Good morning, and thank you for spending your day with Extra Points.
When I first launched this thing back in 2020, I tried something a little unique. Every quarter or so, I sent out a newsletter detailing exactly how well the newsletter was doing. I shared my profitability, my subscriber stats, key metrics...the works. I did that partly because it only felt fair if I was going to spend so much time hounding athletic departments about financial transparency, but it also felt right to share that information with the folks that were supporting me.
Now that I've technically sold Extra Points, I can't share everything anymore, and I don't do the report every quarter now, but I still want to share regular updates.
So in this newsletter, I want to take a step back, tell you how this enterprise is going, what's working, what I hope to improve, and what you, as a reader, can expect in 2023. If you're really interested in some media inside baseball talk, I'll share some of that at the end.
I have two more reported newsletters I want to share this week, and then I'm going to take a little bit of time off around the Christmas holiday. There will be a 2023 predictions piece late next week, and we'll return to the regular schedule in January.
How is Extra Points doing right now? What are the topline stats?
Extra Points has over 11,200 total subscribers, and over 1,000 paying subscribers. Free newsletters generally have open rates in the 40-46% range, with premium newsletters usually a bit higher than that. Between D1.classroom, premium subscriptions, and ad sales, the newsletter generated north of six figures in revenue.
It doesn't always feel that way to me, but intellectually, I understand that this makes Extra Points a legitimate success story in independent media.
What is going well with Extra Points?
Looking at this as objectively as I can, I think there are two big successes from 2022.
I'm proud of a lot of the actual writing we did this year.
We broke the story about EA Sports delaying the release of their college football game until 2024, along with tons of other stories about the development of the game. We established ourselves as a leader in mid-major realignment coverage. I'm proud of the stories we wrote on the ground about the Brawl of the Wild, Fairfield Basketball, and Sacred Heart Hockey. I'm proud of how we've honestly written about NIL, how we've used FOIA to tell interesting stories, and how we're unafraid to sometimes, write something kinda stupid. If I'm being honest, the stupid ones are often some of my favorites.
I want this newsletter to help inform, to help educate, and to help entertain. Over the year, I think we've done that quite a bit!
I'm also really excited about D1.classroom
If you're unfamiliar, D1.classroom is a project we launched to help universities. We package highly-discounted subscriptions to Extra Points, resources to help students find jobs in the college sports industry, and twice-a-week classroom discussion questions, so schools can use EP and D1.ticker as textbook supplement.
I'm really proud of it, because I'm still a teacher at heart, and I think this is an underserved market. We wrapped up our first semester yesterday, and project to serve over 1,000 students across the country in the Spring. I really believe we're just starting to scratch the surface about what's possible with D1.classroom...if we execute it well, it could very well become the biggest audience for the newsletter.
What is not going so well?
Extra Points is always going to be primarily funded by subscriptions, and that's by design. But I have sought to diversify our revenue by running ads. I have to be honest though...even three years in, that just hasn't worked the way I hoped it would.
Most of the ads you see in Extra Points, right now, are 'house ads' that we find through a handful of newsletter ad marketplaces. I hand-select these, and they pay out based on the number of people who click on them, or occasionally, the number of people who buy stuff from those links. I try to find partners that would be most relevant to our audience, which isn't always easy, given the brands that use these marketplaces. Candidly, at our newsletter size and type, these campaigns don't pay very well.
We recently hired a full-time salesperson to help support D1.classroom and Extra Points, and he's doing a hell of a job. But selling ads manually takes a long time, and the industry itself isn't in a good place right now. We're going to keep at it for next year, but we have not been able to meaningfully reduce our dependence on subscription revenue so far.
Subscription growth is also uneven
I'd love to sit here and tell you that Extra Points grows 8% each month, and we're just a steady rocket ship going to the moon, but that wouldn't be true. Like with many independent publishers, growth isn't linear, but spasmodic.
Honestly, outside of D1.classroom, paid subscriptions were mostly flat this fall athletic season, and free subscription growth was only modest. I'll detail exactly why in the inside baseball section...but I will say that finding new subscribers is very important to the health of Extra Points. If you enjoy these newsletters, please tell your colleagues, friends, classmates, message board buddies, readers, etc.
What are the focus areas for 2023? What should readers expect?
With the caveat that nothing is completely set in stone, I can think of a few things to watch for.
