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Extra Points 2020 Year in Review and Next Steps

Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.

Thankfully, we’ve almost reached the end of 2020. That means that Extra Points has been publishing in its current format for about eight months.

I feel like I owe it to all of you to be really transparent about how everything is going over here at Extra Points HQ. All of this is new to me, and the idea of “working with the garage door open” feels spiritually correct, especially since the idea of newsletters is so in and hip right now.

So now that we’re just about done with the year, I’d like to quickly update you on where Extra Points is and what sorts of things I’d like to change or improve over the next few months. At the end, I’m gonna throw in a few notes about the Newsletter Discourse, if you’re interested in any of that media inside baseball kind of talk. If not, that’s fine too!

So how is Extra Points doing financially?

As of Dec 15, Extra Points has 4,036 free subscribers and 604 paid subscribers. According to Substack, that comes out to a little over $42,200 a year in annualized revenue. Hey, that’s more than I used to make teaching 4th grade!

Good Spot Publishing LLC, (my little holding company for Extra Points) made a little extra money from selling merch, books, and a few small one-off assignments. But that’s also not all pure profit. Some of that money was shared with The Intercollegiate for the time when we were partnered up, and I’ve also spent money on equipment, accounting, legal services, FOIA fees, freelancers, and a few other expenses that come with running a small business.

I think I’m comfortable saying that Extra Points is profitable, and it is on the path to being legitimately sustainable. I wouldn’t say that it’s 100% there yet.

But you know what? I think growing to this size, this quickly, under these circumstances, is pretty impressive, all things considered! That’s something worth celebrating.

It feels really good to be able to hit so many of the big goals I sketched out in 2020. This newsletter is on its way to financial sustainability, I feel good about the quality of the product, and I feel like I’m seeing the response needed to keep this thing going.

I’m looking at making a few changes over the next few months.

I’m looking very hard at getting into podcasting

I know, I know. Another sports podcast? By a dude? In this economy?!?

But looking at reader surveys, our Discord, and my email inbox, it’s clear that a chunk of you would like audio content. And honestly, I’d like to deliver it! I love doing radio, and I can think of a lot of stories that honestly would play better as informal audio conversations, rather than longer newsletters.

The biggest hangup right now has been time. I’m mostly a one-man shop, and I just didn’t have the time to write four newsletters a week, and research, record and produce a good podcast, and do all of the backend stuff needed to keep this operation running. But I’ve been in talks with a co-host who can handle some of those logistical concerns, and help produce a product that dovetails nicely with what this newsletter is all about.

My goal, right now, is to start a podcast after the end of the college football season. I’ll share more specifics once it’s all ironed out, but I want you to know that I’ve been listening, and I think I finally have a partner and a proposal that would let Extra Points do sustainable, interesting, and unique audio work.

I’m going to try to diversify revenue streams

Right now, about 98% of Extra Points related revenue comes from reader subscriptions. I made a little bit of money from selling merch, but by and large, I haven’t run ads or syndicated any content, and I haven’t really tried to earn money any other way.

As long as I’m running it, Extra Points is always going to be a subscriber-focused publication. I want to write about niche topics, which means I can’t chase the page views needed to justify banner ads. I don’t want to have to change what I’m doing to appease Google or Facebook or some other distributor. At the end of the day, I want to write for you. A human being.

But I also recognize that not everybody can pay seven bucks a month to financially support Extra Points. So I’d like to look for ways for other folks to potentially help.

Namely, I’m going to consider selling some ads. I say consider because I only want to sell an ad if I think it can bring value to this audience. I want them to be simple, unobtrusive and aligned with my values.

If you want to reach an audience of academics, industry professionals and die-hard fans, drop me a line at [email protected]. If there are folks pitching services (other newsletters, college athletics-aligned products, academic journals, etc) that I think make sense for Extra Points, let’s talk. I’m open to affiliate campaigns, sponsored newsletters, and ads, like the ones for CSRI that used to run at the end of the newsletter.

I’m also open to syndicating this newsletter. Drop me a line if you’re interested in potentially republishing or syndicating Extra Points content.

Finally, I’ll return to selling merch once the latest Extra Points logo/branding is developed. More details soon.

What else am I looking to focus on?

Outside of podcasting and producing this near-daily newsletter, I really want to focus on growing the infrastructure behind Extra Points.

Part of that is reporting. I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few weeks just networking, trying to learn more about aspects of college athletics that I’m less familiar with, such as fundraising and creative services. I love talking to people, and I really love talking to people now that I’m on month nine of being stuck at home, so by all means, let’s chat.

Part of that infrastructure is business development. I worked with several schools last semester that used Extra Points as a classroom supplement, both for sports management and sports media courses, and am in talks with several others for Spring of 2021. I offer big discounts for college students and employees, and want to continue to grow this aspect of the newsletter, which requires time and attention.

And part of that is operational. I’m trying to get better about being efficient with my time, especially since I have ADHD and am constantly interrupted by Zoom School, Twitter, and my phone going off. This has been a major challenge, but I’m getting better at it.

