Local business newsletter The Charlotte Ledger now generates around $12,500 in monthly recurring revenue from its 2,000 paid subscribers, according to founder Tony Mecia. That’s about $150,000 a year.
- Add in advertising and grant funding, and the 2-year-old Substack newsletter covering Charlotte is on pace to generate $175,000 in annual revenue.
Why it matters: Entrepreneurial local reporters in cities across the United States now have a blueprint to go independent — and make more money.
- According to Glassdoor, the average annual reporter salary at Gannett, which owns about a dozen N.C. newspapers, is $40,752. At McClatchy (owner of The Charlotte Observer), it’s $39,962.
Catch up quick: Mecia started The Charlotte Ledger as an experiment a little over two years ago. Startup costs were basically $0. He chose Substack.
- He had only 300 Twitter followers and a paper rolodex of local newsmakers when he started.
- When he reached 3,000 free subscribers about a year into it, he launched paid subscriptions. “There was no revenue for the first year,” Mecia says. “I had severance from a magazine job and I freelanced.”
- Subscriptions cost $9/month or $99/year (full breakdown here). There’s also an enterprise tier for $379/year. “I have no growth hacks; it’s about doing the little things right consistently.”
- Paid subscribers are currently growing at about 50-80 net new subscribers a month. The newsletter now has 2,000 paid subscribers and 6,900 free subscribers. Open rates for the paid list are around 60% and for the free list open rates are around 30%.
My thought bubble: It’s an outstanding read. The Charlotte Ledger differentiated itself early with its mix of business scoops and aggregation — delivered with the experienced (and entertaining) voice. The publication has since broadened its coverage with more original reporting like a play-by-play look inside the making of Mecklenburg County’s Covid directive and the inside scoop on what’s behind the sudden push for residential development in west Charlotte.
Financial breakdown: On the expense side, Substack takes a 10% cut and Stripe takes about another 3% (about $1,625/mo currently).
- Mecia hired veteran journalist Cristina Bolling as the only full-time employee and set up a compensation structure based heavily on subscription revenue to align their incentives and provide upside.
- Other expenses include a few contractors to help with operations (ex, social media) and freelance contributors.
- Mecia declined to provide exact expenses, but I figure the total annual expenses come out to about $100,000.
- That leaves about $75,000 in cash flow available Mecia. Instead of pocket this cash, he’s currently reinvesting in more original reporting.
- The Ledger recently launched a newsletter dedicated to obituaries, and one dedicated to transit issues.
The big picture: The Assembly recently reported that The Charlotte Observer had 54,012 print subscribers and 19,602 digital-only subscribers, so there’s plenty of room for The Charlotte Ledger to continue to grow paid subscriptions.
Bottom line: National reporters with big audiences have seen some success with Substack, Axios’ Sara Fischer wrote last fall.
- Mecia and Bolling have proven that readers are willing to pay for high quality, original local reporting. Instead of providing cash flow for newspaper-owning hedge funds, top tier local reporters now have a blueprint on providing cash flow to their families.