The new Culture of Paying

Today, thanks to my reflect:ed subscribers, we made it back to the front page of – the service that I am using to send this newsletter out.

The interesting thing is that reflect:ed is the only subscription based newsletter amongst the 15 “hot” newsletters which shows two things. One is that I am apparently cutting edge and two that a paid newsletter can be as successful as a free one.

So let’s talk a bit about the new culture of paying on the internet.

First of all, I have been playing around with the idea of offering a paid subscription to my content for quite a while now. Back in July I killed all Google Ads on the blog as I did not believe in spamming my readers with more or often less related ads. Today, after only about three weeks in the subscription, the newsletter is generating far more revenue than the ads ever did.

Koichi put it very simple: it’s your blog, sell your stuff instead of other people’s. This is of course based on his experience of selling a higher priced product, his Textfugu Japanese textbook for self learners, the approach of selling a subscription based newsletter takes another angle.

My moment of pivot was once more a short Gary Vaynerchuk video, which you can watch below.

Of course, I immediately headed over to and set up my newsletter. The problem was that uses Amazon Payments for the pay out and for the moment this option only exists in the US. I was stuck. But only a couple of days later I read about TinyLetter designed by Philip Kaplan and bingo, his system uses PayPal.

In the video Gary talks about a new culture of paying after the hype of everything has to be free on the internet is eventually over. I think, I already wrote about the trend of bloggers who put their whole blog behind a pay wall, in fact Sam Lessin who is the creator of closed down his blog and only offers a subscription based newsletter now. And of course we all remember the brouhaha around Rupert Murdoch’s idea of charging for his flagship newspapers and magazines. Now he is launching a magazine on the iPad together with Steve Jobs and Richard Branson just launched his monthly magazine Project.

As Gary says, Steve Jobs and iTunes have re-educated Internet users to pay for content in any form. From music to movies to books to newspapers to games. Everyone with a bit of knowledge about the Internet knows how and where to get those items “for free” but more and more people decide to pay a small amount and have their piece of mind as we all know that the “for free” method is illegal. For the publishers it is obvious that prices are way lower than they used to be but remember: Many mickle makes a muckle.

There is actually a big opportunity for dedicated bloggers to sell content to their readers. I chose the classic freemium model for this blog. Yes, I know what you are saying now: “But Kirsten, you have always said freemium is dead!”. I can assure you, it still is rotting away in most markets and niches. But looking at my readership I saw a possibility to actually make it work. And remember, freemium could have never been such a hype if there wasn’t companies that succeeded with it in the first place, right?

The idea with reflect:ed is to offer extra content shaped to the needs and interests of maybe 5% of the readers of reflect:ed is written for investors, startup founders and CxOs in education 2.0 as well as edupreneurs in general who are interested in really drilled down analytics of one single topic. The first newsletter is on Facebook, has six pages and I am happy and have a sense of contentment about the feedback I got immediately after.

Taking this back to online education and possibilities for online teachers I could imagine that educators are willing to pay $1.99 for a weekly newsletter that delivers them lesson ideas and material. The same is true for students which could subscribe to self paced lessons. We are basically all still trained on these patterns from classic magazine subscriptions which delivered our copy in the tin mailbox.

Again, yes I’m aware that the prices are not the same than they used to be but on the other hand you can now market and sell your content to a global audience. Some of you will remember what a pain it used to be (and still is) to get your favorite newspaper or magazine from the other side of the globe. Either it is not possible at all or so expensive that you relinquish. The Internet takes those barriers down if you are open to give away a bit of control as the content needs to be digital of course. Sure, there is a risk that your content will be shared but the same was true for books. Students used to spend a lot of money in copy shops for example and magazines can be easily shared with your friends and family.

There is actually an interesting discussion going on in the ESL scene at the moment as many educators find their content on document sharing sites or blogs without any acknowledgement these days. Something I have to dig deeper into.

Image: [Petr Kratochvil]

Related Links:

  1. No more Ads
  2. f*ck blogging: my last blog post
  4. TinyLetter
  5. reflect:ed
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  • jasonoutthere

    Good article K! I particularly like the paid newsletter/weekly content thing…interesting times. Maybe a lot of people are working out that 'free' is often incomplete and sub-standard, especially when it comes to teaching and learning materials…we all gotta live!

    • KirstenWinkler

      Well, for many it's also a motivational thing. But sure, we all got to live and advertisement / sponsoring can't be the answer for all content on the Internet.

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