This subject line is the optimal length
Read to the end for a bunch of really good two-sentence horror stories
Tomorrow paying subscribers will get an interview in their inboxes with journalist Michael Hobbes. It was a great conversation and I’m excited to share it with you! Hit the subscribe button below if you’re interested.
I’m never sure how interested readers are going to be in Garbage Day’s metrics or insights, so I try not to share them super often. Not because I’m trying to hide anything — Garbage Day has over 16,000 total readers, about 10% pay to subscribe, and about 1,000 of those paying subscribers are in my Discord server — I just don’t want to bore people. But it’s the end of the year and I finally have a full 12 months worth of data on this crazy project, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. Maybe it’ll be helpful for anyone else out there scrounging around for email opens in newsletter land. Here are seven things I’ve learned so far:
1. The Perfect Garbage Day Post Has 8.3 Stories In It
I put all of the Garbage Day posts published in 2021 into a big spreadsheet and started analyzing things like the number of different stories, the average character count of the subject line, and what day of the week it was published on. The optimal Garbage Day post, according to the numbers…
has 8.3 different stories in it
has a subject line of 38.8 characters (caps vs. no caps doesn’t matter)
and was published between November-January
Beyond that, things get a bit fuzzy. My top 10 most popular posts were all a pretty good mix of stories and topics. In fact, the top three were about three very different focus areas — Facebook traffic scams, Web3 stuff, and the insurrection. The thing that linked them all together, though, was that they were topical, analytical, and I was passionate about them. Maybe that’s corny idk.
2. The Only Thing That Really Increases Subscriptions Are Announcements And Coupons
I figure people are the most curious about the money. I’m not radical enough to tell you how much I made this year, but I’ll tell you that I’m ending 2021 within spitting distance of what I was making at a salary job. And what’s cooler is I am far less psychologically damaged!
Here’s the thing, though. The graph above compares the percent increases and decreases of my total free views, total free opens, and profits month-to-month. It’s a little confusing, admittedly, but it seemed like a decent way of measuring growth. And, as you can see, the yellow bar, which represents money, has almost no correlation to anything else lol. Very cool.
There were three big subscription spikes for Garbage Day this year and, unfortunately for anyone looking for some kind of magical secret for financial success, all three were tied to things beyond what I was writing in the newsletter. The biggest subscription spike of the year came after I announced I was joining the Sidechannel Discord network. The other two were when I offered coupons. People fucking love coupons.
According to Substack’s metrics, this post drove the most paid subscriptions within a 24-hour period and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out what caused it. As for the most free signups in a 24-hour period, it was this post about Bean Dad, which falls in line with the success of what my friend Charlie Warzel calls “grievance blogging”. I was angry (still am) about pretty much all of the utterly deranged discourse about Bean Dad and came dangerously close to writing an anti-cancel culture screed about it! The post that drove the second-largest amount of free signups within a 24-hour period was about the insurrection.
3. My Non-Email Traffic May Be Growing Faster Than My Email Traffic
This one is getting harder and harder to ignore. I’ve crunched the numbers in a bunch of different ways and it does seem to be the case that I am regularly getting as much — if not more — traffic from outside of an email inbox.
Substack provides open counts and open rates for posts, but also has a metric called “total views,” which, as I understand it, is every inbox open and every public click combined. So, as you can see in the graph above, there are almost a dozen instances from this year where I was getting double the total views that I was getting from email opens. This is primarily why I started experimenting with ads. Your friendly neighborhood internet garbage man has to eat and if people don’t want to subscribe, that’s fine, but I have to figure out how to monetize this in a way that fits where my traffic is coming from.
4. The Frequency Of My Paywalled Posts Means Nothing
Around August, I went from two paywalled pieces a month to four. My thought process was: Paywalled pieces are ways to drive subscriptions. More paywalled pieces, more opportunities to attract paying readers. I was so naive! As I covered in section two, people don’t really pay for specific content. At least, not in a way that means anything statistically. Obviously, if I interview an interesting person, I’ll get some people who decided to finally subscribe, but based on what I can see, there isn’t a clear kind of paywalled content that converts a reader.
Though, what I have learned, is that paying readers pirate the shit out of my paywalled pieces. This interview with the emo band glass beach was my most-read subscriber-only piece of the year and it has seven-times more views than it does opens. lol thanks guys.