Once it’s safe to travel, I really want to hit the road and start visiting some campuses, but I suspect that’s going to be more of a mid to late 2021 thing.

Let me offer a few earnest Thank Yous before I get to the media nerd newsletter talk

First, let me thank Daniel Libit and Luke Cyphers, formerly of The Intercollegiate, and now of Sportico. I am a better writer, and Extra Points is a better newsletter, because of their involvement. College sports media is much better with both of them back in the game filing FOIAs.

I’m deeply grateful for the community around this newsletter. When I’ve been burned out and depressed, this community has gassed me up. When I’ve felt cynical, I’ve found more people who love what college athletics can become, and who still believe in the good behind this enterprise, while not being blind to what’s broken. When I’ve questioned whether this is worth continuing, or if I’m good enough, or if any of this matters, you’ve been there to tell me to press on.

That’s helped me in more ways than I can really articulate in this newsletter. I’m so grateful for it, and when I sit down in front of this laptop, I’m always thinking about how to best serve what you all want.

Finally, I want to explicitly thank my wife, Taylor. Extra Points does not exist without Taylor.

Taylor helps with copyediting, something I am truly horrific at. She encourages me to delete my worst jokes. She asks questions I’d never think to ask. She’s shouldered all sorts of new burdens to allow me to dedicate so much time and effort in building this enterprise. And she has listened to a LOT of newsletter and industry talk, even though she doesn’t really care about college athletics.

Technically, this is a one-man show. I’m the only name on the masthead. But I didn’t build this newsletter myself, and if it grows, it isn’t just because of anything I did. It’s because I had a lot of help. I think it’s worth being intentional about remembering that.

And now for some media nerd newsletter talk.

I’m learning that I’m really passionate about media entrepreneurship. So much of the internet, quite frankly, sucks. It’s built for algorithms or brands, not actual humans. Even as I head into the end of 2020 feeling pretty burned out, one of the things that have kept me going has been the idea that by being a visible newsletter person, I’m at least part of the effort in trying to improve online media by making it more reader-centric.

If you’re thinking about starting a newsletter, or want to talk shop, I’d be more than happy to talk to you. I’ve done this for a lot of people so far, and I honestly love doing it. I learn something from your projects, your passion, and your questions.

It’s good to have enthusiasm about newsletters! But over the last few months, I feel like we’ve already had a NEWSLETTERS ARE THE FUTURE?!? and ARE NEWSLETTERS ACTUALLY PROBLEMATIC?!? discourse. It’s a little exhausting!

Here’s my take. Newsletters aren’t going to “save” the media. They are not a silver bullet, just like video wasn’t a silver bullet, podcasts aren’t a silver bullet, sports gambling sure as hell isn’t a silver bullet, and whatever else media executives are peddling isn’t a silver bullet. Nothing is going to “save” us, save a dramatic rollback of greed, which lol c’mon.

There’s a lot to like about the newsletter format, but it isn’t without flaws. Like many other media formats, it’s likely biased in favor of those who already have established followings. Many of the biggest paid newsletters on Substack are a who’s who of Twitter Main Characters, and usually male ones. There aren’t a lot of sports newsletters right now, but most of the large ones are run by people who were already “names” before they struck out on their own.

I like to joke that I wasn’t even the most famous Matt Brown writing about college athletics when I started Extra Points. I’m not on TV, not on Paul Finebaum, and not backed by a massive message board. But I did have some following before this newsletter launched. It would have been very, very hard to grow Extra Points had I not been writing for several years beforehand, I suspect.

I also recognize that even though Extra Points was largely a product of me being caught in re-organizational hell at Vox Media, and then by me getting bought out from Vox Media, I’m also pretty privileged. We don’t have any student or medical debt. My wife has a stable job, and we saved a good amount of money over the last few years. I’m not rich, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to miss a mortgage payment while my newsletter was only making a few hundred bucks a month. Without that luxury, I would have had to do a lot of things differently. We can’t really call this platform democratic or industry-saving if those that don’t have those privileges can’t build their products.

Moving forward, I hope Substack and newsletters at large can do a better job with newsletter discovery, so readers can more easily find and discover cool communities. I hope we all find new ways to monetize our newsletters and build a community that isn’t dependent on a platform.

And most importantly, I hope folks keep finding ways to build stuff that we all want to read, listen to, share, and engage with. Some of those products will be newsletters, others will be podcasts, others will be completely new formats. I hope we can all keep learning from each other, as we try to build a better, more sustainable internet, full of stuff built for humans.

Facebook isn’t coming to save us. Google isn’t coming to save us. Newsletters aren’t coming to save us. Corporate executives who don’t know who Nick Saban is aren’t coming to save us. Nobody is coming to save us.

We’re all we got. So let’s try to make something worth reading.

Thanks for supporting Extra Points. You can subscribe right here.

Questions, comments, advertising inquiries, business requests, Nintendo Switch Friend Requests and more can be sent to [email protected], or to @MattBrownEP on Twitter.

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