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This is the dream
Can I make it real?
I’m writing to you today while staring at a spreadsheet, which contains some numbers I just can’t get out of my head.
I started writing semi-irregularly on this Substack a few years ago now. Starting as I meant to go on, my opening post was a salvo against beloved national treasure Captain Tom.
Since then, I’ve published essays on things like why we need to build luxury flats for millionaires, why climate activists are doing it wrong, how the BBC is facing a death spiral, and how to define what “woke” actually means.
I’ve also, of course, tried to meme the liberation of the Postcode Address File into existence.
I’ve been a professional writer and journalist for about a decade now, and though I enjoy writing for ‘real’ outlets and publications, I think these essays and the others on my Substack are some of the best writing I’ve ever done.
I’m incredibly proud of this body of work so far. Though I write about a range of topics, I like to think these sorts of essays share the same DNA, in the way they approach different issues. An O’Malleyist approach, if you will1. And it still blows my mind when, for example, I write about climate politics and have civil servants working on climate stuff2 subscribe because they’re interested in what I have to say.
But all of my work on this Substack is limited by the same thing that limits everything: Time and money. I’m not from a particularly wealthy background. I have a mortgage to pay and cats to feed. So as much as I’d like to write more regularly on here, I have to prioritise work that actually ends with someone paying me some money.
That’s not to begrudge the paid work that I do. I’m extremely lucky that I have a job where I have the luxury of sitting at a computer, typing and tweeting all day, and that all of my professional colleagues and clients are great, and provide me with fun and engaging work.
But I would love to write more here if I could, as it feels like I’m building something.
And this brings me back to my spreadsheet.
Making the numbers work
I’ve been modelling out what my earnings would look like if I were to launch a paid tier on my Substack. And the viable numbers feel both agonisingly close – and yet still far away.
It essentially boils down to two variables: The number of free subscribers I have, and the percentage of those people I can convert into paying subscribers.
As things stand, I have already ‘converted’ just over 1.5% of my subscribers, who have pre-pledged with Substack, saying that if I do launch a paid tier, they will subscribe on day one.
According to my calculations, if I can get this figure up to just over 5% of my subscribers, I can comfortably earn enough to pay for about one day a week of my time. If I can go even higher, then I can spend even more time writing here3.
And this doesn’t seem that crazily unachievable. In fact, all I need to do is convert just over 100 more of you4.
The awkward bit
If I ever do launch a paid tier, the way I’d try to play it is by taking a “one free, one paid” approach – alternating week by week in terms of significant posts.
I’d also try to produce a shorter additional post later in week with something else that I think would be of interest to subscribers. Perhaps a round-up of links that I think you’ll find interesting, Q&As, shorter takes, or even podcasts if I can convince the various cool nerds I know to talk to me for half an hour about the sort of topics I write about on here.
But like I say, to make it happen I’d need to make the numbers work. I’m not in a position to take a big risk and hope for the best. That’s why I’m sending out this email to gauge interest. To see if I convert what is currently what feels like an annoyingly just-out-of-reach dream into a reality.
So here’s what I’d like you to do.
If you value my writing, please consider telling me by pre-pledging a subscription. No money will be taken unless I do actually pull the trigger and launch a paid tier. But the pledges do help me make the case to myself that I could make it work.
I’m a bit nervous sending this out. I’m too broken by the internet to talk this earnestly, and too British to talk about money. But I figure without asking my audience, I’ll never actually know the answer. So this could be the start of something exciting, or never spoken about again.
But hey, if you do like my work, then why not pre-pledge and we can see what happens?
And whether you pre-pledge or not, I want to thank you again for subscribing to me here on Substack. It means a lot to me that people are interested in my ideas and what I have to say, and I look forward to saying more things (not entirely about postcodes) in the future.
I swear I am still saying this ironically. I say, as I imagine future empires building statues of me in every town square.
I was going to say, er, working at the coal-face of the climate issue.
Amazingly that doesn’t seem completely implausible. I’ve spoken to other Substackers who have managed to convert over 15% of their audience. Which seems crazily high to me intuitively, but I’ve seen multiple screenshots from other people!
I’m aware that with the numbers I’m sharing you can probably reverse engineer a rough estimate of my subscriber numbers/how much income I’m aiming at, but as most of you are British, I’m assuming you’ll do the decent thing and not talk explicitly about money, and only gossip about it behind my back.