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The boozeletter that lived
Plus: Before Jerome Powell super-nuked the working class!
Ring the bells, bang the gongs, and blow the vuvuzelas, Fingers Fam. You’re reading the boozeletter that lived: today is Fingers’ third anniversary!
Technically, I started publishing semi-weekly free dispatches back in May 2020, but I turned on paid subscriptions for the first time on September 22nd, 2021, so that’s the date we’ve got enshrined in the official record here at HQ. I’m not going to get caught up on the details, and you shouldn’t either. The point is, we fucking made it, you guys. More than three whole years of independent coverage, commentary, and shitposts on drinking in America later, and ye olde boozeletter is still going strong. That’s no mean feat in this dismal media industry, and I’m proud of us.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, and set up Fingers to survive another year financially, I’m kicking off a little subscription drive. Our audacious goals:
What? Insane! But this being the boozeletter’s birthday, there are gifts.1 From now through October 13th, your first year of Fingers will run just $60 (usually $80):
Paying Friends of Fingers get access to every single thing I publish here, plus the entire three-year-long archives.2 More to the point: I can’t do this unorthodox, independent journalism about drinking in America unless readers step up to fund it.
Even more to the point: This is the biggest discount I plan to offer this year, so if you’ve been planning to buy a subscription, know that you won’t see a better deal in 2023:
Last but not least: to the over 460 (!!!) paying Friends of Fingers who have supported my work for literal years at this point, thank you. I just printed up a new batch of stickers, and I’d love to send you some. Just reply to this email with your mailing address and I’ll send you a Fingers sticker pack as a small token of appreciation for your support.
Below, I’ve included some notes about what I’ve learned in 36+ months of independent publishing, and a State of the Boozeletter™️ update. Check those items out if you’re so inclined. And follow Fingers on Instagram, wouldja?
Happy birthday, Fingers Fam. Thanks for supporting three years of independent journalism about the business, culture, and chaos of drinking in America. Here’s to many more.—Dave.
📬 Good post alert
📈 State of the Boozeletter™️
The upshot on the past year is that it was a really good year! Fingers’ overall audience has nearly doubled, and paid-subscriber growth has accelerated. Some top-line figures:
Total readers readers: 4,720 (+76% year-over-year since 9/22/22)
Total paying subscribers: 462 (+59%)
Additional projected gross annual revenue: $17,288 (+70%)
These are some massive gains! That last figure, “projected gross annual revenue,” is sorta janky, because it includes fees that I haven’t collected yet, but expect to if/when existing Friends of Fingers renew their subscriptions, so I don’t feel super-confident in that exact dollar figure. But on an apples-to-apples basis, the growth is there, and I’m very grateful for it.
Like, publisher of the indispensable newsletter, I’m not quite radically transparent enough to publish my overall gross and net figures.3 But on an apples-to-oranges basis, my annual revenue from Fingers over the past year was just a bit less than half of my last full-time media salary. Pretty damn good for a newsletter created out of thin air three years ago that I work on ~25 hours a week! Still, it’s not enough: I last drew that salary in 2018, before I was 30, before the pandemic super-nuked the media business, before Jerome Powell super-nuked the working class… you get the point. We’ve come a long way, Fingers Fam, but there’s still a ways to go before the boozeletter is truly financially viable for yours truly.
That said, we’ve gotta celebrate the wins—and the people who made those wins possible. A lot of this year’s growth came from crossovers and collaborations I did this year with other independent publishers:
In April, I appeared on Chapo Trap House to talk about Bang Energy’s former poster-in-chief Jack Owoc.
In June,handed me the keys for a guest edition of his excellent newsletter.
On the very same day in June, I swapped stories withLenz of the poignant and hilarious
In July, I joined TrueAnon to discuss arch-conservative billionaire beer crank Joseph Coors, Sr.
In August, my guyreprinted a version of my piece about A.I. fuckery at his fantastic newsletter about all the systems conspiring against us, .
A huge thanks to all of those folks for linking and building with fam, and to my pals at, who have also reprinted various stories of mine in the past year. I’ve got upcoming projects with a couple other excellent independent publishers that I’m looking forward to dropping soon, too. Stay tuned.
The publishing platform I use, Substack, apparently lacks an easy way to see open-rate performance over a custom date range, and I’m certainly not going to bother averaging it out across every email I’ve sent in the past 12 months. That said, I keep an eye on it on a trailing-30 basis, and broadly speaking, it hovers right around 50%, which is more than double the all-industries benchmarks put forth by the large email service providers Campaign Monitor and MailChimp.4 This is incredible, and important. After all, there’s no point to sending emails if people don’t open them.
