Behold the humble newsletter…
If you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance a newsletter brought you here.
One of the oldest weapons in the digital marketer’s arsenal, emails remain one of the most effective.
But making a grown-up living from publishing a newsletter is a much newer phenomenon.
With newsrooms across the US and worldwide rapidly shrinking, more and more journalists are looking to alternative outlets to get paid for the work they produce.
The launch of Substack in 2017 made publishing paid subscription newsletters easily accessible even to the most tech-averse scribblers.
Newsletters have become a big business…
Substack has over 100k users paying for newsletter subscriptions on every topic under the sun. The most popular publishers make well into 6-figures in revenue.
By no means is it only professional journalists that are making money on Substack. As you’ll see from the newsletter we’ve selected, the operators come from all kinds of backgrounds.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, single operator newsletters are written by one person. Unlike the many aggregated newsletters out there, like Quartz, single operator newsletters tend to reflect authors’ personality and interests — which is part of their appeal.
Here’s our handpicked selection of the 10 best single operator emails for marketers and entrepreneurs.
Since launching in 2019, Steve Toth’s SEONotebook has become a weekly must-read for the SEO cognoscenti, as evidenced by the murderer’s row of testimonials from the likes of Matt Diggity and Kyle Roof.
SEO Notebook is actually a hybrid newsletter/Evernote blog. Every week, Steve sends out an email with a new actionable SEO tactic that links to an Evernote. The notes are only accessible through the newsletter link.
Many of the newsletters featured here offer relatively deep dives. SEO Notebook notes are short and sweet — most have a read time of 2-3 minutes — but each one delivers a tip or hack to make your life as an SEO easier.
As Kyle Roof says in his testimonial, “Get all the golden nugs without having to scroll through the SEO groups to get them.”
The Margins is authored by Can Duruk and Ranjan Roy.
The two come from very different backgrounds: Duruk is a software engineer who worked at Uber and Digg and is now a product manager at Very Good Security.
Roy comes from a finance background. He’s a former trader and now runs his own content strategy and newsletter company called The Edge Group.
Each brings their own perspective to the “business of the technology industry, and also the technology of business.”
If you liked popular economics books like Freakanomics and The Black Swan, you’re going to love The Margins.
The Margins is currently the second most popular free newsletter on Substack.
A big reason for that is Roy’s seriously hilarious posts about food and arbitrage.
Roy takes aim at how VC cash and “disruptive” technology like Doordash and Uber Eats distort how capitalism is supposed to work and seriously harm “real” businesses — like restaurants — in the process.
Roy teamed up with a friend who owns a pizza delivery restaurant to showcase the absurdity of Doordash’s business model. It culminates with the two ordering pizzas from themselves that never get made and netting a tidy profit in the process.
The Margins is far from just a giant food fight, though. Roy and Duruk write incisively from their own perspectives on topics as diverse as social media, crypto, venture capital, and income inequality.
Frequency: 2-3 times a week
Ever wonder what the life of a high-powered VC is like?
Then The Operating Partner newsletter is for you.
The OP is the brainchild of Darren Herman. Herman has been an operating partner at Bain Capital since 2016. Before that, he was a very successful entrepreneur, with three lucrative exits under his belt. Herman estimates that he has created ~$50m in earnings for the companies he founded.
Herman made much of his fortune in marketing and advertising related businesses, and he frequently writes about marketing.
The OP’s content runs the gamut from journal-like entries to long-form content — all from Herman’s unique perspective.
One of the things I love about the OP is Herman’s is the Articles I’ve Read This Week section that ends every email. There’s always some gems you’d otherwise miss.
The OP is unpredictable — it’s genuinely about whatever happens to be on Herman’s mind. And that’s part of what makes it so great.
Greatest Hits: The Three Top Marketers, Right Now
Moving on from The OP to an OG, Ben Thompson’s Stratechery is often credited as heralding the current paid newsletter boom.
Thompson started offering his paid daily newsletter in 2014 — three years before the launch of SubStack.
Few writers explore the intersection of business, technology, and its impact on society as incisively as Thompson. His data-driven deep dives are delivered with eloquence and wit and are never, ever boring.
One of Thompson’s strengths is his ability to draw insights from a diverse variety of sources.
