Where to plug your paid subscriptions

Shifting from manual to automatic promotion of your publication

One thing Substack does well is programmatic plugs.

When you subscribe to it, you immediately are redirected to subscription options where paid is the default choice.

Upgrade screen

In two clicks, you’re being asked to share the newsletter with friends which does two things: grows the free list and gives you a taste of the paid subscription.

Referral prompt

Next, you’ll receive George’s welcome email right away with a little backstory and a big button to Upgrade to paid.

Welcome email

Then, in every issue of the newsletter, you see prompts in the template to either forward to a friend or upgrade to paid.

Free subscribers see this: “For the full experience, upgrade your subscription”

Footer for free subscribers

Paid subscribers see this: “Invite your friends and earn rewards”

Footer for paid subscribers

What’s compelling about Substack’s approach here is that they’ve installed and tested a bunch of little, automatic growth levers.

These levers work together to expand your audience and convert more of them to paying subscribers. The bonus is that while they can always be improved, they also don’t have to be manually thought through every week or month like a sale or a social media post.

Substack is continuously experimenting on these widgets, as are platforms like Beehiiv and ConvertKit. According to that 2022 blog post, Substack credited this subscribe flow I shared above with a 7% lift in paid subscriptions across their publications.

Now, I know that some of Substack’s most famous creators like Casey Newton have debunked the app’s contributions to their growth. I also know that many newsletter operators are leaving Substack because they’ve platformed and paid transphobic and nazi writers.

The great news is when we take note of these levers, we can test them for ourselves and leave Substack bouncing in our wake.

📣 Coming soon: Want to grow your paid subscribers? We’re starting up a free monthly mind meld just for solo journalists working to make their writing more sustainable. First session is Monday, May 6 at 1pm PT/4pm ET. Reply if you’re interested and I’ll add you to the invite.

Our takeaway

You want to move as much of your upgrade plugs into automatic mode as you can.

Psychologists have taught us that a little nudge can help people make the decision we want them to make. In the case of paid subscriptions, placing a few automatic levers into your website and newsletter can be those revenue-driving nudges.

If your platform does not have built-in growth levers, try testing the following set ups:

  • Redirect to paid subscription tiers immediately after sign up (on confirmation page)

  • Add button for paid subscription into welcome email

  • Add an upgrade block into your newsletter template

  • Add an upgrade block into your article template

  • Add a forward to a friend block into your newsletter template

Of course, don’t forget to include a compelling message! We’ll get more into that next week.

—Lex (@betonlex)

👀Keeping eyes on…the impact of reviews

In the Venn diagram that is journalists and everyone else making money online, one thing often missing in the journalism circle is reviews.

Newsletter operators are using reviews to drive free sign-ups.
Course creators are using reviews to get new students.
Digital product makers are using reviews to motivate check out.

We will dive into how to collect and use these in the future, but I wanted to put this on your radar now as a lever to try out.