You Don’t Need 50,000 Subscribers

I’m just going to jump right into it.

I feel like I’ve failed some of you.

I feel like I’ve created this narrative that you need 50,000 subscribers to be successful.

While I never actually said this and it’s not something I believe at all, I can see how the arbitrary 50k threshold for me to do a deep dive on someone can be misleading.

It’s not helping anyone. If anything, it’s created this feeling of insufficiency for folks who aren’t there yet.

You can make a great living without ever getting to 50k subscribers.

Subscribers ≠ Revenue

Yes, some businesses do need a lot of subscribers to bring in more revenue, think Morning Brew or The Hustle-style newsletters.

They earn money through sponsorships with brands that often want to get in front of a bigger audience.

It’s a totally different game than the one a smaller creator (or someone in a smaller industry) is playing.

When you have a more niche audience of valuable readers, you can charge a higher price than a broader “news” media company.

It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.

There are loads of people making a killing with 15,000 subscribers, or even 1,000 subscribers.

The Business of Space

One great example of this is the Payload newsletter founded by Mo and Ari.

They create content around the business of Space. Yes, like outer space.

In 2021, there were only 150k people working in the “core” space industry. Getting a third of that to sign up for a digital newsletter would be a challenge.

But they don’t need that many people to subscribe to build a successful business because the audience is so valuable.

Jacob Donnelly from A Media Operator shared some insights from an interview with co-founder Ari Lewis:

At the time of this piece going live, they had 20,000 subscribers and had made over $1 million the previous year.

In Q1 of 2024, they were on track to bring in $420k, putting their estimated revenue for this year at $1.68 million.

That means they are earning ~$7 per subscriber per month.

And they only launched this in 2021. I have a feeling they’re going to be able to get that number up quite a bit.

But that’s awesome. A business doing more than 1.5 million a year from *only* 20,000 subscribers.

And they aren’t alone. There are tons of stories like this. And lots of learnings that can be had from studying them.

They definitely didn’t need 50k subscribers to hit 7 figures.

At the Newsletter Conference recently, Ari said they are actively telling people not to subscribe.

They don’t want random people joining their list, they only want the right people. What a concept 🙂

Where Did the 50k Number Come From?

Honestly? Thin air.

When I started this newsletter in December 2022, I felt like I needed a constraint to help decide who I would write deep dives about.

I didn’t want to write about any and all newsletters. A lot of people create newsletters and give up after 6 months, or even after a few years.

There was a level of commitment I wanted to make sure I was covering, and not just sharing stories of people who were in it for a short time.

I chose the 50,000 number in the first month of creating deep dives.

Mario Gabriele, who I wrote the first deep dive about, had more than 50k subscribers. When I looked at other “successful creators,” most seemed to have that level of subscriber count as well.

There were a few newsletters that had grown to 5k or 10k pretty quickly, but they were fly-by-night type of creators. I wanted a way to filter out those that weren’t in this to build great content to share with an audience they want to serve.

50k was a number I picked out of thin air which felt representative of a commitment to the newsletter you were creating.

If you could reach 50k, it felt like you were committed to building something sustainable. You’d probably been doing this for a few years, and had decently figured out how to monetize your audience, something a lot of creators can learn from.

There were (and still are) a lot of folks building something mediocre hoping for a big payday. That’s what I was trying to avoid.

In the beginning, this worked well as a constraint I could use to decide who to cover. But now in hindsight, I can see this has its own problems.

And honestly, I’ve struggled to cover people I’m interested in because of the number. I’ll find someone interesting and then scramble to find their subscriber count, and either couldn’t or they had far less than 50k.

I’d move on to another one.

There was lots of wasted time sifting through to make sure the people I was covering were past this arbitrary subscriber number.

The Excitement Faded

People ask me all the time about my content calendar, and for better or worse, I don’t have one.

As a little “behind the scenes” context – each week, I pick someone I’m actually excited about learning from.

Then I do some basic research to make sure the story is good, I can find good evidence to show you all, and they have 50k subscribers or more.

