Thomas Baekdal is one of the most original and inspiring thinkers in the world of audience-monetizing creators. Not only that he frequently publishes (very) long reads on the media and publishing business. He also does this as an independent self-publisher with a paid newsletter and website (additionally, he seems to have a sound consulting business. As it is often the case, publishing and consulting well go hand in hand here).
Recently, he published an article headlined ‘What business model should independent journalists and creators use?’ Obviously, that is a crucial question for all of us. I highly recommend the deep dive into Thomas’s reflections especially for everybody coming from journalism and thinking about going self-published.
Thomas Baekdal offers a free 7 day trial, so you can read the text even without having to pay.
That also will give you an impression of how he creates content which he offers only to paying readers. The most striking feature (after the quality and originality of his writing) to me seems to be the elaborateness (kind for: sheer length) of his posts. This one has a word count of 5,700. In the opening, the text brags with it being “a 28-page report”. And it is not even an unusual long one.
I must admit that I am no big fan of his publishing style. The time needed to digest his articles to me sometimes is a bit off-putting. But at the same time, let me repeat that, very often it is time well spent, nonetheless.
I think, he could easily shorten the reading-time without leaving out essential details. The other side of the coin, though, is that (t)his way he makes sure, that his readers will follow his arguments without misunderstandings. So, for sure it IS a valid publication strategy and I dare not say, that shorter versions of his articles would a be better solution for Thomas Baekdal’s publishing business.
Just in case you share my reluctance to spend 30mins or even more to read a single article of business content, let me introduce you to the main line of his reasoning which, I think, definitely is a good guidance for all journalists thinking about starting a self-published venture. And many other would-be creators as well.
Forget about the Ad-Based Monetization Model
Taking the average salary of a journalist to be some US$40,000 and allowing for additional US$20,000 costs of business, Baekdal calculates that to generate this much money, a self-publisher needs some 1,700 Patreon-patrons each paying US$3 or 1,000 subscribers at US$5 per month.
That are ambitious goals. But they certainly seem to be within reach. In order to make the same amount of money with YouTube-ads you need some 70M views, Thomas reasons. That’s an intimidating magnitude. And don’t forget: While subscriptions or Patreon-funding are a very stable sources of income, YouTube views may fluctuate wildly from video to video and they depend heavily on the platform’s algorithms. While your paying readers will be happy with only few but skilfully crafted texts, in order to even dream of millions of YouTube-views, you have to create a very huge quantity of videos. It is hard to imagine how, as a solo journalist, you could create this much output with reasonable quality.
To make a long reasoning short: don’t even dream of a business other than a reader-funded one.
Hence, if you want to make a living as a self-publishing journalist you should strive for a reader-funded business. That maybe within reach. But probably only within a large timespan.
As long as you are not one of the very prominent authors with a big and devoted community of readers, you will have to slowly build up the necessary scale.
Say, you need five years of continuous linear growth to reach enough paying readers to make a living from them. (That’s a realistic planning, according to Thomas). That means you’ll face five years of deficit spending, five years with the (albeit lessening) need to add some spare money to the cash flow resulting from your (growing) paying audience.
For these 5 years, Thomas Baekdal calculates a need of US$150,000 in savings which will be consumed before you have reached your break-even point at a yearly income of US$ 60,000.
He asks: “Do you have $150,000 in your bank account right now?” Because, if not so, your business plans won’t work out.
The only other way: have someone funding you. Or, maybe, some more others when you do a crowdfunding to collect the money you need to start your business.
If you want others to pay for your publication you must start thinking of it a being a product. That’s something I am personally convinced of. Thomas Baekdal says the same.
He even is more strict than I am, reasoning that only one kind of paid journalism product will be viable: “solution based journalism”. He uses this term in a very broad sense, only opposed to entertainment. So, according to him, you must produce something which is of real use to your readers. In the field of mere entertainment he sees much too much (even quality) content available for free.
I am not sure if this presumption holds. But I 100% agree that it is indispensable to define what your product is. And to stick to it.
Last not least Thomas writes about possible revenue models. I am not going to report on this part of his reasoning, because the pros and cons of different membership models are at the heart of many of the posts you’ll find around here at selfp.info. And I have put down some elemental thoughts about this question here.
But if you decide to read through Thomas’s article, of course you’ll encounter valid input to this topic as well.
Thanks to Pixabay and the following people for the pics used in this post:
Linus Schütz, StockSnap, Markus Steidle