I’m honestly pretty torn about how to handle Garbage Day’s paywall. I’m debating using Substack’s in-email paywall feature to just put extra stuff at the bottom of issues, but I’m not sure. If you, the reader, have any thoughts about this, let me know!
5. There’s No Perfect Day For Garbage, But There Are Bad Months
I analyzed my average and median open rates for free issues based on the day of the week and found that my readership was pretty much the same regardless of the day. I have about a 40% open rate pretty consistently. Which is cool! I had weird notions about how people read or consume content based on the day of the week, but, at least for this newsletter, that appears to not matter much.
That said, I definitely have better months than others. Though, weirdly, my perception of what my bad months were turned out to be totally different than what was actually happening. I came out of 2020 doing great. I then hit a rut between March and May, bouncing back around June, dipping hard again in August, before things started going crazy from September until now.
What does this mean? Well, the spring dip I’m going to call a transitionary phase. After the insurrection, I basically said “fuck it” and decided that if I have something to say about whatever’s happening in the world, even if it’s kind of serious, I’m going to do it. I got some emails from readers upset that I wasn’t just sending them goofy memes anymore, but, also, I think in the back half of the year I figured out the right balance of business in the front, party in the back when it comes to content.
But I’m also fairly certain COVID-19 plays a role in seasonal traffic, as well — both for readers and for myself. In between COVID variant waves, everyone has a lot of manic energy and don’t really seem to want to sit and read newsletters. Then during lockdowns, there is nothing but time to consume content. Also, I went on vacation in August. Based on what I’ve seen, vacations do cause a dip in traffic, but also tend to cause a big uptick when you start posting again. This is called the LCD Soundsystem reunion theory of publishing.
6. Substack Traffic Is Twitter Traffic
You’ve probably heard this from every newsletter writer, but it’s true for me, as well. About 15% of my free signups and 25% of my paid subscriptions came from Twitter this year. This lines up with what I hear a lot from readers, which is that Garbage Day is a way to feel like they’re following Twitter without actually being on Twitter.
Substack seems to be either a companion service or a replacement for Twitter for a lot of readers. I think that says as much about the sheer brain-melting grimness of Twitter as it does its social importance, unfortunately. The only thing that readers seem to love more than when I dissect Twitter drama is when I write about weird Facebook stuff or TikTok conspiracies. But I should say, all of this isn’t unique to Substack. This is basically all media at the moment. I mean, what are TV reboots like Sex And The City if not just a way to find out how your favorite characters from the 90s would negatively react to current trending topics?
7. Garbage Day Has Room To Grow
I’m not an intellectual dark web Substack millionaire, but I ended this year with enough money to invest back in Garbage Day as a business. Which feels like a victory in and of itself. I’ve also found out that working with other people — even if on a project-by-project basis — helps a lot with burnout and does seem to be good for business. Obviously, there are limits to this and you need to be smart with what you choose to do, but so far, it seems like anything I add to the operation tends to grow the operation. So, there are couple positions I’m looking for in 2022…
I want to design a new Garbage Day shirt. Interested in working on something with me? Let me know!
I’m looking for a good freelance audio and/or video editor. I learned this year that there is no way I can edit a podcast every week and record and edit YouTube videos at a pace that makes the algorithm happy. Interested in helping me with either project? Let me know!
Ads/classifieds have worked really well for me this year and as my traffic continues to be less based on email exclusively, I think it’s worth investing some serious energy in getting better and more regular ads in the newsletter. I’m not even sure if freelance ad managers (sales managers? ad sales managers?) exist, but, once again, if this sounds like you… let me know!
Speaking of which. Here is my favorite addition to Garbage Day: Allegra’s weekly column! Please pressure her to keep writing for me next year. Her last column of the year drops on Friday and, based on the pitch, it’s going to be WILD.
The Gross Food Women Are On Planes Now
Last April, a video originating from a massively viral Facebook video page was bootlegged and uploaded to Twitter. The video was of an attractive woman eating ice cream out of a toilet. It turned out that the video was created by a network of Las Vegas stage performers, who all use their massive Facebook pages to publish “comedy” “skits”. I ended up interviewing the people behind a few of these pages for an Eater story. The whole operation is run by a magician named Rick Lax, who told me that he and his friends pivoted to outlandish Facebook video content during COVID and they actually hate when their videos go viral out of context like this because it means they lose out on ad revenue.
