There’s no substitute for actually trying something. The amount you learn from putting yourself on the line far outweighs anything you can learn from a book, blog, webinar or podcast.
This is great advice. I’ve often delayed with one more book or conversation or outline or trial run, and the false confidence I achieved in doing so was never as important as putting myself in a position to truly fail. https://t.co/r2s7cEPfLf
— Brian Portnoy (@brianportnoy) October 25, 2020
That is one reason why I find the e-mail newsletter trend so fascinating. It has echoes of the original wave of blogging. However this time around those joining the fray have established audiences built at mainstream publications or sites. Monetization techniques are now an order of magnitude better than they were when Blogspot was first a thing.*
While the newsletter format isn’t new there are a lot of topics and niches which are currently not well covered by larger publications. This is an opportunity for enterprising content creators looking to make a go of it. There is something to be said for being a first mover in a new space.
For example, Rob Walker at Marker profiles Nick Quah who early on in the podcasting era started a newsletter, Hot Pod, focused on the business of podcasting. Walker notes the importance of being first in a space.
The upshot is that Quah “created a niche for himself, basically out of whole cloth,” says Peter Kafka, who covers media and technology for Recode, and hosts the Recode Media podcast. And Quah did it in large part by being early: A “very small” number of people were paying serious attention to podcasting as a potentially potent format back in 2014, Kafka points out. If practically “everyone in podcasting reads him,” as Kafka suggests, maybe that’s partly because nobody else was writing so explicitly for them.
The business of podcasting is now more than a niche but at the time it certainly wasn’t. However being first doesn’t do you a whole lot of good if the product itself isn’t great. in*deed*a*bly is skeptical that the first mover advantage rules all:
Like blogging and podcasting, I suspect most newsletters will be short-lived experiments. Started with a burst of enthusiasm. Then swiftly abandoned when the promise of fame and fortune fails to materialise.
Hopefully, some talented new writers do emerge from the cacophony. Adding value. Offering fresh insight. Succeeding to join the ranks of incumbents who have long serviced the audience.
The best products are rarely the first movers, but rather the superior offerings that follow once a new market is proven.
Many people never take on a new project for fear that it won’t turn out well. Another impediment is taking on a new project and having it be judged harshly by yourself and others. Paul Graham, who has seen his fair share of new projects, writes about some of the ways to avoid quitting something new before it finds it’s way. He writes:
It can help if you focus less on where you are and more on the rate of change. You won’t worry so much about doing bad work if you can see it improving. Obviously the faster it improves, the easier this is. So when you start something new, it’s good if you can spend a lot of time on it. That’s another advantage of being young: you tend to have bigger blocks of time.
Not every new project is going to work out. Most won’t. The newsletter space will experience some significant attrition. And that’s okay. Not everything is meant to last a long time. But you will never know whether your thing will gain traction and survive until you try – so get started.
*Some Substack publisher are already supplementing the subscription model with ads. Go figure.