By the numbers
Last newsletter of 2021, and a few answers. Also, because I can't stop: 7 other things worth your time.
Welcome to the last daily newsletter of 2021! I’m looking forward to a break until the New Year. But at the same time… at this point, maybe I’m addicted to writing it?
Anyway, I get a LOT of questions regarding “how the newsletter is going?”
How many subscribers do you have? Are you making any money? What do you plan to do with this whole thing?
Sometimes it’s readers who are asking, sometimes it’s other people who are starting newsletters and want advice. And, I tend to overthink how to reply.
So, today, to end the year: No more overthinking. I’m just going to explain where things stand, what we’ve accomplished, and some of what I hope to do during 2022 (and some of the challenges ahead).
Most of this is going to be about the operations and statistics, rather than say, “specific things I want to write about next year.” That could be a whole other discussion in 2022. Also, in the interest of making it move a bit faster, we’ll do it all by the numbers.
(Feedback and advice are both welcome—enthusiastically encouraged, in fact. Hit me up at email@example.com.)
Bonus content: Read on for the chance to help out on “365 inspirational quotes for 2022,” plus news regarding ads—and a brief update from my right-hand-person, Kate Sullivan, on how she’s doing while on medical leave.
First, the numbers…
Numbers that humble me
For a small operation that launched with literally no budget, I’m really proud of these stats.
123,802 … The first-ever edition of Understandably went out to 921 people in October 2019. As of last night, we’re at 123,802 subscribers. And, we haven’t spent a penny on marketing.
32,381 … Not every subscriber opens every email, of course, but our open rate hovers around 30 percent, which is quite healthy for a daily newsletter. Example: On one typical/recent day, we had 32,381 unique email readers.
17,739 … Going a bit deeper, if we look at last week’s five emails, 17,739 people read all of them. And, if we look at the last month, 8,630 people read every single one of the 20 newsletters that I sent during that time. These are great stats, showing that when people find the newsletter, they’re quite likely to stick around.
7.7 million … We had 7.7 million “total views” in 2021. This includes daily opens, people who find the website and start browsing, etc—basically any way that any person can put their eyes on our content. (Granted, some big publishers do that in a few days or weeks—but this small operation punches above its weight.)
12,111 … Total number of comments people left this year (after clicking the “Leave a Comment” button). There’s room for growth, but I love how our commenters are always civil, interesting, and entertaining.
Numbers that make me a little tired
We’re prolific. Most of the time, I think it’s a good product; I definitely see myself learning and improving.
254 … We had 254 total daily editions during 2021.
314,452 … Add that all up, and my guess is that it’s roughly 314,452 words. For comparison’s sake, my 2008 book, In a Time of War (383 pages), ran 122,060 words.
10 … I wrote/edited/compiled 10 free ebooks this year—everything from my free ebook on emotional intelligence to the 365 Inspirational Quotes for 2021 book that some of you helped me put together. (Link.) More on the 2022 version below.
3 … This is the number of additional half-finished “Ubook+” ebooks that I’d hoped to have finished and uploaded to Amazon and other places by September… and then by January… I’ll wrap them up early in 2022.
1 … The number of “traditional” book proposals I promised my agent I’d wrap up this year. It’s coming along, I swear!
Numbers to work on in 2022
There are things that have room for improvement. I’m very optimistic, but they’ll require some good ideas and work.
3,744 … This is the total number of “shares” for the entire year, meaning how often the newsletter was shared on social media. It doesn’t count people forwarding the email to friends, which actually accounts for a healthy percentage of subscriber growth. Still, I have to work on making social media sharing easier.
5% to 10% … This is the percentage of free subscribers that Substack (the platform that I use) projects would become paid subscribers. We “turned on a paid option,” as they say, at the end of April. I’m incredibly grateful to those of you who have been able to do this for us.
That said … Blunt and slightly embarrassing admission: Understandably’s paid subscription rate is nowhere near the 5% to 10% described above. (It’s low enough that I don’t want to say explicitly). So, a big push for 2022 will be to add things to make paid subscriptions worthwhile for more people, hopefully without just putting some of the newsletters behind a paywall.