Well, another one of these videos has escaped its containment unit and outraged the whole internet again. This time it’s a video of a woman “breastfeeding” a stuffed cat on a plane. I did a whole Twitter thread on this yesterday, which was then cited by a bunch of outlets covering the story, but for the folks who missed it or, smartly, do not follow me on Twitter, here’s how a Facebook video from one of the gross food women ended up pissing off the whole internet. Again.
The version of the cat breastfeeding video that went viral was shared to Twitter in two parts by a user named @BoredAtGym, who shared it with an almost identical caption to how the original toilet ice cream video was shared last April. “IM DYING LMAOOO WHITE WOMEN,” @BoredAtGym wrote. The tweet that kicked off the outrage cycle around the toilet ice cream video was, “White people need to be STOP.” A lot of the reasons these videos go so viral is because they depict white women (who are usually Vegas stage performers) doing completely unhinged shit and people really love that kind of thing.
The two videos that @BoredAtGym shared were watermarked with a TikTok account called @alessiavaesenn, which shared the cat breastfeeding video in four parts. The account is in Dutch and, according to the comments, the @alessiavaesenn user appeared to sharing the video from somewhere else. Also, the video is in English with Americans. So I figured this wasn’t original content. I was able to track down the @alessiavaesenn user on Facebook. They’re a dog groomer based in Belgium and they use their TikTok account to share funny videos they see on Facebook. It seems like it was a relatively quiet account until the cat breastfeeding video hit TikTok’s For You page.
I suspected that the cat breastfeeding video was from Facebook. Me and my podcast co-host Luke do a lot of Facebook content investigations on our show and I’ve come recognize content was made specifically to do well within Facebook’s algorithm:
Flat, porn-like lighting
Desolate McMansions dressed up to look like other locations
Not editing or cuts
An utterly psychotic premise that’s established within the first 30 seconds that takes minutes to pay off. It used to be that all viral Facebook videos were between 3:05-3:10 long, but there appears to have been a shift and now they’re all 10:01-10:05 long.
A quick note, though. Many large Facebook video pages are now filming their videos as livesteams, which seems to imply there’s been even another change in how Facebook is presenting video content.
The @alessiavaesenn page shared another video after the cat breastfeeding video which seemed to involve the same people who were on the plane and that had some text written on it. I’ve learned that a lot of the time the text on the videos is usually written in their descriptions, as well. So I did some googling and found the page responsible for both videos. Meet The Gooch…
The Gooch doesn’t have many details about himself online, but I know that he’s based in the Las Vegas area and seems to have access to an airfield. He might be a radio DJ, but I’m not sure. There is a Vegas radio host named The Gooch, though, the likelihood that there are several men named The Gooch working in the periphery of the Las Vegas entertainment industry is probably pretty high.
The Gooch works regularly with one of Rick Lax’s frequent collaborators Getti Kehayova, who goes by Getti. I spoke to her last spring. She’s a hula hoop instructor. And the woman breastfeeding the stuffed cat from the viral video? Her name is Taylor Watson and she’s a country singer/songwriter. And, yes, she was the toilet ice cream woman.
Also, in case this blows up next, this hot dog crisco video going viral on TikTok right now is also from The Gooch.
With all of these videos, they’re posted to Facebook with a warning that they’re scripted and not real. But Twitter is a platform that incentivizes reactive anger above context. Sharing one of The Gooch’s videos with a caption like, “this is a good comedy skit lol” just simply isn’t going to do as well on Twitter as a tweet like, “white women belong in prison,” or whatever.
Though, perhaps the most interesting takeaway from this — beyond American social media users’ insatiable need to laugh at and ridicule and dissect viral clips of unwell people having some kind of crisis on an airplane, even if those clips turn out to be scripted — is how jarring Facebook-optimized content is to the wider internet. After a decade of algorithmic tweaking, content that does well on Facebook is now so completely insane looking that it continually causes moral panics and knee-jerk outrage when it’s viewed by users not accustomed to it.
It’s also very interesting that as this cat breastfeeding video was going viral, Facebook/Meta announced that the top publications on its newsletter product Bulletin have around 5,000-10,000 readers, which is very low for a platform Facebook’s size. But we know what kind of content does well on Facebook. It’s not a newsletter written by Malcolm Gladwell, it’s a 15-minute live video of Taylor Watson slowly revealing the results of her breast augmentation surgery that ends in a punchline that she has chicken breasts taped to her chest.
