Paid Newsletters: Substack vs. ConvertKit vs. Mailchimp

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Paid newsletters are a great opportunity for content creators to monetize their passion for writing. 

In this guide, I’ll be sharing some paid newsletter examples to get your creative juices flowing as you plan your newsletter.

I’ll also be evaluating the pros and cons of platforms that you can use for your paid newsletter, from ConvertKit vs Substack and Substack vs Mailchimp (yes, a Mailchimp paid newsletter is possible).

Let’s get started…

Table of Contents

What is a Paid Newsletter?

A paid newsletter is an email newsletter that subscribers have to pay to receive.

Subscriptions are typically charged monthly, though some newsletters offer a discount for annual billing.

The frequency of publication also differs from newsletter to newsletter. Some may publish only once a month, while some may publish once a week or more.

5 Examples of Paid Newsletters

1. Scott’s Cheap Flights

Source: Scott’s Cheap Flights

Price: $49/year

Newsletter platform: ActiveCampaign

Scott Keyes makes a living by looking for cheap domestic and international flights—and it all started when he managed to snag an incredible deal for a $130 non-stop roundtrip from New York City to Milan.

Upon hearing the news, his envious coworkers began asking him to alert them whenever he found such cheap fares again. Scott then started an email list so he could update everyone at once.

That simple email list has since grown to a thriving business called Scott’s Cheap Flights, which reported over $320,000 in monthly revenue in 2017 and is now staffed by a team of 35.

While anyone can subscribe to Scott’s Cheap Flights for free, paying subscribers receive exclusive updates, including mistakenly priced fares and deal alerts for peak season travel.

Paying members have raved about having been able to recoup the costs of their membership many times over.

2. Ness Labs

Source: Ness Labs

Price: $5/month or $50/year

Newsletter platform: Mailchimp

In 2018, Anne-Laure le Cunff founded Ness Labs with the goal of “empowering makers to do their best work while keeping their sanity.”

To this end, Ness Labs put out a free weekly newsletter called Maker Mind, which contains articles to help readers increase their creativity and productivity at work. Since its launch, Maker Mind has grown to over 25,000 subscribers.

That’s not all:

Ness Labs also launched a paid newsletter earlier this year.

Called Ness Letter, this monthly newsletter offers access to online and offline events, special perks and early access to new products.

Paid newsletter subscribers also become members of Ness Labs’ private community, where they can discuss productivity, mental health, neuroscience and other topics with other like-minded subscribers.

The private community was launched in March 2020 and hit 1,000 paid subscribers 8 months later.

3. Normcore Tech

Source: Normcore Tech

Price: $5/month

Newsletter platform: Substack

After writing about tech for over a decade, data scientist Vicki Boyki faced some obstacles:

Some of the things she wanted to write about were too personal for her tech blog, and too dry and technical for a personal blog.

Apart from that, she found that she had some views on tech that weren’t being raised in the media. While she would air such views on Twitter, she found that it was difficult to include nuances within each tweet’s 280-character limit.

Her solution?

To start a Substack paid newsletter called Normcore Tech, where she shares her thoughts on tech issues and articles that catch her interest.

Or as Vicki herself puts it, “Think of this as a pit stop for your poor, tired, clickbaited, overstimulated mind.”

Normcore Tech subscribers get one to two free posts plus one subscription post every week.

4. Sinocism

Source: Sinocism

Price: $15/month or $168/year

Newsletter platform: Substack

If you’re keen to learn more about China, look no further than Sinocism. Published four times a week, Sinocism delivers insights on what’s happening in China and how such events could affect global politics.

Sinocism is written by Bill Bishop, who has lived and worked in China for more than 10 years and is frequently sought after by the media for his views on Chinese affairs.

Recent articles in Sinocism have covered China’s controversial move to send a sanctioned official to the American Chamber Of Commerce’s annual appreciation dinner in Beijing, and President of China Xi Jinping’s recent declaration of victory over poverty in China.

Sinocism readers include China Research Director Andrew Batson and New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos.

