The Ledger hits 2,000 subscribers. Here's what's next.
Good morning! Today is Saturday, November 9, 2019. We are coming to you not with hot breaking news, but with a SPECIAL LEDGER STATUS UPDATE. We do these every few months. The most recent one was in July.
Charlotte e-newsletter grows quickly and develops a plan for financial sustainability; vows no clickbait
I’m taking a break from the usual Ledger format this morning to share some welcome news with you and to discuss what’s next for this newsletter.
I don’t like wasting your time, so the key points are:
The Ledger is growing quickly. After a little more than seven months, its 2,000th subscriber signed up this week.
With the concept proven, The Ledger plans to become a sustainable operation through limited sponsorships and by offering some content to paying subscribers in addition to free content. The pay-only editions will start in late winter/early spring.
If you like what the Ledger provides, you can help by passing along ideas and by spreading the word about us. There’s a list at the bottom of some of our best work in recent months.
That’s the short version. But if you want to know a little bit more, I believe in total transparency, so I’ll elaborate. Only rarely do I write in the first-person, so indulge me here.
Go deeper: I started the Ledger in mid-March of this year. My thinking was that Charlotte is a growing and dynamic city and could use more insightful local coverage. The idea was to provide a smart, thoughtful and fun read that values your time — a mix of breaking news, analysis and coverage of trends that are uniquely Charlotte. Articles have been mostly business-related, broadly defined. I’ve spent most of my adult life in journalism, and I’ve lived in Charlotte for 20+ years. I thought: This might be doable.
People responded. They signed up. They told their friends. They sent words of encouragement and ideas. I’m grateful to so many of you for sharing your knowledge and helping make the Ledger better. For an upstart e-publication, The Ledger — with the help of a bunch of people (you know who you are) — has broken a ton of news. Recently, it was the first to report that CMS was eyeing Olde Providence as the site of a new high school, that 12 acres in the middle of Plaza-Midwood was up for sale, and that commercial real estate types were buzzing about a land deal in South End … that turned out to be a 23-story office tower when it was announced two days later.
The Ledger has shed light on local trends — big retailers moving into CBD sales, a boom in working from home, developer contributions to City Council candidates, rooftop bars migrating to SouthPark and Ballantyne and how tech is changing local bank branches and healthcare systems. Ledger readers have learned tips that save them money and time, like how to fight high hospital bills and avoid spending hours waiting in line at the DMV. This is information that is fresh, local, original and relevant to your life.
With zero paid marketing, the Ledger has attracted new readers mostly through word of mouth. Data doesn’t always tell everything, but more and more people continue to enter their email addresses to receive the Ledger. The email open rates are especially strong — far above industry averages — and hundreds more view each issue on the web or from having it forwarded to them:
From 0 to 2,000+: The growth of Ledger subscribers from March to present.
I enjoy publishing the Ledger. But it cannot continue indefinitely in what is euphemistically known in the start-up world as the “pre-revenue” phase. I’ve thought hard about how to make the Ledger a true business that generates revenue in return for the value it provides. I’ve considered different options and sought advice from lots of smart people. Here are my thoughts on the most obvious paths:
Advertising. In Charlotte, we are accustomed mostly to media business models that depend heavily on advertising. Companies want to reach you. Media companies have an audience. It seems like a perfect fit. Except that if a publication becomes reliant on advertising, it develops incentives to start doing things that annoy readers — pop-up ads, endless spam and marketing emails, clickbait articles, headlines that read like riddles and stories that blur the line between advertising and editorial content. For the Ledger, which writes about local businesses in every edition, those advertising tactics seem especially inappropriate.
Sponsorships. I’m open to the idea, though, of accepting sponsorships or underwriting from companies that the Ledger doesn’t ordinarily write about. The proposition is this: If you support the Ledger and want to reach its readership, The Ledger will permit a limited number of sponsors to include logos and brief messages. Period. The editorial product of the Ledger will never be for sale.
Subscriptions. If you had the option of paying for something or receiving it for free, you’d pick to receive it for free. I get that. But to keep the Ledger 100% free, I’d have to employ some of those tactics mentioned above, which could result in a product you might not want to read — and that I wouldn’t want to produce. I think it’s fair that if you find value in something, you should pay for it. People subscribe to things all the time — not just magazines, but nowadays to products including music streaming, razor-blade delivery, meal assembly kits, and of course video entertainment. Is every issue of the Ledger as riveting as “Game of Thrones”? Well, no. But some of them are. Some of you probably subscribe to The Athletic, which has a similar model. Many local and national publications are moving this direction because they understand the value of having direct connections with their audiences.
I’m still developing the details and will share more later. But in the next few months, the Ledger will start a premium edition that is available only to paying subscribers for a reasonable monthly or yearly charge. If you’re a paying customer, my allegiance is to you. Our interests are aligned. With this approach, my incentive isn’t to bombard you with ads but to create for you a good product that provides value in exchange for your spending. There will always be editions of the Ledger available for free that will have the same high quality you have come to expect. People who want to view all of the Ledger’s work also will have that option — and those subscriptions will support independent and trustworthy local journalism that answers neither to faraway corporate masters nor to legions of advertisers. Reader support would also enable the Ledger to expand.
I share all of this not to be long-winded but to be fully transparent about where the Ledger is heading. I’m excited about the possibilities. As always, I’m happy to listen to whatever suggestions or feedback you might have — about these topics or anything else. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who thanks you? This guy thanks you.
With the Ledger growing quickly, a lot of people might have missed some of our best original work in the last few months. Here is some of it.
The truth about ‘unlimited PTO’ (Aug. 7)
South Charlotte high school: Breaking the news (Aug. 17), the story of how Olde Providence first learned about CMS plans when a bulldozer showed up (Aug. 19), how south Charlotte’s land crunch limits CMS options (Aug. 23)
Enjoy your weekend.
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On Twitter: @cltledger
The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.
The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.