- I think it is probable, although not certain, that we will move Extra Points off of Ghost in early 2023. That will likely mean that the website will look slightly different, and some small features might change. Ghost is great, just like Substack was great, but it is missing a few features that we increasingly think are mission-critical for us, and most importantly, it just takes a lot of time to get working correctly. I'm okay trading a few bells and whistles to free up more time and energy for writing. I'll share more on this if/when we get closer.
- I think we're going to take some real time to re-evaluate Going For Two, how it fits in with Extra Points, and what we want it to be. It's been a lot of fun doing the show, but it's a ton of work (especially for Bryan) and hasn't hit the growth goals we wanted. I'm not saying we're gonna kill podcasting here or anything, but we need to be more strategic about how we're doing it.
- Your subscription revenue lets me hit the road. I love traveling to new schools, doing site visits, and meeting people in person. After the NCAA convention and some more R&R, we'll be looking to do that again, and more regularly, in 2023.
- By God, we will have a functional reader referral reward system in 2023. Doing this has been a much bigger technical lift than I wanted, but we're close, I promise.
- We're going to look at Extra Points pricing and features. We didn't touch the price of anything in 2022, and while I'm not saying we will increase the price in 2023, I think we'll look at ways to provide additional value for our classroom, industry, and institutional readers.
- This may be wishful thinking, but I really do want to make some headway on my second book. I thought I pick at it more during the season, but I just didn't have the time. I'm going to try again this spring and summer and will share some updates/content here.
Last note before the inside baseball stuff
I have a job because of you. I get to write about MAAC basketball realignment, softball NIL contracts, video game licensing, TV deals, academic interviews, and more, because people like you are willing to read it, tweet it, and pay for it. I sit down every day wanting to make good internet for people like you, and I am deeply, deeply thankful for that support. I thought working at SB Nation would be the best job I ever had. This is the best job I've ever had.
You've made EP a success, and if it remains a success, it will be because of you. I will keep doing my very best to give you something you'll want to read in the morning.
Okay let's get to the inside baseball digital publisher stuff
A common trope in newsletter-land is that this format is superior because it allows the publisher to own their audience. You're not dependent on other platforms, you don't have to worry about Facebook nuking a video program or Apple News walling off publishers or whatever. It's safer than say, blogging.
I mean, that's kind of true. Newsletters allow for more control of an audience, and they make it much easier to monetize a smaller, dedicated audience. I picked this format for a reason.
But nobody actually owns their audience, and we're all reliant on platforms we do not control. Most of you have Gmail email addresses, and whether Google decides to stick my dispatch in 'Promotions' or not has a huge impact on my ability to reach my readers. Apple tweaking their click tracking makes it much harder to sell digital ads. A university tweaking its email system could mean dozens of my readers see Extra Points banished to spam. These are real problems.
You also have the problem of where you get those email addresses. On a given month, somewhere between 30-50% of new Extra Points subscribers will sign up via Twitter. We get a handful of LinkedIn each month, a trickle of legacy Substack Recommends, some D1.ticker referrals, and some from Google...but Twitter is easily my biggest referral source.
Is anything weird happening with Twitter recently? Anything to lead one to question its stability or brand safety?
This is one of the things that legitimately keeps me up at night. It's why I've been so frantically trying to set up a reader referral program. I do not think I can depend on Twitter as an audience engine for 2023, and we haven't found another reliable source yet. We are likely to spend more real resources on paid audience acquisition advertisements in 2023. Podcast ads haven't had a strong ROI, newsletter ad swaps have mostly been ineffective, and spending money on Facebook is an absolute last resort.
I am not so pessimistic that I'm quitting or anything, but I am more concerned about independent publishing that doesn't fit into a pure B2B model than I was even in 2020. I still believe the Newsletter Support Ecosystem is more built to support people who call themselves 'Creators'...folks trying to hawk digital courses and find 'clients' from their 200-word newsletters than it is built to support writers. I'm not one of those people. I'm a writer.
But that's running a business, I guess. You can't control everything that might impact your work. All you can do is try to keep learning and work to build the best product you possibly can.
And that is what I am going to keep doing in 2023. Make the best Extra Points I possibly can.
To sponsor a future Extra Points newsletter, please click here, or shoot me an email at email@example.com For article ideas, newsletter feedback, FOIA tips, athlete NIL sponsorships, and more, I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org or @MattBrownEP on Twitter.