Low on time? Try these 10 unique paid newsletter formats

Commerce Newsletters
12 min read
In this Article

You’ve been tossing around the idea of a paid newsletter lately, but you aren’t sure if you can pull it off.

It’s not a lack of ideas you struggle with—it’s finding enough hours in the day to bring them all to life.

Maybe you have moments of soaring confidence thinking about how the recurring revenue could help smooth out your income.

But then a twinkle of doubt floats across your peripheral.

“What if nobody signs up, and I’ve wasted all that time for nothing?”
“What if everybody signs up, and then I can never stop writing ever again?”

You worry that you don’t have the time to do twice as much work. Plus, the commitment to ongoing content is just too intimidating.

But guess what? Those fears you have—you aren’t the first one to have them. And yet, there’s a growing community of paid newsletter writers. So what gives? Have they found a way to bend the space-time continuum or unlock some secret part of the brain to avoid burnout?

The secret to making it all work isn’t superhuman powers or enough energy drinks to make you feel like you can hear colors. If you want to add a paid newsletter to the mix, you need to be intentional about what you offer.

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There are two criteria when deciding what to include in your paid newsletter. First, you need to be able to manage the workload. Second, it needs to be valuable and engaging for your audience.

Notice what’s missing from that list? A prescribed format. There are plenty of ways to create unique content. Here are a few to get you started.

10 paid newsletter ideas (that aren’t just weekly blogs)

1. Create an evergreen newsletter

Rather than sending a broadcast email once and then retiring the content to the email graveyard, why not give everyone a chance to enjoy the message?

An evergreen newsletter is a series of emails that you set up and add to. To the subscriber, an evergreen newsletter doesn’t look any different. Over time, you create more content that’s waiting for new subscribers—content that’s still delivered on a consistent schedule, just like you’d do with a broadcast.

But for the creator, evergreen content is totally different from a broadcast. As each new subscriber joins your list, they’re automatically sent each email in the series, one by one. That means when someone signs up for your newsletter, there’s already weeks (or months!) worth of emails waiting to send.

You make sure everyone sees your best content and take away some of the pressure to create a new broadcast each week or risk radio silence.

Brennan Dunn from Double Your Freelancing tackles the topic of the “email hamster wheel” head on in his newsletter, Create & Sell. Each weekly edition has in-depth content about using email marketing to scale your sales. Want to set up an evergreen newsletter of your own? Check out this ConvertKit automation template you can import to get started in just a few minutes.

newsletter content ideas
Brennan sends email personalization and automation tips and resources each week. Image via Create & Sell.

2. Add content to an exclusive backlog

If you want a hybrid of an evergreen and broadcast newsletter, consider creating an exclusive backlog. This backlog would be a place for past issues or content to live where subscribers can access it. You would keep sending broadcasts in real-time, but new subscribers could go back and see past work.

Flow State is a music recommendation newsletter that sends a new playlist every weekday. While that kind of cadence is admirable enough, the paid newsletter takes its content a step further. In addition to near-daily emails, Flow State gives subscribers access to private Spotify playlists.

newsletter content ideas
Flow State subscribers get curated playlists in their inbox daily, plus access to private Spotify playlists. Image via Flow State.

After they send music recommendations in an email, they can pop it into a Spotify playlist for future enjoyment. When you have a log you can look back on, it surely makes your daily efforts feel less fleeting.

3. Release YouTube videos ahead of schedule

If you’re already creating videos, it won’t take much more effort to release some content ahead of time to paid newsletter subscribers. Promoting your products is one way to increase YouTube earnings and diversify your income.

To leverage video content for your paid newsletter, simply send videos to paid subscribers a week or more before they’re live on your YouTube channel. Your paid newsletter can also be a place for subscribers to vote on video ideas, offer input, or hear about announcements first.

