Email Monetization: How To Make Money From Your List

Email Monetization: How To Make Money From Your List
15 May, 2024 • ... • 27 views
Ana Balashova
by Ana Balashova

What if each person on your email list did more than just take up space in your database? There is a way to turn email subscribers into a source of income, going beyond just simple texts explaining recent updates of a product. This introduction to email monetization will show you the most common and long-lasting ways to do that. Let’s work together to get the most out of your emails and audience.

What is email monetization?

Making money with email is called email monetization, and it’s a vast opportunity. The global revenue for email marketing was $7.5 billion in 2020. By 2027, that figure is projected to grow to $17.9 billion. Email monetization is what makes those numbers possible. You could sell ad space, promote affiliate links, or show off your own products.

The trick is to build a targeted email list: Give your subscribers good content to keep them interested, so then you can decide how to monetize the audience. This approach is effective in any field and can help you make money if you stick to it.

Why email newsletter monetization is important

Firstly, a successful, monetized email newsletter can sell for millions like that time when Insider Inc. bought Morning Brew for an estimated $75 million, or when Hubspot acquired The Hustle for allegedly $27 million, or when Axios creators sold to Cox Enterprises for $525 million. But even if you don’t plan to build a newsletter empire, there are still many reasons to learn about email monetization.

Why? For starters, Mailmodo’s State of Email report crowned email marketing as the best top-performing channel by 25% of all respondents. For reference, organic search with 19.7% came in second, and social media ads with 11.4% — third. So email has the potential to bring your business the most revenue out of all the other marketing activities. It is also one of the most stable channels, so if you have a good monetization strategy in place, it will last.

With Google’s core algorithm updates and the looming threat of 60% organic traffic loss from its AI-powered search engine, organic search is looking shaky. And social media advertising? The moment your budget dries up, so do your results.

As for the email list… Creators can have it forever. Even if you get the boot from your email marketing platform, you can take your list and set up your email campaigns elsewhere. The catch? If you’re not putting your list to work, what’s the point of having it?

When done right, email monetization lets you turn your list into a predictable, scalable revenue stream, giving you more freedom and control over your business.

Email monetization models

A guide on email monetization is not as simple as the one on how to monetize Instagram. So, in this part of the article, we’re diving into the nuts and bolts of email monetization models. Think of this as your toolkit for turning those everyday emails into your very own reliable revenue source. Research and consider trying out these models no matter if you have an old email list or will be building a new one from scratch.

Paid newsletters with premium content

While it doesn’t work for all types of mailing lists (for instance, when information in your email is easily accessible and doesn’t have an exclusive twist or insight), one of the most obvious ways of email monetization is through paid subscriptions.

How it works: 

To take advantage of a paid newsletter, creators need to choose a platform that offers this type of email monetization or come up with their own solution to integrate payments for premium content.

Of course, it takes time and effort and you need to learn how to promote your list and gain new subscribers. You also must have a clear niche to attract a highly targeted audience willing to pay for insights on whatever your subject is. One growth strategy to get to a paid newsletter is to build an audience on a platform like X (former Twitter) and funnel readers to your list.

Numbers and figures: 

Here’s how it can work with Substack, one of the most popular platforms for monetizing your writing. It handles all the payment processing and takes a 10% cut off of your revenue, plus payment processing fees. How much can you earn? As an example, let’s crunch some numbers with Substack’s calculator. If you have 800 subscribers paying $7 per month, you can expect to earn around $4,638 per month (after Substack’s fees). That’s over $55,000 per year from your newsletter alone. 

Example:

There are many examples showing that this model works pretty well. Lenny Rachitsky, and his newsletter “Lenny’s Newsletter” generated an estimated $2 million in annual revenue with over 377,000 subscribers.

The beginning of Lenny's Newsletter’s about page stating that paid subscribers get weekly posts and access to a Slack community.
Here is how Lenny Rachitsky explains the benefits paid subscribers get

Ads in emails

Paid newsletter might strangle your growth, while sponsored ads in emails let you keep your newsletter open to everyone, allowing broader access and interaction with your content. Plus, they open doors to valuable industry relationships. At the same time, many creators seriously contemplate having ads in their newsletters, thinking that it might taint their relations with subscribers. But they shouldn’t. As long as the ads are in reasonable amounts and relevant to your readers, they can even be appreciated. 

