Good morning! Thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
The holiday season is basically the only time I enjoy checking my actual mailbox. Over the last few weeks, I loved getting holiday cards from old friends, and the occasional package of toys to spoil my kids with.
But usually, my mailbox is full of stuff I don’t want. Stuff like bills, junk mail addressed DEAR CHICAGO NEIGHBOR, solicitations for money, or other detritus. The stuff that I get in the mail that I actually want, like my Chicago Sun-Times, or my Woodcraft catalogue, I really had to go out of my way to set up.
Our email inboxes are like that too. Mine blows up every day, and yours is probably similar. Bills, junk, spam we swear we’ve unsubscribed to at least six times, work stuff, …not a whole lot that gives us joy, but we have to keep checking out of obligation.
So it really means a lot to me that so many of you have gone out of your way to sign up for this newsletter. It’s an invitation that I really don’t take lightly. Anybody can thoughtlessly click on a link they saw on Twitter. Signing up, and regularly reading a newsletter takes effort. And when I sit down to write this at night, I remind myself of that effort, and do my best to give you an email you don’t want to automatically delete.
In that spirit, now that 2019 is just about over, I want to take a few minutes to explicitly spell out what I’m trying to do with Extra Points, and how this newsletter may change over the next few months.
Who is Extra Points for?
I think one of the biggest mistakes a lot of writers make is forgetting who their audience is. Either you try to be all things for all people, and dilute your voice and product, or you fall into the (easy, imo) trap of writing more for other journalists or writers than your actual audience.
I really want to avoid that!
I’m grateful that a lot of different people subscribe to this newsletter. There are college football industry insiders, lawyers, marketing officials, athletic directors, SIDs, and at least one conference commissioner who have subscribed. There are also several journalists who have signed up. I’m glad you’re all reading! I really am! But ultimately, you’re not my target audience. I don’t think I could effectively be an insiders-insider newsletter, given my professional and time constraints.
The bulk of my audience, as best as I can tell, are fans. These are the Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody subscribers. The /r/CFB commenters. The bloggers. The podcasters. The message board readers. The advanced stats devotees. I remember having a conversation with my wife recently about what to call my audience. I suggested Extra Pointers. Her suggestion? Nerds. And honestly, she’s right. I write for the nerds. And I mean that with love.
When I sit down to write, I try to think of how I can best serve those readers. I’ve tried to do that by surfacing stories they might have missed, or by interviewing experts, or by trying to analyze events and trends from a new perspective. I try not just to explain or surface some of these topics, but explain why they might matter to a fan. I don’t always succeed, but this is what I am trying to do. That mission heavily impacts what stories I decide to write about and how.
I’m really pleased with how you’ve responded! I started Extra Points thinking I might get to 150 subscribers. Now, it’s very close to 1,000. Well over 1,000 people typically read each newsletter, and the open rates are way higher than the industry standard for newsletters. This is good!
This has led me to think a lot about how I can refine and grow that mission into 2020, but I also need to be honest and realistic about my limitations. Interviews take time. Transcription services, FOIA requests, and guest posts all cost money, money that this newsletter does not make. I’m a man with a day job, two small children, church and community responsibilities, and other hobbies. Writing every day, even when I have something I’d love to share, is probably not realistic.
I want to be as transparent as I possibly can. I figure there are four possible ways 2020 could go for this newsletter.
1) I could find a partner. A partnership could help cut down on errant typos, help pay for stuff like FOIA fees, and give additional structure that would make it easier for me to either scale up the volume, or write even more deeper, original stuff. I’ve had a few conversations with potential partners, and if anybody at Vox/247/SI/The Daily Planet/anybody else is interested, I’m not a difficult guy to track down. But doing this would also require me to give up a lot of independence. It’s an option I would certainly consider, though.
2) I could continue to do things exactly like I’m doing now, with (at least) two newsletters a week, roughly 1,700 words each, throughout the season. I would probably not be able to do anything more than exactly what I’m doing right now. I’d like to do more, but perhaps this is fine as it is.
3) Realizing I can’t reach my ambitious goals, I could just close the thing down and try something else. I really do not want to do this, unless professional reasons forced me to do it, which I do not think is likely.
4) I could institute a limited paywall.
Unless something crazy happens, I think #4 is the most likely path I’m going to take. If you don’t want to pay any money, I’ll still write two free Extra Points a week, just like before. But I am seriously considering offering new content to folks who can throw a few bucks my way each month. Maybe those would be Extra Extra Points (or, as my wife astutely suggested: Going for Two).
A limited paywall gives me money I can use to pay for FOIA fees. It gives me money I can use to pay guest contributors. It gives me money I can use for transcription services, which make interviews faster. And it helps pay me a little for my time.
I’m not saying I’m going to do this tomorrow. If and when anything changes, I will give everybody plenty of notice, and I am still considering other options. If you have opinions about what you’d like to see with Extra Points, I’m all ears. Please feel free to send me a note. But this is where I am leaning right now.
I think this particular niche of the college football internet is pretty small, but there is a demand for it. The fact that you guys read these emails at a rate way above the industry standard is proof of that. I want to continue to meet it, and meet it by doing more interviews, more reporting, more personal essays, more meat.
But that will also require, on some level, more help. In 2020, I may need to ask you for that help. And if I do, I wanted to make sure that wouldn’t be a total surprise.
Thanks for a great 2019. I’ve learned a ton writing this newsletter, and it’s helped my curiosity about this sport, about publishing, and about so many other things, continue to grow. Here’s hoping for a better 2020.
Thanks y’all. I’ll have more regularly scheduled newsletters soon.
Thanks for supporting Extra Points. Your continued readership and subscriptions have made this project possible. For business related questions, hit me up at MattBrownOhio@Gmail.com. For other newsletter feedback, commentary, general questions or insults, I can be reached at Matt.Brown@SBNation.com, or @MattBrownEP on Twitter dot com.