I have 300+ paid subs, but everything is free. Here’s how it works.

When I first launched my Substack to a mailing list of 70, I offered a paid subscription option, but decided I'd have no paywalls. Two years later, everything on CAFÉ ANNE is still free, and as my readers know, it always will be.

This "no paywall" strategy is fairly unusual, especially among more established newsletters. And it's certainly not for everyone! But it works well enough for me: I've got more than 335 paying subscribers, and my gross annual revenue is close to $18k. I thought I'd share a few thoughts about this option, and why it can be a good choice for some.


My peers who paywall have excellent reasons for doing so. But they all grapple with a difficult issue—what to offer their paying subscribers? Many produce "bonus" content in the form of additional issues, which means extra work. Others paywall a portion of each post, reducing their audience from thousands to hundreds. 

When you dispense with paywalls, publishing is simple and straightforward. Everyone gets everything! You can focus your creative efforts on your writing rather than your monetization strategy.


The minute you paywall, you turn your readers into customers. You're creating an expectation that they will get something specific for their money. And you know what they say: "The customer is always right!"

Having customers can be a little like having a boss. And frankly, the main reason I decided to write on Substack was to gain more independence. In a no-paywall zone, I can write about whatever I want, however I want, as often or as little as I want.


Since I don't charge at all for my writing, I can view the newsletter as a little gift available to all—and gifting is more fun than selling. I also love the fact that when my readers pay to subscribe, they are giving a gift to me. So much good karma flying around!

So here's the obvious question: by forgoing a paywall, am I leaving money on the table? Probably! But would that additional income be worth the extra work and stress? Doubtful.

With 10,550 subscribers, my paid subscription rate works out to 3%. Many newsletters, especially those with a professional focus, have a much higher paid/unpaid ratio. But based on what I hear from my peers, 3% is typical for a medium-sized newsletter like mine that simply aims to amuse.

So yes, I'd LOVE to have more paying subscribers. Not just for the money (CAFÉ ANNE currently earns me $19.50 an hour, which isn't great), but for the bragging rights. I'd love to tell people about my 1,000 paying subscribers and how my newsletter earns me a living.

But I'm in this for the long haul, and I'm confident that while it may take me longer to make CAFÉ ANNE truly profitable, I'm enjoying the paywall-free ride enough to justify the slower pace. One of my favorite sayings: "The way that you get there is where you arrive." I want to arrive at a place of peace and gratitude. And another: "You can't un-fun your way into fun."