In this article, I’ll share 6 tangible ways to monetize your newsletter, along with real world case studies so you can see how people are actually doing it right now.
You’ll see how newsletters of all sizes make money through techniques like sponsorships, memberships, affiliate marketing, email courses, paid newsletters and funnels.
Plus, I’ll address and share some specific tips for avoiding burnout while maximizing revenue as a newsletter publisher. Sounds good right?
But first, let’s talk about whether it’s even worth it to monetize your newsletter.
Newsletters aren’t just marketing channels, they can bring in lots of money too.
Last year, the company behind Business Insider bought a majority stake in the daily newsletter Morning Brew. According to sources, it was valued at around $75 million.
This sounds like a lot of money, until you realize that Morning Brew had built up a reliable way to reach over 2.5 million people with a single send.
Luckily, you don’t have to have millions of subscribers or get acquired by a media giant to run a profitable newsletter.
Niche newsletters for a targeted audience can rake in the cash, too.
So, why are companies willing to shell out this kind of money to reach people via email?
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22% of people open an email within one hour of receiving it. After six hours, that number balloons to 50%. Email is an incredibly effective way to reach people quickly.
Then there’s the reliability factor. Unlike erratic algorithms that can wreak havoc on your reach in social media or organic search, email is a near sure-fire way to connect with your audience year after year.
As a famously high ROI channel, email is a no-brainer going into 2022.
And getting started is probably easier than you think.
6 ways to monetize a newsletter
1. Newsletter ads and sponsorships
The most common way newsletters make money is through newsletter ads and sponsorships.
Newsletter ads work similarly to other sponsored content. Companies and brands get a link to their product or service inside your regular email. These links are accompanied by some ad copy and an image of their product or logo. They could look something like this:
Open rate, number of clicks to a brand’s website, and the number of purchases are all metrics you can use to determine the success of the campaign. Newsletter sponsors are generally looking for a direct ROI as opposed to “brand awareness.”
Should you put ads in your newsletter?
Newsletter ads are an attractive way to monetize a newsletter for a couple of reasons.
You’re going to be sending the email anyway – you might as well get paid for your work by a sponsor.
You can continuously increase your prices as your subscriber count increases. And the more niche your list is, often the more you can charge for an ad slot.
It’s not all roses though.
Newsletter sponsorships often require a lot of back-and-forth communication. Especially with companies who are just venturing into paid advertising via email. They may want feedback on their copy, lots of visibility into metrics, or be particularly price-sensitive and try to haggle you down over the course of dozens of long-winded emails.
Then there’s the ethical bit.
Sponsors might ask you to endorse their product, avoid mentioning their competitors, or go for a “candid mention” without disclosing your relationship.
You should always protect your audience, and your reputation, first and foremost. Actively turn down sponsors which aren’t going to play by your rules.
If you can find quality sponsors with strong alignment to your brand and audience, the relationship can be incredibly symbiotic.
My top tip? Offer steep discounts on multiple-run, batch-ordered ads.
That way, your average deal is far higher and you can justify working closely with the sponsor on getting their copy just right. They’ll love how much you care about their results, and you’ll have far fewer people to coordinate with for each month’s adspace.
Here’s how Dense Discovery does their newsletter ads.
Examples of Newsletter Sponsorships
Dense Discovery offers one, main advertising slot in its weekly newsletter. For $599, you can reach 34,000 discovery-loving subscribers at a 50% open rate.
They specify the audience location, some characteristics of subscribers, and how often the newsletter goes out. Each of these is important so sponsors can judge the alignment between their target customer and readers of this newsletter.
Sponsors can also choose from multiple formats, depending on their offer.
Finally, there’s a great case study included on the landing page. The results Dense Discovery achieved for Alex Hillman’s book launch (8% conversion!) are smartly placed right above the CTA to book an ad slot.
It’s no coincidence that at the time of writing, Dense Discovery’s newsletter slots were sold out three months in advance.
What can you learn from Dense Discovery for your own newsletter?