4. Send an exclusive recipe each week

If you’re a food blogger, you likely work on different kinds of recipes. Maybe you develop blog posts specifically for air fryers. Or, you have some quick recipes while others are more involved. Whatever the case may be, think about how you could group some recipes together for a paid newsletter.

While your website and free newsletter remain broad, you could use a paid newsletter to niche down the exclusive recipes you send. Your paid newsletter can also be a place to share behind-the-scenes of recipe development and offer early access to new cookbooks.

Initially, Caroline Chambers planned to turn an idea into a cookbook. Instead, she channeled that idea into a paid newsletter. What To Cook When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking was born, sending simple and complete meal recipes to subscribers every week. Caroline has more recipe variety on her blog, but the paid newsletter’s narrow (and creative) focus makes it a clear value proposition.

newsletter content ideas
Caroline recognized a pain point for her audience and turned it into a unique recipe format. Image via What to Cook When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking.

5. Share behind-the-scenes content and song covers

Musicians can use the time between album cycles and tours to connect with their fans with a paid newsletter.

If you’re already in the studio or at home writing songs, why not share behind the scenes clips? You could also use the paid newsletter as your personal tour diary or to get community input on album names, artwork, and more. An exclusive acoustic version of a song or cover of your favorite tune also makes great paid newsletter content.

Thao Nguyen is creating a new album in 2021 and bringing subscribers along for the ride. The For the Record newsletter promises to give paid subscribers “backstage access” featuring song requests, stories behind the lyrics, and behind-the-scenes footage from studio sessions.

newsletter content ideas
Thao Nguyen lays out exactly what free and paid subscribers should expect in their inboxes. Image via For the Record.

Both the free and paid versions of For the Record could include various content formats, which probably gives Thao more creative flexibility. As long as you set expectations about what could be in your paid newsletter, you shouldn’t feel tied to one type of content forever.

6. Break cornerstone courses down into bite-sized content

A paid newsletter could be perfect for people who aren’t ready for your high-priced course or premium coaching but still want your help. In fact, you could pitch your paid newsletter as an alternative to subscribers who go through your sales funnel but don’t convert.

Since creating unique content for your paid newsletter could take a large time commitment, you can repurpose courses into emails. These smaller pieces offer a glimpse into the full product, kind of like an appetizer.

You could also give paid newsletter subscribers to content that typically stands alone, like a book or small course. Bryan Collins, founder of Become a Better Writer Today, shares weekly essays about his life as a writer and gives 100percent Unfinished subscribers a free copy of his book.

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Bryan Collins offers access to content he’s already written to paid newsletter subscribers. Image via 100percent Unfinished.

Using resources you’ve already created is an easy way to increase the value of your paid newsletter as you create new content.

7. Curate content and opportunities

Original creation isn’t the only way to help your audience—expert curation is powerful, too. It’s up to you and your audience what the right ratio of original to curated content is, but even a little curation could lighten your workload.

Your curated content can include job opportunities, related content, guest posts, and exclusive quotes.

In CABBAGES’ case, paid subscribers get monthly bonus newsletters that spotlight older hip-hop albums. The CABBAGES newsletter is curated by music critic Gary Suarez, which means subscribers can expect thoughtfully chosen music recommendations.

newsletter content ideas
The CABBAGES free newsletter focuses on new album releases and current artist discussions, while the paid version has a monthly throwback edition to re-discover older albums. Image via CABBAGES.

8. Pull inspiration from outside

Even creators with seemingly endless ideas have off-days or face writer's block. If the idea of coming up with content over and over is daunting, look for ways to find inspiration outside of yourself. Is there a way to crowdsource your inspiration? Or lean on your own personalized recommendations to pass ideas along to fans?

Dave Cowen does this on his newsletter, Shuffle Synchronicities, by hitting shuffle on his personal Spotify playlist each morning. Whichever song pops up serves as that day’s inspiration, and Dave reflects on how the song aligns with current life.