As long as we’re talking about this, I think I almost have to include this button…just in case…
8 … This is the total number of ad campaigns I ran for Understandably clients this year—dipping a toe in the market, trying to figure out how to make ads both worthwhile and not annoying. Understandably is both a labor of love and a business, of course, so I’ll have to figure this out in 2022. (Read on…)
Numbers that I need to let people know about
A little bit about ad plans for 2022…
$249 … After a couple of months off, we’re going to try re-launching ads. You can see what they look like here. The ad you’ll see at the top of that linked page? The introductory price for that placement is just $249 (a steal; I really think it’s going to go up). You never know who among readers might consider running an ad like this—so if you happen to be interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info, or even use the brand new self-service ad scheduling tool.
$29 … Also, on that same sample page, if you scroll down about halfway, you’ll see a new section: “5 sponsored messages that make this all possible.” This was a reader’s idea, and we’re going to try it out: short, classified-style ads that reach 25,000 or 30,000 people or more—and cost just $29 to start. Again, email email@example.com for more info, or if you’re interested, try the self-service ad scheduling tool.
40 or 50 … Total number of hours I think I spent adapting Calendly to create that self-scheduling ad tool so that it actually works, looks halfway professional—and is secure.
1,474 … Total number of people who clicked any link in a recent, typical email. (That’s a good thing to know—and work back from—if you think about running an ad.)
Numbers that make me think
To wrap up our numbers—some of these are uncategorized observations; some are just amusing or interesting.
365 … For the 7th year in a row, I’m compiling a “365 daily inspirational quotes” post to run on Inc.com on Jan. 1. It’s always a bear of a project—but I know it’s made a difference in people’s lives. Anyway, for 2022, if there’s a quote that you find inspiring and you’d like to submit it, I’d love to see it. Here’s the link to do so.
13 … Total number of Understandably Live interviews I did during 2021. We’ll relaunch these and do some fun ones in 2022.
17 … Number of people who sent me angry, curse-filled messages during 2021 about the newsletter — and who later apologized, after I decided to reply with extreme kindness. (Most said they had assumed they were sending their angry emails to a black hole, and felt bad afterward.)
2 ... Number of those 17 who wound up becoming paid subscribers! (Interesting experiment, although not exactly a scalable strategy.)
58 cents … Cost of the stamp on a handwritten letter that one disillusioned reader sent to my P.O. box (listed at the end of every newsletter), asking to be removed from the email list. (That’s fine; it’s not for everyone. Also, now I’m remembering I had planned to write a letter back confirming I’d taken him off.)
3 ... Total number of people now working at least part-time on Understandably, as we begin 2022…
Speaking of which, many of you have asked for an update on how Kate Sullivan is doing after she wrote about her surgery and medical leave:
“Kate here! My brain surgery went extremely well … The recovery has been a bit bumpy, and I’ve been out of commission for about a month longer than we expected ... But I’m looking forward to seeing you all again in the new year - I've missed our Understandably family!”
Short and sweet, but I hope she’ll be back after Jan. 1 some time to explain more—as will Understandably. For those who celebrate Christmas, have a very merry one; for everybody, happy new year! And as always, thanks for being here.
7 other things worth your time
I wrote long above… but there’s a lot going on in the world. So, let’s keep this short today.
U.S. authorizes Pfizer’s oral COVID-19 treatment, the first for at-home use. (Reuters)
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear expedited arguments on January 7, regarding whether President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 “shot-or-test rule” for large employers and his separate vaccine mandate for health-care workers can stand. (Bloomberg Law)
Health officials (writ large): “The Omicron variant is expected to infect 140 million Americans between January to March (!)… but the majority will be asymptomatic cases.” (Daily Mail)
Congresswoman car-jacked in Philadelphia. (Unharmed.) (ABC 6)
TikTok has dethroned Google as the most popular domain in 2021, according to Cloudflare's 2021 Year in Review for internet traffic. (Protocol)
Here’s the consulting firm that MacKenzie Scott hired when she wanted to figure out who to give billions of dollars to. (NYT)
Good ending: “NPR member station photographers share memorable photos from 2021.” Which is funny because NPR stands for National Public Radio. But there are still some good photos. (NPR)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay (I especially like that the “7” is in the middle). Happy New Year; see you in 2022!