📝 Things I’ve learned
Some quick takeaways from three-plus years of independent newsletter publishing:
People are being more judicious about their subscriptions. I felt late to the independent-newsletter game when I launched Fingers nearly 3.5 years ago, but the space has only gotten more crowded since, and neither I nor any other publisher can expect folks to pay for everything they want to support. This goes hand in hand with my next point…
A lot of free readers are never going to be paid subscribers. That’s OK! But it’s precipitated a shift in strategy here at HQ. For the first 18 months of Fingers’ paid era, I was publishing basically everything for free, and semi-regularly sending promotional coupons to highly engaged free readers begging/urging them to become paying Friends of Fingers. It was sort of like Wikipedia’s model—i.e., please support this thing you can access for free, otherwise it will go away—and for a while, it worked for Fingers. But by midway through 2022, conversions from that sort of discounting had begun to tail off, which is why I began paywalling most of my work and offering short free previews to free readers. Overall paid conversions actually got stronger this year, but rather than longtime non-paying power users, they’ve started coming from people who encounter an edition of the newsletter (usually via forwarding, or a link in from a press hit I’ve done), decide they want it, and buy quickly.
Twitter is a big loss, but not for subscription sales. The platform’s decay over the past year under Elon Musk’s ownership is breathtaking to behold. It’s sad, because I’ve met a lot of good friends and colleagues through Twitter, and it’s troubling, given how important it was as a communication utility. I’m basically read-only on Twitter now, and I don’t expect to return. It’s a loss for being able to track beverage-alcohol story lines and source up quickly, but not for subscription sales: my followers there did not convert to paying Friends of Fingers a high rate (though some did, thanks folks!), and I only had about 9,000 anyway. So from that standpoint, Twitter’s death-spiral into antisemitism and irrelevance shouldn’t have too much of an effect on Fingers’ future. Silver lining!
The Weekender is working. In February, I introduced the Fingers Weekender, a paid-only digest of the prior week’s best beer, wine, and spirits headlines optimized for hungover Sunday scrolling. The goal was two-fold: create a way to cover more items, more quickly, in Fingers’ trusted voice, and sell more subscriptions. I don’t have hard data on this, but it seems to be working on both fronts. Its open rate is strong and the click-through rate is low, which suggests to me that paid subscribers appreciate my selections and summaries enough not to ignore the email entirely, or seek out the underlying stories I’m linking to for more info. And each Sunday dispatch typically converts one or two free readers from the preview. The editions take a lot of work, but they’re paying dividends.
Comments sections are showing signs of life. I did some early experiments with comment threads, and they received a lukewarm reception at best. Some of them were so poorly attended it was kinda humiliating! It was clear you guys didn’t want that type of relationship with the boozeletter at that stage, so I stopped. But more recently, I’ve seen some green shoots in the comments section, with a small but seemingly growing group of paid subscribers (the only folks with commenting privileges) chiming in on stuff. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this and hope it continues. Journalism is a pretty solitary job in general, and independent ‘slettering doubly or triply so, so it’s really awesome when I get a chance to talk directly to other people who think as much about drinking in America as I do. Please, please, please—join us in the comments! Ask me questions! Make dumb jokes about archaic alcohol legislation with us! I reply to every single comment, and I genuinely love hearing from you.
That’s all that comes to mind for now. I know this is all very inside-baseball, but this seems like the milestone to do reflect. If you’re an independent journalist, or thinking about becoming one, feel free to hit me up with specific questions.
Don’t miss out, follow Fingers on Instagram today. It’s free and your feed will thank you. (Not really, that would be weird. But you know what I mean.) Also sorry for the screenshot. Apparently Instagram embeds, like Twitter embeds, are also broken on Substack (the platform I use to publish Fingers.) Thank you to our billionaire website oligarchs for destroying the internet’s basic functionality in pursuit of infinite profit!
Traditionally, third-anniversary gifts are supposed to be leather, but you would not believe the pricing on custom ball-gag harnesses these days.
If you’re willing to buy a $200 Fingers Founding Membership, you get all that too, plus some other perks. I’m assuming you’re Of Means and that discounts mean nothing to you, so instead, you’ll receive a full Fingers sticker pack—including, of course, the limited-edition holographic Fingers Founding Member badge—plus a very-limited-edition copy of the boozeletter’s 2nd-anniversary print zine, a 1-on-1 Zoom, a guarantee that I’ll always answer your emails, and my undying gratitude. Wow!
If you’re an independent newsletter publisher looking for benchmarks, hit me up directly, and let’s chat. I’ll be as helpful as I can!