What Subscription Newsletters Can Teach Us About Content Shock

In 2014, Mark Schaefer—a content marketing veteran and author of the {grow} blog—coined the phrase “content shock.” It’s the idea that we will soon be (if we’re not already) creating more content than people can realistically consume.

An in-depth look at content shock

This idea has been looming in the industry for years, and it’s easy to see it around us today. Currently, there are an estimated 4.2 billion internet users, and they’re producing a lot of content. Analysis from Smart Insights found that each minute, 500 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube and 1,440 WordPress posts are published.

In his initial post on the topic, Schaefer defined “content shock” as:

“The emerging marketing epoch defined when exponentially increasing volumes of content intersect our limited human capacity to consume it.”

In the same post, Schaefer elaborated on the supply and demand of content marketing. He noted that when supply exceeds demand, prices fall. However, content marketing is, for the most part, given away for free.

Instead of prices falling, Schaefer said content marketers would be “paying” customers to read content. He predicted this would happen either through more paid media efforts or through our own increased time and labor working on higher quality content.

“In a situation where content supply is exponentially exploding while content demand is flat, we would predict that individuals, companies, and brands would have to “pay” consumers more and more just to get them to see the same amount of content.”

Indeed, we’re now seeing an increased reliance on paid media to boost content. Hootsuite’s Digital in 2018 report found, “The average organic Facebook page post reaches eight percent of a Page’s audience…” By comparison, the average paid reach on Facebook page posts hits nearly 27 percent of the total audience.

In our own discussion with Schaefer, he reflected on his prediction, saying he didn’t feel it was particularly controversial. To him, it was unavoidable that certain niches would soon be flooded with content. Now, he feels that the content marketing industry has hit the content shock tipping point.

Does that mean that content marketers should start to despair?

In short, no. Schaefer says content marketers must do an honest assessment of their niches and see what’s been done. Unique voices that provide relevance, interest, timeliness and entertainment will rise to the top, even if space to maneuver in the niche is limited.

In this environment where content marketers are increasingly “paying” consumers to read their content, how are others actually getting people to pay for access to their content?

Let’s find out what paid subscription newsletters can teach us about beating content shock.

Newsletters: A Different Model

You might be thinking, “Paid email newsletters? That seems so…old school.”  There is some truth to that. However, think about how the social media and content landscape has evolved recently.

As Revue—a company that specializes in helping people create editorial newsletters—points out on its blog, algorithmic timelines have led to a glut of click-bait, ads and non-relevant content lately. Increasingly, that makes email a more appealing—and personal—experience.

The people running successful paid newsletters truly understand their niche and their audience. They provide in-depth information people can’t get elsewhere and deliver it without the distractions found in social news feeds.

Many paid newsletters get off the ground by offering free versions, which link to articles or blogs, to generate interest. Then a paid version featuring exclusive content is offered for a monthly or annual fee.

Here are a few examples of how and why this works in practice:

Hot Pod

Nick Quah has been running Hot Pod since 2014. His paid insider newsletter focuses on the podcasting industry, and in his own words, tries to talk about systems, ideas, problems, actions, arguments and people related to podcasting.

The newsletter comes out twice a week, and subscribers pay $7 a month or $70 a year. For that, they get exclusive coverage on news developments and trends in the industry and deep dives and follow-ups to recent topics.

By sensing the increasing popularity of podcasting and covering it in a thoughtful way, Quah’s newsletter has become an indispensable, primary source on the subject. Subscribers get a more responsive idea of what’s happening in the industry, and they’re more than happy to pay the $7 fee for it.

Cleaning the Glass

It’s no surprise that Cleaning the Glass is one of the top resources for basketball fanatics. It was started by Ben Falk, former VP of basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Falk offers different insider packages, a newsletter with analysis on stats for $5 a month, a newsletter with only articles for $5 a month or a bundle with both for $7.50 a month. For that nominal fee, NBA fans get analysis that’s hard to find elsewhere.

For example, Falk has used video and advanced stats to break down the Milwaukee Bucks’ defensive schemes and what it says about defense in the modern NBA. He regularly uses detailed videos to break down complex action on the court to reveal the nuances in a game viewers might miss watching live. In doing so, subscribers get to see the game less like a fan and more like an actual NBA coach.

From the beginning, Falk said he was not interested in maximizing clicks. Rather, his core values are quality over quantity, thoughtfulness over quick reactions and nuance over simplification. His goal is that every reader should come away learning something new.

Scott’s Cheap Flights

While the last two examples lean toward in-depth analysis, good content can be data-focused and consumer-driven. Scott’s Cheap Flights newsletter proves this.

Former journalist Scott Keyes founded the eponymous newsletter in 2015. It started in 2013 when he found an international flight to Milan for $130. He continued emailing friends and family airfare deals he sleuthed on his own, then turned it into a business in a few years later.

The paid newsletter delivers more deals on flights than the free version, as well as other perks for $39 annually. They include: personalized departure airports, Hawaii and Alaska deals, ad-free emails, peak season and holiday deals and mistake fares.

Each newsletter gives subscribers all the information they need to book discounted flights, which are found and selected independently by hand. The newsletter even includes direct links to Google Flights or Momondo to make booking easier. Additionally, Scott’s Cheap Flights does not have any relationships with booking sites, so the deals are always about the value to subscribers.  

With an eye toward these newsletters, and others, we can start to see why people are willing to pay for quality content—and how content marketers can overcome content shock.

The Takeaway

Does that mean you can just all of a sudden throw a paywall on your blog? Not quite. Instead, look at the core of what these paid newsletters are providing.

It goes back to what Schaefer said about high-performing content and finding room within a particular niche. Newsletters such as Hot Pod and Cleaning the Glass provide unique insights and analysis that are focused on providing real value to subscribers.

Even in a crowded niche such as sports, Cleaning the Glass takes the time and energy to explain things others don’t. That dedication to quality, thoughtfulness and nuance sets the newsletter apart. It makes the content too valuable to ignore.

There’s no reason you shouldn’t be applying this same standard to your blog. You have to ask yourself questions such as, “Where am I undisputedly the expert in my field?” and “What is everyone else ignoring?”

You also have to think about providing information and insight that challenges the status quo. After all, that’s what Schaefer was doing with his piece on content shock all those years ago. And look, people are still writing and thinking about it.

Those questions might point you in the right direction, but you’ll also have to dig in and do the work. Creating this kind of content will definitely be more time consuming than putting together a 500-word blog that rehashes what everyone else has written.

Often, as Scott’s Cheap Flights and Cleaning the Glass illustrate, this involves timely original research. It then becomes another asset that none of your competitors can promote, setting your content apart from the crowd and cutting through content shock.

No one is throwing money, even a nominal amount, at these newsletters for no reason. They’re doing it because the content is worth it. That’s the simple truth. By taking our advice and studying the content people are paying for, you can rise above the racket and beat content shock.
Speaking of newsletters…make sure to subscribe to PowerPost’s newsletter (don’t worry this one is free) to get articles delivered to your inbox every week!

By | 2019-01-09T17:45:53+00:00 January 9th, 2019|Uncategorized|1 Comment

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One Comment

  1. stackoverflow.com January 15, 2019 at 4:09 pm - Reply

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