Help

Big day for Understandably.com. And, who doesn't like Tom Hanks? Also, 2,660 other things worth your time.

Tom Hanks had a movie last year called Greyhound. There’s a quick scene in it that stuck with me. It’s about crafting an important message.

Hanks plays the captain of a U.S. Navy destroyer. It’s 1942, and he’s escorting 37 ships across the Atlantic Ocean to England.

They’re attacked. They take casualties. They’re in trouble. Hanks has a dilemma:

  • Does he break radio silence to alert the British Admiralty?

  • Or, is the danger too great that German submarines will intercept the signal, and realize how vulnerable he is?

He talks it over with his executive officer (XO). The scene basically goes like this:

Hanks: Do I risk sending a short message?

XO: What would the message say?

Hanks pauses, then says: ‘Help needed urgently.’

The XO realizes it can be shorter: ’Help needed.’ That means ‘urgently.’

Hanks edits, too: ‘Needed’ isn’t needed. ‘Help.’ That’s all the Admiralty needs to hear.

(I’ll embed the scene way at the bottom of this newsletter.)

Anyway, I like that scene. Sometimes, you just have to cut to the chase and ask for help. People who care about what you’re doing will be willing to assist—even eager to do so.

But you have to tell them that you need them. You have to ask.

OK. Now, let’s play a game.

Pretend that you, right now—the valued subscriber reading this, the very reason for the existence of Understandably.com …

You’re the British Admiralty.

I’m Tom Hanks, playing the destroyer captain.

I have an important message for you.

“Help.”

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(If this gets cut off in your email, the newsletter is also available at Understandably.com.)


Memberships & Subscriptions

So, that was dramatic, right? Don’t worry, there are no submarines, and we are not under attack.

But, can I ask for your help?

After 18 months of writing this newsletter—including nearly 400 daily editions (today’s is #380), dating all the way back to November 2019—today (today!) is the day that we start making Understandably.com sustainable.

Let me Hanksify that, and be more direct: Today, we add the opportunity for readers who support Understandably.com and want it to succeed to upgrade to paid subscriptions.

Adding this kind of support will mean that I can keep Understandably.com going, fix a few issues that have bothered me (and some of you), and ultimately grow this all into something even better.

Heck, maybe I’ll even hire a prooofreader.*

I’ll talk a bit below about how I think it’s all going to unfold, and I’ll explain more later this week. I’m very excited about what we can do here.

Keep in mind, I’ll be building this in public. We’ll undoubtedly stumble, fail and regroup a few times. Doesn’t it sound like fun?

You’ll find some “AFAQs” (“Anticipated Frequently Asked Questions”) below. But please, don’t forget the main message.

If you value Understandably, and if I’ve earned your trust over these many long months, I’m asking for your help to keep it all going. Can I count on you?

(Click the button below. Any problems? Reply to this email or get me at bill@understandably.com.)

*I misspelled “prooofreader” on purpose.

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(A)FAQs*

*(Anticipated) Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does this mean everything is going behind a paywall?

Short answer: No. I want to keep as much of Understandably.com free as possible.

Longer answer: People have given me intelligent but conflicting advice on this. Many suggested making a big part of Understandably.com a “paid members-only” zone.

However, I’m going to try the opposite: keep the daily newsletter free, or at least most of it, and build other rewards in for paying members. Two reasons why:

  1. First, the free content I’ve been creating is one of the big ways that people learn about Understandably.com to begin with. It seems self-defeating to shut that off.

  2. More important, the great, unsung asset at Understandably.com is the audience. I think that will become even more clear as things develop. But to be blunt, we have readers for whom a membership subscription will seem like pocket change, and we have others for whom even a small monthly fee would be a hardship. I don’t want to exclude them from the conversation.

Of course, I can’t promise that we’ll never revisit this “keep most of it free” model. If not enough readers become members, and if the numbers just don’t add up—well, there’s no use arguing with arithmetic.

It’s always possible we’ll have to pivot. But I’d like to try it this way first.

This also means that if you’re one of the people who can help out, I really hope you will consider doing so. You won’t just be helping Understandably.com; you’ll be helping some of your fellow readers.

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2. What’s the cost?

Short answer: $5/month, or $50/year, plus a special “founding member” tier with a suggested rate of $150+/year.

Longer answer: Understandably.com runs on a platform called Substack, which is set up for a specific newsletter business model:

  1. Build a free subscriber base.

  2. Ask readers to sign up for paid memberships.

  3. Pray, pray, pray that a small percentage will step up to make it work.

The bare minimum that Substack allows a newsletter to charge is $5/month. Some charge a lot more than that.

After more Hamlet-esque, “paralysis by analysis,” back-and-forth debates than you can imagine (seriously, ask my wife what it’s been like), here’s what I’ve come up with to start:

  • Member (monthly): $5/month. Again, that’s the Substack minimum.

  • Member (annual): $50/year. A bit of a discount, plus it offers more stability for planning purposes. Also, I like that it comes out to less than $1/week.

  • Founding Member: $150+/year suggested, but really—anything above $50 is greatly appreciated. Also, of course, anything “above $150,” if you so choose!

Will the Member price go up over time? Hmm, I dunno. Since it’s literally the minimum I can charge on this platform, I’m pretty sure it will never be lower!

