As I see more and more people writing newsletters instead of blogs I have been spending more time thinking about blogging vs. newsletters. I recently answered some questions that Matt Birchler asked regarding newsletters and blogging. Here is what I had to say originally in quotes, as well as my newly added comments underneath.
1. What about writing in a newsletter is more enjoyable than writing for a blog?
I haven't had as a consistent writing and posting schedule in the several years of blogging than I have with Tablet Habit. It's made me a better writer and has made me happier.
If we dig down deeper with this, it isn’t the newsletter that did this. It is by simply making the time to write consistently. I was happy to have written something regularly. When I'm not actively posting stuff I get in a slump, which then negatively affects my mental health.
2. Are newsletter audiences more engaged than blog subscribers?
I would say I get more responses in my newsletter than I ever got with my blog. I think email is making it more personable for readers.
This still rings true for the most part, but also think that the added engagement is simply because Substack has built in commenting whereas my blogs never did. I would be bombarded by spam in my comments. But thanks to Jetpack I'm able to thwart spammers and allow for comments on my blog as well. I even have Markdown support turned on.
3. As a reader, do you prefer reading in your email app to an RSS app (or just the web in general)?
I read lots of newsletters and RSS feeds. It's about 50/50 for me and I don't have a preference.
4. Do you not miss things like link posts and “going viral” which are much harder, if impossible to do with emails?
Link posts for me were great but I used them as cop-outs. Instead of sitting down and fleshing out ideas, I just link post something and consider it a day.
For link posts, I do miss sharing things I found interesting from time to time, but it was indeed a crutch for me sometimes. In the future, I plan to still do link posts but I will have more original content to even things out.
As for going viral, after seeing Matt go viral on his site (more on this below), I am not afraid to admit that I was jealous. Don’t get me wrong I am thrilled for him and I think he deserves it; but I wish more of the things that I wrote got traction. I instead require people to sign up via email to read my content because I chose a newsletter over a blog.
5. Is it easier to get people to sign up for a paid subscription compared to the web?
I got a number of paid subscribers when I launched and I have been posting for free (with billing paused) for several months as I get my footing with this.
I will say that I never tracked my readers on my blog very closely, whereas I often find myself habitually checking the stats on my newsletter in hopes that it grows spontaneously. When I see that it hasn’t I get a micro dose of disappointment. Do this enough times in a day and you can dampen even the happiest of times.
Gatekeeping and Hurdles
After sharing those thoughts with Matt about newsletters, he had a fantastic article blow up online. The Loop linked to it, then John Gruber linked to it, and finally Hacker News linked to it. It was genuinely cool to see one of my internet friends gain more exposure for their work. With that excitement, jealousy and dread also came. Those emotions came after realizing that I may never get linked and shared like that with my newsletter. All because of hurdles and gatekeeping.
If you aren't entirely sure what I mean by that here are the definitions of both of those words and my interpretation of each in the context of an online newsletter.
Gatekeeping: “the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.”
In other words, you have to sign up for a newsletter to gain access to the content.
Hurdle: “an obstacle or difficulty.”
While signing up is a hurdle, I am mainly talking about having to opt-in after signing up and possibly creating an account to sign up in the first place.
The Steps to Read a Newsletter
If you have a newsletter, here are the steps involved for someone to be able to read it:
1. Find a newsletter that you want to subscribe to.
You might find this on social media, a friend might mention it, or you might stumble upon it somewhere. There's no easy way to search for newsletters except for Google.
2. Find out where to go to sign up.
I have honestly had trouble with this before. Sometimes it is a Substack website that you have to navigate to and sign up. Other times it is a custom website that doesn’t have a signup form available front and center. So, you have to do much more digging to sign up.
3. Sign up for the newsletter by typing in your email and then authenticating it in your email app.
Not only to you have to opt-in on the website, but you have to prove you actually want this by tapping a link. I understand that it is needed to avoid spammers and scrapers but honestly the user suffers from this most.
You don’t always get the latest post sent to you once you sign up, sometimes you have to wait for the next newsletter to be sent to you in order to consume the new content. Depending on how frequent that is you may be waiting long enough to forget all about the newsletter and once it hits your inbox you find it annoying and intrusive.
How does this compare to getting access to a blog’s entire content library? Well, here are the steps for that.
1. Go to the website or RSS feed.
That is literally it. That is all you have to do to get access to an entire library of posts on a blog.
Personally. I think that having these hurdles and gatekeeping in place has hindered my growth and made things more difficult for people to find and read what I have to say. I also am not a fan in having gates and hurdles up for my work in general. As I think about this more and more I realize that making a newsletter with the sole purpose to write and share with others has some serious downsides.
That being said, I did have a paid tier on Substack for a bit and people did indeed spend their hard-earned money to get this newsletter I created. Shortly after launching I decided to pause all billing because I wanted to have Tablet Habit be free for some time before more people spent money on my content. I wanted to earn that money first. I have since been posting regularly on the Substack for free for the past 3 months.
My personal belief is that some of the most consistent and the best writing I have ever done is in these newsletter posts. These past 3 months has given me the most consistent happiness in my work than I could ask for.
Even so, I feel that I no longer want to make money with my writing and instead want this to be a creative outlet for me. I don’t want this to be a job, I want this to be a hobby. I am a creative person and I need a creative outlet. When I am not able to have a creative outlet I feel empty and hollow. I think about what I can do that offers me a creative outlet, I try to find a way to make something happen so that I can write, podcast, or create in any kind of way.
In fact, the reason that I made Tablet Habit was because Christopher Lawley and I mutually decided to take an indefinite hiatus from our our podcast A Slab of Glass. For those asking, we don’t have plans to return to it but we are still very much friends and have been helping each other with our respective projects. Some of Chris’ best work has been his most recent stuff, so please check his channel out if you haven’t already.
The Future of Tablet Habit
Beginning November 15th Tablet Habit will be moving on from Substack and returning to TabletHabit.com. You can go there today and see all the posts that I created over the last 3 months, including this one. I plan to have a tandem 2 weeks with both Substack and the blog as a transition period. There is an RSS feed for Tablet Habit you can subscribe to as well.
I still plan to be just as consistent as I have been with the Tablet Habit Newsletter on the website, and I intend to continue to be for the foreseeable future, but I miss things like link-posting and possibly being linked on other websites. Having a newsletter made me a better writer, but I want to be a better publisher and move back to blogging.
I no longer want to be driven by stats and subscriptions, I just want to write about what I want and hope it brings some kind of joy to others. I love the open web and I miss being an active part of it. Something about having all of my work accessible for free makes me less anxious and more driven to share more.
For those of you that are paying subscribers, I want to say thank you for being with me the last few months. It means the worldto me you decided to support me. If you would like a refund I sadly do not have the ability of doing this, but you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and get with them. Please know that this decision hasn't been made without your consideration. I do not want to continue taking your money for content that I intend to be completely free and open. I have given over 3 months to this because of those who paid on launch day.
As for people that prefer newsletters, I realize that you may want to read your content via email. If you want to do that I suggest services like Feed2Mail or Blogtrottr. Maybe there is an even better option out there but I don’t actively seek to have RSS feeds sent to me via email.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who was a reader of Tablet Habit as a newsletter and I hope you will continue to read on TabletHabit.com.