Newsletter growth: Money, Math, and Emotion

News Bundler is a platform with user-generated content. This makes me think in public about possible trouble.

Matthias Bohlen
5 minutes reading time

When you’re a startup solopreneur like me, you have to be careful about the unexpected consequences of the new shiny thing that you create.

My latest “shiny thing” is News Bundler, a platform that helps paid newsletter authors to make more money with their newsletter. It will work because of some simple and reliable math behind it, something that can easily be planned for and verified. I’ll talk about that below.

What’s more difficult to predict is how people will react to what I build. Emotions are involved (we’re Humans, not Vulcans – the Star Trek fans among you will know what I mean here 😀).

Emotions don’t follow logic, they are unplannable and difficult to handle and control. Nevertheless, I have to prepare for them. You will see what I mean below.

Let’s start with the easy part: money and math.

Money and Math: the easy part

When two authors sign up for News Bundler, they can both add their newsletters which are then listed in a directory. They create a bundle and add both newsletters to it.

News Bundler sells the bundle for 80% of the sum of the original newsletter prices. The subscribers get a 20% discount, so it’s attractive for them to buy the bundle.

News Bundler itself keeps 8% of the original prices as a fee and forwards the rest of the money to the authors. Easy to understand, right?

The authors get the remaining 72% of a cake that is now 4 times as large as each individual cake of which each author had 100%. And 72% of 4 is more than 100% of 2, right? (The number 4 comes from making 2 times as many subscribers each buy 2 things instead of 1.)

If you want to see how this looks for your newsletter, with real dollar values, use the free revenue calculator form that I added to the website today.

Okay, that was the easy part. Money is mostly math. Check. ✅

Now hold my beer while I tackle the hard part.

Emotions: the hard part

News Bundler is a platform where newsletter authors will publish so-called “user-generated content”. For a platform operator like me, user-generated content can be somewhat dangerous because people can make me responsible for what the platform contains and what the authors write on it.

Today, I can see three different situations that will come up in which content can make people upset:

  1. conflict between authors and the public
  2. conflict between authors and me
  3. conflict among authors themselves

Case 1 occurs when an author publishes an opinionated newsletter on News Bundler and the public disagrees, or when what the author says is factually wrong. As long as the author respects the integrity of other people and causes an honest debate, everything is fine. In that case, the author and the public can settle this by themselves, I need not intervene.

Case 2 is more critical: It occurs when authors publish something that I will need to fight against. Examples include hate speech, racism, discriminating other people and so on. In those cases, I will need to stop this by removing their content from the platform. However, I should clearly announce this from the get go, e.g. by publishing a code of conduct for the News Bundler platform. When an author violates it, I’ll take decisive action.

Case 3 is the most interesting one because it will require the most nuanced action from my side.

Recently, I talked to a newsletter author who said “It’s cool that News Bundler can help two or more authors make more money but the problem is: I don’t have a buddy who will create a bundle with me.”

This made me think, and I found a solution that seemed totally easy at first: Allow anyone on the News Bundler platform to define a bundle of two arbitrary newsletters that they find there. If subscribers buy or don’t buy, all is well. The author in the example above won’t need to decide whom he’s going to partner with.

But, wait a minute: What if a user creates a bundle of two newsletters from authors with different opinions? Will those authors be happy when their newsletters are bundled?

Some possible topics may cause conflict here:

  • Politics: What if one is left-wing, one is right-wing? I’d love that and buy the bundle, but they authors might be unhappy to be in the same bundle as their “enemy”.
  • Religion and philosophy: What if one is a religious newsletter, the other is an atheist?
  • Sex and gender: What if one writes about cis, the other writes about trans?
  • Food: Veggie versus meatie?
  • Sports: Fans of one famous football club versus fans of their rivals?

And so on. You get the gist. What solution would you propose here to secure peace as well as freedom of speech on the platform?

The solution I came up with is this: Whenever a bundle is complete and ready to be sold, it won’t be made public immediately.

All authors will be asked: “Someone has defined a bundle that contains your newsletter X. The other ones are Y and Z. Are you okay if the X-Y-Z bundle is published?“.

If they all click “Approve”, all is well. If one of them clicks “Deny”, the bundle will be rejected and won’t be published. The person who defined the bundle will get a message saying “Your bundle was rejected by at least one of the authors who write the newsletters”.

In the early days of News Bundler (right now), I will do this manually. I will send the authors an email to ask them to approve or deny. Later on, when too many authors and subscribers are on the platform, I will automate this process.

How would you handle it?

Do you think I’m talking about a real problem here, or is it just me who sees possible trouble? What solution would you propose if you were an author or a subscriber using News Bundler?

I’m so curious! Please hit reply to this newsletter or comment on the website below this article.

See you in the next episode…

Matthias

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