(I especially want to thank several readers who have already signed up for paid memberships, at both the $50 and $150+ levels, after they happened across the payment options I set up in advance of today’s newsletter. That meant a lot to me.)

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3. Why don’t you just run ads?

Short answer: I want you, the reader, to be my number one customer; not advertisers. I’m not “anti-ad,” but because of our size (not big enough yet) and the potential pitfalls involved, it makes more sense to go this route.

Longer answer: Great question (heh). I’ll talk about this more later during the week, but there are really two reasons:

  1. First, we’re not big enough. We could probably get some advertising revenue. But, at our size, for it to be substantial, I’d have to be open to a lot of different ads that I frankly don’t believe in, and that I don’t want to push on you.

  2. Second, I’ve seen what happens when you make a media product purely ad-supported. It’s been the predominant digital media model for years, but it leads (quite naturally) to serving the advertiser instead of the reader. (Clickbait, outrage media, the whole thing.)

That said, I am open to considering sponsorships, which I view differently. They’d be clearly labeled, and they’d have to be things that I really believe provide value. Sponsors wouldn’t cover everything from a $$$ perspective, but they could help me keep the basic membership price low.

(If you’re a reader who might want to know more about sponsoring one or more editions of Understandably.com, I invite you to email me at bill@understandably.com.)

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4. What do I get for becoming a member?

Short answer: First, the newsletter, and satisfaction of helping this whole thing survive! Beyond that, I’ll work to make you feel appreciated. The scope will depend, to be honest, on how successful this effort turns out to be.

Longer answer: This is where things should get really cool. I hope to keep the daily newsletter free—at least some version of it. But I also want to make sure we provide really good extra value to our members and founding members.

To begin with, I hope to do some bonus content for members: probably a few special issues of Understandably during the year, plus virtual events. As an example, for those who were reading when we did the group Zoom interview with U.S. Olympic gold medal skier Bode Miller—members will get priority access to things like that.

We’ll also do some more informal meetings, where we can discuss what kinds of things I should cover in the newsletter, and anything else on your mind.

I have an ebook publishing plan that I’m excited about too—but I don’t want to say much more to avoid overpromising on that front.

In the end, the more people who sign up as members, the better the ultimate product becomes for everyone who does signs up.

For the rest of this week, I’ll be sending you “normal newsletters,” but there will also be more explanation about membership support.

I really think we have a great opportunity here. But for now, let’s just end this section with that single word that you’ll probably hear me say more than a few more times: “Help.”

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(Any problems? Please reply to this or email bill@understandably.com)

2,660 other things worth your time

If you do the math, 380 daily editions, each with “7 other things worth your time,” works out to 2,660 “other things.” Wild. Anyway, this week, I’m going to add a few interesting/popular or “greatest hits” from past editions of Understandably.com into the mix.

  • American tourists will be welcomed back to countries in the European Union this summer, according to a report in the New York Times, as long are fully vaccinated. “Non-essential travel to Europe has been officially banned since the pandemic erupted. But tourism-driven nations have pushed for an end to the restrictions so air travel can resume.” (Deadline)

  • I once wrote about how Understandably.com got its name to begin with. I had completely forgotten that I launched with a different logo. A lot of what I wrote still stands up, however. (Understandably.com)

  • “The Biden administration says it will immediately make raw materials needed for India's coronavirus vaccine production available. … Over the weekend, India set another global record for daily cases, bringing the nation's cumulative total to 16,960,172 cases.” (CNBC)

  • Nomadland won the Academy Award for Best Picture last night, while Frances McDormand and Chloe Zhao won the awards for best actress and best director for the same film. Also, to close the circle, Greyhound did not win an Oscar (it was up for just one, for sound editing, but that award went to Sound of Metal). You can find the full list of winners here. (Reuters, EW)

  • For those who don’t know, I wrote Inc. Magazine’s morning newsletter before I got the idea to launch my own. (“How hard could it be?” I thought. Then, I learned.) I wrote quite a number of prototype newsletters, but the first “real” edition went out November 1, 2019. It was about Peter Thiel’s comments on Elon Musk . (Understandably.com)

  • Here’s a fascinating story about a hiker who got lost 24 hours in the Angeles National Forest wilderness, but managed to send a single photo in a text before his phone died. The local sheriff tweeted the photo, and a man named Ben Kuo, whose hobby is identifying the location of Internet pics, figured out the mystery and told rescuers, correctly, where to find him. (The Washington Post)

  • Oklahoma authorities dropped 22-year-old charges of felony embezzlement against a woman, stemming from her alleged rental of a VHS tape of an episode of the TV show Sabrina the Teenage Witch in 1999. She first learned of the warrant when she went to update her driver’s license in Texas. "I thought I was gonna have a heart attack, said the woman, Caron McBride. “I have never watched that show in my entire life … Meanwhile, I'm a wanted felon for a VHS tape." (OKC Fox)


Here’s the scene from Greyhound. The movie’s only a year old, so I didn’t want to include any spoilers above.


Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Apple. If you’re not an Understandably.com subscriber already … well, first of all, thanks for reading all the way down here … even though you picked absolutely the #1 most unusual day so far in the history of this newsletter to be introduced. Also, I promise it’s not usually this long…

Please sign up, for the free version, at least—with thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers. (Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.)

And of course, please share Understandably! Can you think of someone who might be drinking his or her coffee right now without it? Thanks in advance!

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