If they check all of the boxes, I continue. If not, I go back to the drawing board.

Over time, it’s gotten harder and harder to find people that fit into all of those buckets. I’d find someone doing really interesting stuff, and then be bummed to find out they *only* had 25k subscribers.

It’s been taking longer to find people to cover and before I knew it, it was Wednesday and I wasn’t sure who I’d be writing about.

I can feel myself getting increasingly more annoyed at this beginning stage of the process.

Which meant the research wasn’t off to a great start. And I think that started to carry through in the content. That’s not okay.

I’m fully aware that I should change some parts of the process to reduce the time spent finding a subject. But at the same time, I really enjoy “flying by the seat of my pants” each week.

There is a calmness to the chaos.

Well, at least there was.

What’s Changing

The 50k number is a constraint I would like to get rid of.

Will I continue to showcase people and newsletters with more than 50k? Of course.

Will it stop me from sharing stories from people that I know we can all learn from? Not anymore.

I will still be curating the people I cover to make sure we can learn from them, they’re not doing shady stuff (that I can tell), and their story is interesting. There is a level of quality I plan to uphold, but it is no longer tied only to subscriber count.

Because loads of people are making money with smaller audiences and I want to showcase those folks as well.

Alright, rant over. Whew, that feels good.

I would love your thoughts on this, I’ve turned comments on for this post because I want to hear from you. 👇

Also, if there is a creator who is doing really interesting work you would like me to reverse engineer, you can submit that suggestion here.

chenell basilio

Chenell Basilio

Chenell is the head writer and reverse engineer at Growth In Reverse. She spends her days researching newsletters, audience growth, and generally figuring out how to help others create better content.

She has an almost useless Bachelor's Degree in Geography, enjoys running, listening to podcasts, and eating guacamole. 🥑

Where I hang out on social media:

44 thoughts on “You Don’t Need 50,000 Subscribers”

  1. I LOVE this change Chanell.
    I love it for all the reasons you mentioned. I have 11k subscribers and though your 50k people are interesting, it’s not as applicable to me.

    I’m so excited for your change. Bring it!

    Reply
  2. I actually think removing the minimum subscriber threshold is wonderful Chenell! If anything it’s a nice reminder that it truly is quality over arbitrary numbers. Also it’s incredibly motivating to now that you can generate a healthy profit with say 15,000 subscribers as opposed to 150,000. I look forward to reading the deep dives!

    Also I don’t think that pivoting slightly is a sign of failure at all, if anything it’s a sign of success and growth in the right direction 🙂

    Reply
  3. I like this pivot, Chenell. When you have 0 subscribers, 50k seems unattainable, so it will be inspiring to see people who have fewer than 50k subscribers. It sounds like you have some interesting stories you haven’t shared yet, because of the old 50k limit, and I’m excited to read those. Congrats on this exciting evolution!

    Reply
  4. I really needed to hear this today.

    Lately, I’ve been torn between rapidly growing my subscribers to an arbitrarily large number and focusing on creating really interesting and valuable content for the readers I already have.

    I’m seeing all the “how to grow your subscriber list to 50k OVERNIGHT with this hack!” content out there (not from you, but from the market in general), and when that doesn’t happen, it makes the mountain seem unscalable.

    High value will attract high value in any market. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  5. I love this Chenell! Love the self reflection, the honesty and the vulnerability in this post. It’s one of the reasons I love your work.

    Often those with less than 50K are the most creative and the most scrappy – because they have to be. Will be great to share these stories on a bigger platform — and maybe the bigger guys can even learn something from them about creativity and a new path.

    Reply
  6. I would even add that to people like me who still have really small numbers, getting advice from someone who is not too far on the journey but just a little bit further, is often more valuable. Anyway, I love the change Chenell

    Reply
  7. I loved the idea Chenell.

    By removing the 50k limit, you bring people who are 2 steps ahead of your reader and not just people who are 1000 steps away.