5. Career Capital

Source: Barrett Brooks

Price: $5/month

Newsletter platform: ConvertKit

Launched in November 2020, Career Capital helps readers unlock their potential at work and grow their careers. The newsletter is written by Barrett Brooks, who found himself receiving an increasing number of requests for career advice—but very little time to answer them all.

Career Capital was therefore conceived as a platform for him to share his insights on achieving high performance at work, and how readers can find meaning in their work while being generously compensated for it.

Issues of Career Capital are published every Friday.

And considering that Barrett is the Chief Operating Officer of email marketing software ConvertKit, it’s no surprise that Career Capital is published on—where else?—ConvertKit.

Why Use Substack for Your Paid Newsletter

Source: Substack

Founded in 2017, Substack has quickly become a popular choice for anyone looking to start a newsletter (whether free or paid).

Starting a Substack newsletter is easy: first, sign up for an account.

You’ll then need to set up your profile and create your publication.

(“Creating your publication” simply involves providing the name of your publication, what it’ll be about and your desired URL.)

Source: Substack

After that, there is an optional step of importing the email addresses of any subscribers that you already have.

If you already have newsletter content being hosted on other platforms such as Medium or WordPress, you can also import them into your Substack account.

And to collect payments, connect your Stripe account in the Settings page.

Now, it’s time to start writing your very first post. In your dashboard, click on the “New post” button and type away.

Once you’re done, you can choose to:

  • Publish your post to your Substack website, or
  • Publish it to your Substack website and email it to your subscribers at the same time.

You can also decide whether to make the post available to everyone or to only your paying subscribers.

Substack is a popular choice with newsletter writers for many reasons—the main one being that it sports an easy-to-use and distraction-free writing interface.

More sophisticated users also appreciate Substack’s analytics integrations, which allows them to track the performance of their posts in Google Analytics and as part of Facebook ad campaigns.

However, a main drawback of Substack is its relatively high fees. The platform takes a 10% cut from every paid subscription, which does not include a 2.9% + $0.30 Stripe fee.

Customization options in Substack are limited. While you can use a custom domain for your Substack website (for an additional one-time $50 fee), you can’t change its look and design very much.

This makes it harder for your newsletter to stand out from the sea of other Substack newsletters.

Why Use ConvertKit for Your Paid Newsletter

Source: ConvertKit

If you’re looking at starting a ConvertKit paid newsletter, there are various integrations you can use to accept payment for recurring digital subscriptions.

But the email marketing software has recently launched a built-in feature called ConvertKit Commerce for this very purpose, which eliminates the need for such integrations.

To use ConvertKit Commerce to collect subscription fees for your newsletter, start by adding a new Product in your dashboard.

After that, select “Subscription” as your pricing method and key in your monthly subscription price.

Source: ConvertKit

As for the actual sending of your paid newsletter, you’ll need to send an email broadcast to only your paid newsletter subscribers.

You can do so by setting up your broadcast to be sent to only the subscribers who have subscribed to your paid newsletter product.

Source: ConvertKit

One great thing about using ConvertKit for your paid newsletter is that you can get started for free.

That’s because ConvertKit Commerce, the feature that powers payment collection in ConvertKit, is available to users on both its paid and free plans. The only fee you’ll have to pay is a 3.5% + $0.30 processing fee for every successful transaction.

(This fee goes to Stripe, but you won’t need to sign up for or integrate a separate Stripe account when using ConvertKit Commerce.)

NOTE: ConvertKit’s free plan supports the management of up to 1,000 subscribers. Any more than that and you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan. Read more about this in my guide to ConvertKit pricing.

That said, ConvertKit accepts only USD payments at the moment. This may not be ideal if you’re not from the United States and want to charge subscribers in your home currency.

ConvertKit’s built-in email templates are also simply designed. While this is marketed as a selling point (for increasing email deliverability and engagement), you may want to hire outside help to design a custom email template.

You can learn more about ConvertKit’s email templates (and other features) in my detailed ConvertKit review.