An Important Security Lesson For Any Crypto Traders Out There
Oh, speaking of crypto…
Let’s Talk About The Olive Garden NFT Thing
The “Non-Fungible Olive Gardens” project was created by Brian Moore, the same technologist behind the hypetags wearables from earlier this month and the “don’t touch your face” COVID site. It’s a stunt in the sense that it was made to be ridiculous on purpose. So if you found yourself saying, “I can’t believe how stupid this is,” while reading the site’s FAQ, congrats, you just experienced the psychic anguish of social commentary.
I do find it interesting that Moore chose Olive Gardens to make non-fungible, though. If you think about it, Olive Gardens, with their soup, salad, and unlimited breadsticks are actually the most fungible of all fast-casual dining experiences. (Did I use that word right?)
A Bad Holiday RomCom Review From My Sister
I did this last year and it was a lot of fun. This section is cowritten with my sister Caroline. She loves terrible Christmas movies. She loves them so much she subscribes to the Hallmark Channel’s streaming app and watches them all year long. She said this is the “best” movie she’s seen this year.
What’s it about?
Caroline: NO ONE’s agent works harder than Lacey Chabert’s. She is the “Queen of Hallmark Christmas Movies” and Lacey always gets the movies filmed abroad.
So I have to first give you the official IMBD plot first and then actually tell you what happens: “Brooke Bennett goes to Ireland during Christmas time to search for her Irish roots. Mistaken for an elite event planner, she's soon hired to host an epic Christmas party at a nobleman's castle.”
It opens up with Brooke and her sister getting fired by Paige, who runs a very well-known luxury event planning business. Brooke and her sister were just waiters. Then they do what every down-on-their-luck jobless girl from New York City does and buy day-of plane tickets to Ireland.
So they go to Ireland for Christmas with the purpose of finding their biological father’s family. Though, they unsealed his adoption records and all they received was his last name lmao — “O’Brien”. So it’s like going to America to find a guy who’s last name is Smith.
When they’re in the first pub they see they meet Aiden, the Earl of Glaslough, who basically says, “you girls look fun, come take a private tour of this castle with me.” SKETCH… so the girls do lol. While on the tour, they overhear the Earl talking with his assistant about how they lost their event planner and Brooke’s sister says they actually run a successful planning company.
The Earl is now tasked with chauffeuring and helping “Paige” with the event-planning and then they basically just drink in pubs, ride horses through the TERRIBLE CGI snow and forest, and at no point does she ever actually plan the event because they’re always out flirting and falling in love. But the planning for the Christmas party goes off without a hitch. The Earl and Paige/Brooke do like three activities and fall in love.
Does Brooke ever get exposed? For all the, you know, fraud?
Caroline: You’re going to die. A reporter in Ireland who knows the real Paige hears she is “planning” the Christmas party at the castle. So she calls Paige for an interview and, of course, ends up calling the real Paige. The real Paige flies over to Ireland to confront them and, instead of, you know, being the victim here, she’s villainized! The Earl’s assistance reprimands the real Paige for sticking up for her own identity because they’ve all of come to love the sisters now and yells at the real Paige like, “if you don’t leave we’ll make sure you never work in Ireland again” lol.
Lacey and her sister are legit the villains of this Christmas movie. So unethical! Identity and business fraud but, no, we love them. And when Paige shows up they all yell at her to go home. Two other things — the Earl goes, at one point, “as they say in America: Let’s do this!” Lmao does no one say that anywhere else?
So is this movie any good? Like actually good?
Lacey has one pint in a pub and sees a girl Irish step dancing and goes, “wow this is unlike anything I’ve seen.” Like, honey, if that’s true, what have you even been doing in your life if that’s the wildest thing you’ve ever seen?
I mean, look, I’m a royal/castle gal and this just didn’t have enough wealth, power, and authority used in a ridiculous way. Also, not enough castle moments. So I give it a 2.5/5. It didn’t give me any feels. I know it’s Hallmark, but we need some steamy moments. Also, the Earl’s hair was part of my grading scale. If his hair was better they might have received a three
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Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a bunch of really good two-sentence horror stories.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***
***Also any math reflected in those graphs that’s incorrect is also on purpose***