Stratechery has established itself as a must-read for everyone from Big Tech CEOs and VCs to journalists and tech enthusiasts.
If you don’t want to commit to the paid daily updates, at least check out the article archive.
You might just get hooked.
Cost: $12 per month or $120 per year (or $15/$150 with a subscription to the Dithering podcast
Kevin Indig is a high powered SEO and content maven. He’s currently the VP of SEO and Content at powerhouse software aggregator G2 — and he believes deeply in “the democratization of monetized information.”
Indig built a highly successful Substack newsletter called Tech Bound. He recently defected from the platform and now self-publishes the Growth Memo newsletter.
Slightly longer in length than SEO Notebook’s notes, Growth Memos are still designed to be consumed in 15 minutes or less.
Indig tackles breaking stories in SEO and spills a lot of digital ink exploring how Google works.
If you’re a forward-thinking SEO who not only wants to know how Google does things but why, subscribe to Growth Memo now.
Media doesn’t get any more established or “mainstream” than the New York Times…
As of September 2020, The Times boasted upwards of 4.7m paid digital subscribers as revenue from digital subscriptions passed print for the first time.
Despite its establishment pedigree, The Times has been quick to embrace the single operator newsletter model.
After long stints as a technology columnist at Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal, Ovide was hired by The Times in early 2020 specifically to helm the week-daily On Tech newsletter.
One of the great things about On Tech is that with the weight of The New York Times behind her, Ovide is able to score interviews with some serious heavy hitters. And she’s not afraid to ask the tough questions. Her takedown of Google’s former CEO, Larry Page, is legendary.
Frequency: Daily M-F
Edward Nevraumont is a marketer’s marketer who prides himself on being a contrarian — hence the name of his newsletter, Marketing BS.
Nevraumont believes most of the latest business trends are BS and steers his readers away from the shiny object syndrome that has so many marketers chasing the latest trends.
Marketing BS is insightful and funny. Aside from being an in-demand and consultant, Nevraumont also regularly performs as a stand-up comedian.
His astute observations of the marketing industry are nothing to laugh at, though.
Recent subjects include the potential effect of GPT-3 on marketing and the impact recently deceased Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh had on modern customer service.
MarketingBS mostly consists of weekly briefings on a wide variety of marketing related topics alongside occasional standalone subjects.
Nevraumont also hosts a popular podcast of the same name that’s only available with the newsletter subscription.
Frequency: Weekly plus bonus newsletters and subscription-only podcast
Cost: $25 a month or $150 a year
Greatest Hits: Tony Hsieh, Zappos, and Customer Service, Weekly Briefings
Many of the newsletters featured here encompass a broad range of topics, reflecting the diverse interests of the people who write them.
SEM is different. It’s laser-focused on delivering in one very specific way — domain names with authority that are heading to auction.
The brainchild of Sean Markey — a longtime SEO strategist and writer — Markey uncovers high authority domains with strong backlink profiles.
Affiliates and other SEOs often spend countless hours scouring marketplaces for high authority expired domains. If that sounds like you, $19/month could be a bargain.
Cost: Free (Limited Content) or $19 per month/$228 per month paid
Greatest Hit: SEM is a time-sensitive transaction-based newsletter, so the content is far from evergreen. But you can see past free newsletters here.
As the name suggests, Tedium claims to deliver the dull side of the internet, but it’s anything but boring.
One of the less “serious” newsletters on this list, Tedium takes on everything from SEO Etiquette to a history of John McAfee’s failed but prescient social media experiments.
If you’re looking for a good laugh AND want to learn more about tech at the same time, Tedium is the newsletter for you.
Frequency: Twice Weekly
Cost: Free with suggested Patreon donation
Scott Galloway is one of those people who makes you wonder how one person could accomplish so many things.
He’s written extensively on the Coronavirus and recently released his latest book, Post Corona – From Crisis to Opportunity.
Somewhat depressingly, he also somehow manages to publish a weekly newsletter on “tech and relationships” called No Mercy / No Malice.
Galloway’s focus tends to be on big tech, social media, and the impact of both on society. Big picture stuff.
He’s a provocative thinker and his newsletters are always a joy to read.
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