Excuse the navel-gazing

Read to the end for a good "Mad Max" post

Today’s Memorial Day in the US, so instead of the usual email, I thought I’d give you guys an update on how things are going, how I’m feeling about the move to Beehiiv six months in, and what the future looks like for Garbage Day. But let’s start with the current state of the newsletter.

Right now, Garbage Day has 68,809 subscribers, an average open rate of 42%, and a clickthrough rate of 21%. Over on the Garbage Day Discord, there are 2,051 total users, sending around 20,000 messages a month (omg lol), with around 300-400 active users during peak times.

These are all good numbers. About 5% of my audience pays for a subscription, and between that, ad revenue, and a few editorial partnerships we have right now, we’re at a place where we’re at least stable. Which is a relief because Garbage Day’s growth has changed quite a bit.

Line Go Up Again, Finally

Between August 2020 and January 2024, Garbage Day grew from around 2,000 readers to around 70,000 readers. Looking back, it’s clear I caught the peak of a moment in digital publishing that probably isn’t ever coming back. Users were excited about newsletters, pandemic-era Twitter was converting a lot of readers, and Substack was launching extremely sticky community features that really super-charged things. But that also means, I decamped to Beehiiv with a subscriber list that was full of junk.

When I moved, about 2,000 of my readers were “inactive,” these are people who got a new email address or never existed at all. And I’ve lost an additional 3,000 readers since January, even though my total audience has remained flat at around 68,000. (God just does not want me to get to 69,420 readers, it seems.) I’ve technically been growing the whole time, but it was at a rate equal to my churn. Luckily, in the last month, we’ve begun to grow again.

I can’t speak for other platforms like Ghost or Buttondown, but based on my own experience, if you do ever move email platforms, I’d say you need to prepare for a churn period of about one month per 10,000 readers. You also need to prepare for a much quieter and bigger internet.

Big Fish Meet Bigger Ocean

I did not realize how much I would miss Substack’s bells and whistles. Luckily, I still have my Discord so I don’t feel totally adrift on the open sea of the internet, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss being part of a community. I’ve learned that those community features are papering over a lot of cruft, however.

For the last few months, I’ve been manually importing folks that still subscribe to Garbage Day through Substack. But I’ve stopped doing that, for reasons that will become very clear in a sec. Beehiiv has a “performance by source” dashboard and according to these analytics, the average Substack reader has an open rate that is about 10% lower than anyone who signs up via Beehiiv, their upgrade rate is a flat zero, and, worst of all, they have an unsubscribe rate three times higher than folks who subscribe via Beehiiv. Substack users are locked in. Fair enough.

It’s impossible to know, though, whether or not the general quietness I feel is completely related to the move because the rest of the internet has gotten much quieter, as well. The engagement Garbage Day gets on X, Threads, Bluesky, and LinkedIn, combined, isn’t even a fraction of what it was even two years ago. But I’m not so blackpilled to think that this dark age is a forever shift. Even though there’s a ton of nostalgia for 2000s internet right now, no one ever talks about how the micro-era between the fall of Myspace and the rise of Facebook referral traffic (2009-2012) was also an extremely difficult time to build an audience online.

So, instead of focusing on growth, right now it’s about…

***Extremely Millennial Voice*** Sustainability

Garbage researcher Adam and I analyzed the performance of Garbage Day issues post-migration and found that the sweet spot is just under 2,000 words with a 40-50 character subject line and around 10 different sections sent between 2pm and 4pm EST. And thanks to a survey a bunch of you responded to a few months back, we know you want to read more about emerging tech trends like the fediverse, general news with a tech angle, and weird internet drama and you want to read less about gaming, emo (lol), and, uh, analytics about this newsletter. Whoops.

On the business side, I’ve simplified the price tiers, so now, there’s just a monthly and a discounted annual subscription and you get everything. I’m trying not to raise my prices, but we did some research and found that Garbage Day is about half the cost of similar newsletters 👀

I also heard a common bit of feedback that many readers just didn’t even know there were paywalled issues. So Adam and I redesigned the Friday issue and now it has a bit of — hopefully useful — free content at the top and a call to subscribe below it. We lose some free readers on every send, but the paid conversion rate is very high, so we’re sticking with it for now.

Advertising Is Weird

I’ve had ads in Garbage Day basically since 2020. After experimenting with prices, I landed on $300 flat for one, $250 for more than one upfront. And back in January, I said I would stick to that price until June. Well, it’s June next week and those prices are going up. Going forward, it’ll be $600 an ad, $500 for more than one upfront. (If you want to lock in an ad for the year at the current price, email me before Friday.)

I’ve been told by DiGiTaL mArKeTiNg PrOfEsSiOnAlS that even my new prices are actually too low for real companies to even consider buying ads because of the way budgets work. Which sounds crazy and made up, but I guess marketing is crazy and made up. So I'll see how things go with this new price and reassess in a few months. Garbage Day’s audience is super stable and love to click links and, as I see it, their attention is worth a bigger price. But I also don’t want to price out indie creators making cool stuff who want to get it in front of that audience.

Video Is Weirder

I have been trying — and failing — to build a consistent video product since 2021. My dream is to make a workflow for videos that’s as easy as opening up a CMS and writing words. Turn on the camera, talk into it for 15 minutes, cut it down to 12 minutes with a few 90-second vertical edits, slap some graphics on it, and call it a day.

But video platforms don’t work that way. TikTok heavily favors videos edited inside their app. YouTube is mainly a thumbnails game. And who knows what Instagram wants. I also can’t figure out what end of the funnel videos should be on. Should it be new content for existing readers or repurposed content for new readers. Perhaps if I bought a brand new, expensive camera that would magically fix all my proble—

Anyways, it’s a slog, but it’s not going away. Words online aren’t dead, but social media is largely video-based now. And until there’s a way to distribute content without social media, that’s not going to change even if TikTok gets blipped next year. That said, I’ve accepted that I can’t ever give video the attention it needs without the newsletter — or my mental health — suffering. Which is why I think, at this point, it’s worth finding an editor. So if you’re someone who knows how — and likes — to make social video, shoot me an email. I’ve got a budget. Let’s talk.

The Future Of Garbage

My main short-term goal is surviving a summer full of live events. You can see a full list of where I’ll be popping up here, but I’ll be announcing at least one more summer show shortly. My hope is that these events both become bigger and more regular, not just because being on a stage fills the attention void in my soul, but because I think any chance to talk about technology and culture without an algorithm getting in the way is genuinely good for the world. Though, I do realize my ability to promote them is limited by my lack of a video presence. *~It’s all connected~*

As for the the long-term future of Garbage Day, it’s less certain, but, also, not something I’m super stressed about. The last six months have been a real walk through fire. The migration, the subsequent churn, a grueling tax season — it all hit at once. But Garbage Day is in a better spot than it was this time last year and now that that’s all in my rearview, I need some time to figure out what’s next. Which is exciting! And exactly what these digital publishing fallow periods are all about. You sit on your heels, dreamcast what the future of media will look like, and then throw it all out when the next gold rush appears. Though, at least right now, my hunch is the next wave is not newsletters, but federation. But who knows.

Alright, that’s enough navel-gazing. Hope you’re enjoying your holiday. See you Wednesday.

Think About Supporting Garbage Day!

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There’s also a new referral program, which is a great way to get Garbage Day for free in exchange for sharing it with your friends. Click here to check it out.

P.S. here’s a good Mad Max post.

***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***

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