- Be clear about the audience profile
- Include past results and sponsors when possible
- Make it easy to book
What about programmatic ads inside newsletters? Local newsroom, and Newsletter Glue customer, The Georgia Sun uses Jeeng (formerly called Powerinbox) for their ad management. They receive the code snippets from Jeeng, and paste it into an html code block directly in the block editor.
This displays correctly inside their email newsletters with no additional effort.
But what if you want to make money from your newsletter, without having to find sponsors, coordinate copy, or report your metrics?
This next email monetization strategy might be the one for you.
2. Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing works like a referral program, where any paying customer you refer to a company or brand through your unique link (“affiliate link”) results in you earning a commission.
The best part about affiliate marketing is there’s no minimum email list size to get started.
In fact, you can use your very first email to promote affiliate links.
Instead of chatting price and tossing around ad copy, you can apply for most affiliate programs and receive your affiliate link the same day or soon after. This makes affiliate marketing a comparatively low-effort way to monetize an email list.
How to do affiliate marketing in your newsletters
The most effective things to promote as an affiliate are products and services you already use and love. That’s because your recommendations will come from a genuine place. Readers will pick up on that and trust what you have to say.
But it’s not enough to promote your favorite barbeque set to your newsletter of chess enthusiasts. Doing so will feel forced, random, or at worse –– spammy.
Affiliate marketing only works if readers already want what you’re about to recommend to them, they just don’t know it yet.
That’s why offer selection is key, and in the examples I’ll share how newsletter creators are aligning their affiliate products with their audience’s target outcomes.
Besides choosing the right products, you’ll need to do three more things to say in the clear.
First, disclose your affiliate links, just like you do a sponsored ad. Most of the time, subscribers will reward your transparency and intentionally use your link as a way to say “Thanks!” and support you.
Next, you need to make sure that the affiliate program you join allows you to promote links via email. Some affiliate programs, such as Amazon Associates, don’t allow you to place their links in non-public places like inboxes.
Finally, make sure your email service provider (ESP) allows affiliate links in email. Of the EPSs that Newsletter Glue integrates with, MailchimpConvertKit and X both allow you to send affiliate links in your newsletters.
Examples of email affiliate marketing
One great example of affiliate marketing through an email newsletter is Ryan Robinson’s 7-day email course on how to start a blog:
Some of the emails in the course contain links to affiliate products, such as hosting and email service providers:
While you don’t need to create a full-blown email course, it’s helpful to follow Ryan’s example:
Align your recommendations with the audience’s goal. In his case, his audience wants to start a successful blog and the products he promotes help them do just that.
Ask yourself what goals your audience is trying to reach, and whether you have any tried and true products or services that can help them get there faster, cheaper, or more efficiently.
3. Paid Newsletters
A paid newsletter is a business model where subscribers pay to receive the newsletter editions either daily or several times per week.
Often, paid newsletters contain original content such as news, original reporting, commentary, or industry analyses. But you can start a paid newsletter about virtually any topic.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Why would someone pay for this?”
That’s why most popular paid newsletters are complemented by a free newsletter, which is sent less often. The free version allows subscribers to get a feel for the content before upgrading to paid.
How much money can you make with a paid newsletter?
Standard rates are $5-10 per month for consumer-focused paid newsletters, and can get far higher depending on how niche the newsletter topic becomes.
For example, Newsletter Glue customer, A Media Operator charges $200 per year for their standard offering: A twice-per-week newsletter accompanied by a private Slack channel and access to events. Since they focus on media professionals instead of consumers, A Media Operator can command a price that works out to almost $17 per month.
Should you start a paid newsletter?
Starting a paid newsletter has pros and cons. On the plus side, your newsletter has monthly recurring revenue (MRR for short). Meaning, you can begin to forecast how much money your newsletter makes per month.
It begins to accumulate more value as an asset, in contrast to a newsletter that’s entirely ad-supported.
But there are aspects of a paid newsletter business that can be difficult, too. For starters, you have to send your newsletter every single week. Taking time off can be difficult, and it’s easy to experience creator burnout.
