It’s not the same. I’m already subscribed to a few, and I often feel a sense of guilt about them, either that I’m wasting my money or that I’m neglecting my social responsibility (anti-racist and social justice newsletters, for example)
All that being said, I know that everyone consumes content differently and I’m sure many will enjoy this newsletter! I’m only sharing because you mentioned wanting to hear your readers’ opinions.
Stephanie, I hope you’ll be glad to hear that you can read the newsletter as a blog post, instead of getting it in your inbox.
I have been quite ignorant about how you (and many other blogs) are funded. I realize that I am getting so much great free content, but assumed Ads were a good source of income. I do feel reluctant to pay for added content in a subscription form because I don’t think I would take advantage of the extras. However, I feel pretty comfortable about just giving a “donation” to keep your blog going. Maybe you could have a “Donation” button on your blog with a brief explanation. This could even be a temporary solution until you come up with something you might feel more comfortable with. I like the idea that everyone (whether they have have the financial means or not) has access to your blog, as I find you articulate important topics so well. You have rocked my world more than once! (Plus- I LOVE following your France house updates).
Hi Loris, I think your assumption about Ads being a good source of income, was actually true back in the 2006-2009 era. If I remember right, Dooce made a very good living with only display ads on her site — she didn’t do any sponsored posts for many years.
Display ads are the ad boxes in the margins, or at the top or bottom of a website, and they sometimes show up in the middle of the page as you read an online article. They are strictly an advertisement, created by the brand. The author of the website where you see the display ads usually has no idea what you are seeing, because it’s based on your own searches, or your own shopping habits and location. When I visit my own website, I see ads in French for French products. The vast majority of Design Mom readers are seeing something completely different than what I see.
Display Ads are different than Sponsored Posts. For Sponsored Posts a brand hires the writer/creator to make a blog post specifically about their company or product — the post might be an essay, a DIY post, a recipe, a video, etc.. It usually involves custom photography. Starting around 2010, the rates for Display Ads starting going way down, but Sponsored Posts started becoming a popular advertising option for brands. From 2010-2015, many bloggers were able to make 75-80% of their incomes from Sponsored Posts; the other 20-25% of income might come from their Display Ads and Affiliate Links in Shopping Posts. (These are VERY rough numbers — consider them anecdotal.)
Since 2015 (if not earlier), blog reading has dropped off, and bloggers have had to move a lot of their content to social media. To be clear, bloggers were using social media before 2016, but it was mostly to promote what they had created and shared on their blog. Eventually, the new content was being created specifically for social media, instead of the blog.
If there are blogs you are still reading from 2010 or earlier (I started in 2006), the blogger/writer/creator has likely scrambled together lots of smallish revenue streams in order to keep afloat. Those revenue streams could include a combination of the following: display ads on their blog/website, sponsored posts on Instagram, sponsored videos (that could live on tiktok, youtube, instagram, the blog, facebook, etc.), product lines (either they sell directly, or they license their name), a podcast with sponsors, a book advance, affiliate links, a newsletter with sponsors, online classes or e-books, paid subscriptions to their work, and in-person events (for example, I have a conference called Alt Summit).
Regarding your Donation Button idea, I would hope people could use the Substack Subcription as a way to donate — even if they aren’t interested in the free newsletter or add-ons. But maybe a Donate Button makes more sense.
I tried to respond directly to the thread but my browser seems to be glitching. Just wanted to say thank you for the explanation above about how sponsored posts work, and the challenges of teaming up with brands that are a “natural fit”
I know I’ve often found myself annoyed/confused by bloggers and influencers doing partnerships that seem very weird or forced, and that explanation helped me understand!
I still raise a bit of a side-eye at bloggers who suddenly promote something that is completely off-brand, but I have a better sense of the challenges of finding a good fit now.
Thank you for this comment, Stephanie. I should also note: the amount of brands looking to work with bloggers at this moment in time, is far less than it used to be. These days, brands have so many avenues they can try — blogs are just one of dozens of options. So right now, bloggers really do have to say yes to pretty much any reasonable offer that comes their way, because they don’t know when they’re going to get another one.
Hi Katie, C here again!
I too use Feedly! Such a good way to streamline content I enjoy. Though many of my RSS feeds have gone dead or much less frequent than they used to be, with people publishing their work mostly on IG, or, well, newsletters.
I just remembered reading some time ago about a Feedly equivalent that could also aggregate newsletters.
I couldn’t find the one I’d initially read about, but I’ll share the results of my quick Friday night research, for anyone interested:
– Turns out Feedly itself offers the option, but with a $99/yr subscription.
– Substack has a beta reader option to aggregate all the Substack newsletters you’re interested in, + any RSS feeds you follow. It’s free, at least for now. (Why can’t I shake the fact that I’m too suspicious of Substack to do that?)
– Kill the Newsletter is a free service that somehow converts newsletter subscriptions into links you can use in an RSS reader like Feedly. It creates a special email address you need to use for that. Apparently you can forward any newsletters you already subscribe to through it, there’s a thread on Reddit about it—just too complex for my Friday night brain to process. Maybe I’ll try that. The issue I have with that is that I feel like it’s valuable for the content creators to collect our actual email addresses, and am I doing them a disservice by giving them this weird bot email address? Maybe Gabrielle can speak to that.
Gabrielle, thank you so much for taking the time to reply to all of us.
Re: content creator vs. writer: how about, simply, author? A person who invents, creates, writes… from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote.’
Or content creator! Or just brilliant genius. You know, keeping it simple :)
“The issue I have with that is that I feel like it’s valuable for the content creators to collect our actual email addresses, and am I doing them a disservice by giving them this weird bot email address?”
It’s very thoughtful of you to even think of this angle, so thank you C. I have always been taught as an online writer/creator, that gathering emails from readers is SUPER important. But here I am going on 15 years into this and I’ve never made use of them. There are some authors (to use your word – love it) that really make use of email addresses. They send out promotional emails, and use their address lists to sell products, or to grow their overall audience. Others use their newsletters as another place to share sponsored content, so the newsletter becomes a revenue stream where they can sell space to advertisers.
I know there’s a ton of smart business strategy behind it. And if you’re trying to pitch a book to a publisher, if you have an email list, that is point in your favor from the publisher’s perspective.
Because of how powerful an email list can be, I’ve collected emails for years and years, but again, I haven’t really made use of my list in any meaningful way. So for me, a weird bot email probably isn’t going to matter much. For other writers/creators, it may matter a great deal.
Just signed up as a founding member. I don’t really need a newsletter and probably won’t tune in to live Q&As, I just love your thoughtful posts and want you to do you! Best of luck to you; I’ll be here and I’m thrilled to pay for the privilege. xo
Sheri! That so lovely of you to say. Thank you so much.