    Reply
  8. So excited for this change! My little newsletter has almost 3k and sometimes those arbitrary bigger numbers makes me forget what an accommplishment & privilege this little list of mine is. I’d love to hear more stories about how smaller lists can monetize and do well financially. As always, thanks for being awesome & putting it all out there!

    Reply
  9. Good for you, Chennelle. Been following you since the beginning and you are doing inspiring work. Good idea to follow your interest, gut and the story. We’ve been at our b2c newsletter for 10 years now and aim to keep subscribers as relevant and as low as possible. Opposite to most of the advice we usually received which was to grow fast and take on as many customers as possible. However, we are now giving a good living to 3 individuals and contractors. Most importantly, we love what we do and would not dream of selling. Mike.

    Reply
  10. I like this! I’ve had more than one coach teach me over the years that you can easily make $1mil/yr with only 1000 of the most devout followers. So the goal is to find those types of people, not focus on the numbers.

    Reply
  11. Yes, yes, yes! Let’s celebrate small steps that lead to big change. It’s like someone saying they will only be ‘happy’ if they lose 20 lbs., that black and white metric can delay the gratification some can feel by having more energy, feeling more comfortable in their skin, sleeping better. There are many ways to define success! Cheers to learning at ALL levels!~

    Reply
  12. I’m thrilled by this change! I’d imagine that people are doing really interesting things with their newsletters in different industries, where we’ll see different thresholds. I’m excited to see how you bring your unique and exciting brand of analysis to those differences 🙂

    Reply
  13. Fantastic news!! I’m so happy not only for you personally to have tackled that source of frustration in your work, but that we will be able to see a more diverse collection of writers making it happen. Thank you!

    Reply
  14. Removing the criteria of 50K subscribers is definitely the right and smart move. I didn’t even know you had that as a criteria to be honest.

    But as you mentioned, there are so many other interesting and successful creators who don’t have a large audience and I think that’s even more successful (efficient in terms of rev/sub).

    Love reading your work, so glad you’re broadening your scope of coverage.

    Reply
  15. Love it. As Danielle said, 50K seems like outer space when you’re just starting off. It’s like telling a small website operator what Amazon is doing in 2024. It may not help them much. Smaller newsletters that are successful and doing amazing things will be a lot more relatable… and I may learn more things that I can actually implement. Kudos for being flexible and fluid.

    Reply
  16. For me, it’s all about the strategies and learning new thing to experiment with, and not about the numbers. Plus, like Danielle said, it’s more inspiring to see stories of people who look a bit like me, instead of the 50K+ newsletters. So, great choice, Chenell. Keep up the fantastic work!

    Reply
  17. I’m really excited about this change. Echoing what others have said, it’s so easy to get stuck in the cycle of “oh I can’t do anything until I hit x followers.” And that may or may not actually BE true.

    Reply
  18. Hi Chenell, I appreciate your work, and this shift you are doing it’s a echoes of quality over quantity. As you thought wisely some small subscribers numbers are not always indicating the quality of the content. Maybe they just started, and you can see big potential of the topic they cover, or unusual approach to the whole process of writing or distribution. That’s all matter, and the right process/execution is the key to growth.
    To be fair it’s just my opinion about many different areas of creation, which I have some experience with, not only newsletter as a just another medium. I’m on the track to start my own newsletter in English which is not my mother tongue. So challenge accepted.
    At the end I just want to say that you are doing good job, and from my perspective, showing creators with less subscribers, is to me, more down to earth. Those creators are which I can more identify with at the starting point of my journey.

    PS. Apologize for my English, it’s not native, so there might be some language gliches. 😉

    Cheers,
    Kris

    Reply
  19. Great shift!

    I often find that I can relate more to people who are at my level rather than just the gurus or the big players.

    It’s fantastic to see you prioritizing quality over quantity.

    I’m eager to see strategies that I can more directly replicate.

    Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  20. It’s the right move Chenell – first and foremost because it’s what feels right and satisfying to you, and this is your newsletter. The amount of effort that you invest in this high quality newsletter entitles you – and requires you – to stay energized about what you are producing.