Canceled subscriptions, or “churn”, can be extremely high for paid newsletters. That means that in order to grow your newsletter, you not only need to get new subscribers every month but also replace those that canceled.
Paid newsletters tend to work best for people who can commit to a strict writing schedule. That includes people like industry analysts, journalists, and reporters.
But there are ways to bundle your newsletter into a different paid offering that accumulates MRR, but with a less demanding publishing schedule – Memberships and paid communities.
4. Memberships and Paid Communities
Memberships and paid communities are virtually two names for the same thing.
A membership is a bundled offering that brings together people with common interests as part of a paid community. The membership usually has a fee – paid monthly or yearly – and offers benefits like courses, events, and training content.
Like a paid newsletter, it collects recurring revenue – and is also subject to high churn.
But it does require less publishing, because the content inside the membership is usually evergreen and can be enjoyed by members regardless of when they join.
The challenge with paid communities and memberships is that they require daily engagement from the community manager to get off the ground. Communities are made up of people and as such, running one can be hard or impossible to automate.
You may find yourself wishing for a team member to help you run a membership offering.
How much can you make with a paid membership?
Memberships often go for a similar price as paid newsletters, but can vary dramatically depending on the target member.
To give you an idea, Commonplace is a membership for people who seek to make better career and business decisions. They charge $150 per year and offer members an exclusive forum, guides, discounts, and worksheets.
Trends.co is another popular membership, which offers entrepreneurs a Facebook group, events, industry analyses, and content for $299 per year. They serve over 6,000 members, making a reasonable estimate for their annual revenue over $1.8 million per year.
5. Paid Email Courses
Email courses are a set sequence of emails, delivered automatically to the subscriber once they sign up. A paid email course is the same thing, but you pay for it.
Unlike memberships and paid newsletter, a paid email course is usually a one-off purchase. But there are ways to turn it into a subscription, too.
Take Highbrow for example. Highbrow is a paid email course platform that allows subscribers to sign up to various email courses for a combined monthly fee. The selling point is that subscribers can learn something new in their inbox every day in a low-effort way.
Typically, email courses are offered for free as part of a marketing funnel for a paid course. But there’s no reason you can’t pack enough value into those emails to make them worth paying for.
6. As part of a funnel
Finally, one of the most popular ways to monetize a newsletter isn’t even to make money from the newsletter itself – but treat it as a funnel for a paid product.
Newsletter creators often use their email list to build relationships with their audience on a recurring basis. And then, when the time is right, offer access to more expensive offers.
Courses, coaching, masterminds, and consulting are all popular ways to monetize a newsletter without promoting other people’s products (as with sponsorships or affiliate marketing) or entangling yourself in a long-term commitment (as with paid newsletters and memberships).
In short, your newsletter is more like a tool for brand-building than a direct income stream.
To make it work, you need two key elements: a welcome sequence and a predictable newsletter.
The goal of a welcome sequence is to provide a lot of value to your subscribers in a short amount of time. So once you pitch your product at the end of the welcome sequence, they’re confident you’ll deliver an excellent experience.
A welcome sequence can be a collection of your best blog posts, or an email course that helps them reach a specific goal. The latter lends itself especially well if you want to upsell the reader later to a more complete course offering. Especially, if that course material would be better presented in video as opposed to text in an email.
One newsletter creator who does this well is Benjamin Houy of French Together.
He uses an exit intent popup to capture subscribers to his email course, 4 Rules You Must Follow If You Want to Speak French Fluently!
At the end of the course, each of his more than 57,000 subscribers are prompted to try his flagship French Course priced at around $100.
How to start monetizing your newsletter today
There’s a reason profitable newsletters can go for millions of dollars on the market. And even newsletters with humble beginnings can grow into profitable media companies – if that’s your goal.
But don’t let the complexity of newsletter software turn you off.
Starting a newsletter can be a simple extension of the WordPress blog or website you already have. Plus, give you more control over how you charge and process payments as opposed to relying on your email service providers to do the heavy lifting.
That’s just one of the reasons we built Newsletter Glue.
Give it a try today.