Why Use Mailchimp for Your Paid Newsletter

Source: Mailchimp

While most businesses use Mailchimp to deliver free newsletters, it is possible to start a Mailchimp paid newsletter with the help of third-party integrations.

One of Mailchimp’s recommended integrations for this purpose is Campaignzee. This app integrates with your Mailchimp account (for the sending of your newsletters) and Stripe account (for collecting payments), and helps you manage paid subscriptions so you can focus on writing.

Campaignzee charges a 10% fee for every transaction, which does not include Mailchimp and Stripe’s own service fees.

Source: Campaignzee

An alternative is Moonclerk, a service that helps users collect one-time and recurring payments. Simply use Moonclerk to set up a checkout form that your audience can use to pay for a newsletter subscription, and integrate Moonclerk with your Mailchimp account.

When someone has made payment, they are added to your Mailchimp email list to start receiving your newsletter. Moonclerk also offers an optional Moonclerk Pro for Mailchimp extension that sends even more subscriber data to Mailchimp, among other features.

Source: Moonclerk

Unlike Campaignzee, Moonclerk charges a monthly fee starting from $15 for its service. This fee is chargeable regardless of how many transactions you make, which means that you may incur fees before you even sell a single subscription.

Also, if you opt for the Moonclerk Pro for Mailchimp extension, that will cost you an extra $15 per month.

As you can see, using Mailchimp gives you a variety of options as to how to collect payments for your paid newsletter. This lets you pick the one that is best for your needs.

Mailchimp also offers a wide range of email templates that you can use for your newsletter. You can learn more about these in my detailed Mailchimp guide.

However, the fact that Mailchimp doesn’t offer a native payments feature could mean more hassle, as you have to connect other apps to make your paid newsletter setup work.

These other apps may also charge their own fees for their services, adding to your email bill.

Which Platform Is Best for Your Paid Newsletter?

Substack vs ConvertKit vs Mailchimp

If you’re looking to solely run a paid newsletter, and don’t need or want to deal with any other email marketing features, Substack may be the platform for you.

Substack does only one thing—helping writers create and monetize newsletters—and does it well. Just bear in mind its relatively high 10% fee.

For reference, here’s a comparison table of the fees you can expect to pay to use Substack, ConvertKit or Mailchimp for your paid newsletter.

This table assumes monthly billing, a subscription fee of $5/month and that 10% of your subscriber base are paid subscribers:

Fee breakdown10% and 2.9% + $0.30 Stripe fee per transactionMonthly fee and 3.5% + $0.30 Stripe fee per transactionMonthly fee, 10% Campaignzee fee and 2.9% + $0.30 Stripe fee per transaction
500 subscribers$47.25 / mo.$23.75 / mo.$47.25 / mo.
1,000 subscribers$94.25 / mo.$47.50 / mo.$94.25 / mo.
5,000 subscribers$472,50 / mo.$316.50 / mo.$487,50 / mo.
10,000 subscribers$945 / mo.$594 / mo.$960 / mo.
25,000 subscribers$2,362.50 / mo.$1,386.50 / mo.$2,377.50 / mo.

As the table shows, ConvertKit is the cheapest option of the three.

Mailchimp ends up being slightly more expensive than Substack because of its additional monthly fee on top of Campaignzee and Stripe’s fees (which work out to the same as Substack’s fees, as a whole).

ConvertKit vs Mailchimp

However, if you run not just a newsletter but also a website or blog, you may want to look into publishing your newsletter via a full-featured email platform such as ConvertKit or Mailchimp.

These platforms offer customizable email forms and automations for growing and nurturing your email list before you upsell subscribers a paid newsletter subscription.

ConvertKit also has the edge with its lower fees (as shown in the table above) and ConvertKit Commerce feature, which helps you collect payments within ConvertKit itself.

On the other hand, you’ll definitely need to integrate other apps if you want to put your Mailchimp newsletter behind a paywall. That said, ConvertKit and Mailchimp both have other pros and cons, features-wise. So I’d recommend reading my in-depth comparison on both platforms if you’re deciding which one to use for your paid newsletter.

Which platform will you use for your paid newsletter? Let us know in the comments below.