Making money off newsletters and other content

by | Feb 23, 2021 | Commentary, Random | 2 comments

While I am still trying to make sense of Clubhouse, I did end up in a room the other day where the topic of discussion was on how to monetise newsletters. What drew me to the room was Dan Runcie, whose work with his platform Trapital I have been following for a couple of years – including interviewing him when I had a radio show in 2018/19.

Having worked across the media and in content for the last fifteen or so years, I try to stay relatively up to date with the evolution of the sector overall. I no longer separate so-called traditional from digital media. The ecosystem consists of all platforms and mediums, in my mind, at least. With the time I spend reading, researching, exploring the discussions around media evolution in the last decade plus working primarily in South African media, the challenge continues to be that the primary conversation is from a Western, especially American, perspective.

The reality has always been that, while we can draw insights from international media, it has always been important to apply an African lens to media across the continent, especially as media companies have gone from a focus on a specific medium to having to navigate all mediums. Radio stations are having to explore how to complement on-air with online, in various forms. Magazines, although many, at least in South Africa, have been collapsing, can’t just be magazines, they need to navigate digital, audio, video and, prior to Covid19, in-person.

Newsletters + Curation

With everything that’s going on in media, companies have also stepped to the fore, operating as publishers/broadcasters, crafting and curating their own stories. This is what I recommend to most of my clients, and this is the service I provide but this isn’t about that. What it is about is another level, which is the individual as a publisher and curator. Many are building a content ecosystem, including website, YouTube, social media, podcasts and, increasingly, newsletters.

The space for newsletters is evident when you consider the growth of platforms like Substack – which is what I use for my newsletter Zebra Culture by Kojo Baffoe -, MailChimp, Buttondown, Ghost and Revue, which was recently purchased by Twitter. There are also platforms like Patreon, Gumroad and Medium.

The main reason I moved from MailChimp, where I started, to Substack was because above a certain number of emails to subscribers per month, you have to pay, with MailChimp. With Substack, you only start paying when you start charging a subscription. Would I like to start creating content purely for subscribers and start charging? Absolutely. My newsletter takes up at least four hours every week which takes me away from other paying work. There are two main hitches when it comes to switching to paid. Firstly, Substack uses Stripe which is not available anywhere on the continent. Note that one can’t sign up to Medium Partner Programme and get paid because they also use Stripe. Secondly, and more importantly, in my view, is that $5 (average monthly subscription fee) is not that accessible for an African audience. With Patreon, you can get paid via PayPal.

As a side note, there is increased traction around podcasting across the continent, with more and more podcasts cropping up, but where those that are making some revenue is off sponsorships, and probably not enough to sustain them and their producers.

Taking all of this into consideration, I believe that for African content creators to take advantage of the revenue opportunities from our content ecosystems, particularly newsletters, once we figure out how to get paid on these platforms (I am told there are ways), the reality is that we need to build audiences outside our geographical location. Audiences who are a lot more inclined to spend a couple of dollars on a monthly basis for content.


  1. Mlungisi

    A good read thanks. What about creating dedicated Apps for mobile phones or iPads? And then publishing content on these apps when subscribers are onboard? Monitize via Ads?

  2. Kojo Baffoe

    Hi Mlu, with the cost of actually creating apps, I don’t believe that is an ideal option, from an African perspective. A website, to a certain extent, can have some of the features that an app would have. Plus it still goes back to the financials. What’s cost of subscribing, is the content worth subscribing for and would the average person (on the continent) be willing to subscribe when most of us are dealing with survival, to a certain extent.

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