    For what it’s worth, I also chose to cover newsletters at various stages of their journey at Newsletter Business because everyone is at different stages, and there are valuable lessons to be learned every step of the way!

    Looking forward to this next chapter!

    Reply
  21. Hi Chennell,

    As someone new to the newsletter space I have found your work not only inspirational seeing your growth but also very informative to learn from other successful newsletter operators.

    I think this is a great shift in direction and one that I will be excited to read. I look forward to learning from other people’s stories regardless of their list size. Keep[ up the great work. Your newsletter is one of my weekly favourites. 🙂

    Reply
  22. You’re broadening the pool of content creators to learn from!

    In the financial world, it could be likened to never looking at potential investments that DO NOT pay a dividend…which automatically eliminates some wonderful businesses.

    The threshold should be if the creator has something valuable to teach the rest of us.

    I think it’s a great idea Chenell!

    Reply
  23. Good stuff! If # of subscribers is no longer going to be your benchmark what’s it gonna be? From the sounds of this email, it’s money. To me, that would be an improvement. But maybe there’s an even better benchmark than money filter for?

    Reply
  24. Glad to see an awareness of other successful folk/businesses with not a heck of a lot of subscribers. Some readers will feel it’s more attainable too.

    I’ve had my own small paid subscriber business and it’s been chugging along for nearly 30 years now with just a few thousand subscribers. Rather than gun for growth I aimed for comfort and stability which is a whole lot stressful.

    Best of luck,
    Ray

    Reply
  25. I love this move Chenell! Like everyone else on this list, I love the idea of shooting for 50K, but I’m also interested in the stories of people (like me) who aren’t quite there yet. Lots of room for great content in this new direction! This is my single favorite newsletter thanks to your hard work. I KNOW that won’t change when you open it up to more people finding their own form of success in their newsletter journey.

    Reply
  26. Yep, you don’t need more than 50,000 subscribers.

    The Stacked Marketer comes to mind.

    They have highly engaged email list of around 50,000-60,000 but make close to ~$750,000 per year.

    I bet they can do more if they sold one-time courses like Justin Welsh does.

    Reply
  27. Subscriber base matters to a certain extent but beyond that quality and niche matters even more.

    Imagine Elon Musk as one of 2500 subscribers list 🙂

    Reply
  28. Kudos!

    I can only add a +1 to the great comments above. As a person who wants to champion the growth of our industry–and inspire new entrants to become long-term players, your move send exactly the right message, and I couldn’t agree more.

    The key is having the RIGHT subscribers, not just any email address, but an email address connected to the right-fit audience.

    Rock On!

    Reply
  29. Great change as I personally would love to hear about the “smaller” creators who are doing well for themselves.

    I always am reminded that you do not needs millions of fans, but rather 1,000 true fans to have yourself a valuable business. Same applies for newsletters as even at $10/month one is still brining in 10K/month (in addition to other things they may be doing)

    Reply
  30. I was wondering what was going to happen after you run out of 50k+ subscriber newsletters. You’ve probably already covered all the big ones.

    Reply
  31. I like this move! A lot of the time it feels like you’re only successful if you have tens of thousands of subscribers, but the more I talk to creators, that’s definitely not the case.

    Definitely curious how others are building and monetizing no matter their audience size.

    Keep up the great work, Chenell!!

    Reply
  32. I didn’t bother about a newsletter when I start my business a few years ago, but this year, I jumped into creating one after coming across a few amazing creators online. My list is still very much a work in progress at just 1k + subscribers, but I’m excited about it. Also want to add that I read every issue of your newsletter-I love the deep dives. Thanks for putting so much work into them!

    Reply
  33. I’m not sure if you will read that, but I’m wondering if that could be a good suggestion, about choosing the topic. I’m planning to write a newsletter anonymously. So that’s mean I cannot leverage my existing connections on social platforms, neither friends and family. I can’t find the answer, how should I start promoting my content once I start writing on Substack.

    Reply

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