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Using a playlist of over 30,000 songs on shuffle as inspiration for a newsletter means Dave Cowan won’t run out of source material anytime soon. Image via Shuffle Synchronicities.

9. Host recurring exclusive Q&As

If you want to mix up written content with the occasional video, consider hosting a monthly Q&A. You can record it live (or not) and then share it in its entirety to your paid newsletter—no editing needed.

Asking your subscribers to submit questions for a monthly Q&A has a few benefits. One, subscribers really get to engage and get their questions answered. Two, you learn what people are *actually* interested in learning. Three, you can dedicate one of your weekly newsletters each month to sharing the exclusive Q&A, which you could release as free content the next month.

Historian Dan Jones uses his paid newsletter, History, etc., to connect with subscribers through monthly Q&As. Paid subscribers can submit questions, get exclusive insight into his writing process, and receive free copies of any book Dan releases while they’re subscribed.

newsletter content ideas
Dan Jones uses his paid newsletter to connect with readers and then sends a copy of new books to subscribers. Image via History, etc.

10. Launch limited-run content

Want to dip your toes into a paid newsletter without the long-term commitment? Try creating limited-run content or shorter paid newsletter sequences. A short term newsletter lets you test out the paid newsletter format and see which topics or angles people really respond to, without committing to months or years of putting in the reps.

To make your limited-run newsletter valuable, make sure there’s a clear theme or value proposition. Then, promote the newsletter as a set number of editions so subscribers know what to expect.

Harvard Business Review is among the ranks of brands that like to create short-run newsletters. HBR’s Managing Data Science newsletter is an 8-part series that curates expert writers around a specific topic.

newsletter content ideas
Limited run newsletters give readers a clear endpoint to stay engaged through and a set amount of content for creators to make. Image via Digital Content Next.

How to avoid getting stuck on the content hamster wheel

It’s one thing to see an inspiring idea, but something else entirely to figure out how it could work for you. Here are some tips for figuring out how to make your paid newsletter sustainable:

  • Make a list of the content you’re already creating. Is there work you're already doing (or have done) that you can easily repurpose into exclusive content? Is there a way to add something to the free content you’ll already create that makes it more useful, insightful, or engaging?
  • Survey your audience. Ask engaged members of your audience what type of “exclusive content” they would like to receive. Who knows, they might have an idea that never crossed your mind!
  • Aim to make content with dual purposes. If you’ll create 100% original content for the newsletter, brainstorm ways to leverage it elsewhere after it’s had some time in your exclusive space. Maybe your paid subscribers receive content before everyone else, you edit monthly Q&A webinars into short clips you can promote on social media, or you repurpose your free newsletter into an ebook that’s only available to paying subscribers.
  • Automate sequences that grow your newsletter for you. Running a paid newsletter involves creating content, marketing the newsletter, and managing the list. By automating sequences like your welcome messages or referral program, you can set your newsletter up to work and grow without constant direct input from you.

Besides being mindful of what content you create for your paid newsletter, consider your tools and automations. While some paid newsletter platforms tie you to the recurring broadcast model, ConvertKit gives you more flexibility and control.

You can create evergreen sequences and automations on your ConvertKit account, plus import automation templates to get up and running faster. You can also manage your products, landing pages, forms, and more from a single tool.

If you’re ready to finally give a paid newsletter a go (or transform your existing one), sign up for a free ConvertKit trial and join the paid newsletter challenge.

Join the 2021 Paid Newsletter Challenge

This May we’re here to help you start building a new income stream with a paid newsletter. Join us from May 1- May-31, 2021 to grow your income and create a deeper connection with your audience.

Join the challenge

Steph Knapp

Steph Knapp is a freelance B2B + SaaS content marketer that loves educating and empowering curious humans. When she's not typing away, you'll find her volunteering at the animal shelter and obsessing over a new hobby every week. She shares marketing, freelance, and cat content on Twitter @ hellostephknapp.

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