How it works: 

You can contact sponsors directly or use newsletter marketplaces or programmatic advertising services to include adverts in your newsletter. Platforms for programmatic advertising dynamically pair your newsletter with appropriate ads according to the demographics of your readership and the content you publish. Newsletter marketplaces link creators of newsletters with possible sponsors.

If you would rather go straight to the point, you can contact sponsors directly or answer questions from prospective businesses reaching out to you. You get greater control over the ad content, placement, and price when you deal directly with sponsors. The length, frequency, and kind of advertisement (text, image, or video) are all negotiable elements of the sponsorship arrangement.

Numbers and figures:

Costs for ad spots can be determined by the number of impressions (CPM) or the number of opens (CPO). The pay can be good for newsletters that reach a lot of people. CPM rates range from $5 to $200, so a newsletter with 10,000 subscribers and a 45% open rate could make between $112.50 and $225 per issue.

This approach could be profitable, but you need to know what your subscribers want and find a balance between making money and giving them good content.

Example:

The screenshot below shows how such placements might look. Since Tripadviser’s audience mainly consists of travelers, it’s no harm to mention an airline company and a payment system that makes paying while traveling possible. And saving $50 is something that many of us wouldn’t mind. So the ad is actually very helpful. 

A Tripadvisor email containing sponsored ads from American Airlines
Source: Really Good Emails

Affiliate marketing and product recommendations

It’s predicted that affiliate marketing spending will reach $15.7 billion in 2024, not a number to sneeze at. You can try to get a piece of that pie with your emails. 

How it works: 

A high-quality affiliate newsletter provides a tailored experience so that your customers feel that they can actually use the products you are promoting. To use this strategy effectively, creators have to segment the audience and send messages that resonate with the specific segment. Include affiliate links natively in those emails — simply sharing a coupon or deal doesn’t cut it. Your content should prompt people to do that desirable action. So clear calls-to-action and simple but powerful messaging will work best. And yet again, it has to be relevant. 

Numbers and figures:

Think well before choosing the products you’d like to promote. It’s a good strategy to focus on high-paying niches and offers (think health and wellness and SaaS affiliate programs) For instance, Selzy’s affiliate program offers a 60% commission on the first sale and 30-50% afterward, depending on your affiliate tier, with a generous 1-year cookie duration.

Example:

DonorsChoose’s promotion of affiliate links was great. It’s the beginning of a school year, so their audience needs some supplies, and DonorsChoose partnered with Kleenex to offer a 50% discount on those necessities. 

Example of affiliate product recommendations in an email from DonorsChoose
Source: Really Good Emails

Selling your own products (physical and digital)

Want to go beyond recommending someone else’s products? You can make even more revenue if you sell something you yourself made. While not every email list owner feels confident about selling a product, this approach isn’t just about pushing something your audience doesn’t need. You are giving solutions to your subscribers’ problems in a way that feels natural and necessary. Start crafting, start selling, and who knows, maybe your email list will turn into your most profitable asset.

How it works: 

There are several steps before you can freely sell your products through newsletters: 

  • Find your ideal product. What’s your expertise? Can you offer your subscribers tools and insights no one else can? With physical as well as digital products, you should match them to your audience’s needs. 
  • Think quality. No matter what products you are selling, they should reflect your commitment to high standards.
  • Use your list for good. Your email list is gold and your direct line to potential buyers. Describe how your products can benefit your customers and make your subscribers’ lives easier. 
  • Have clear calls-to-action. Don’t be shy about asking your readers to take action. Every email should clearly guide them to making a purchase.
  • Think bonuses. Offer your subscribers something special — early access, a discount, or exclusive complimentary content as a thank-you for a purchase. This not only increases buyers’ loyalty but also boosts engagement rates.
  • Evaluate and adapt. Use analytics to see what works, replicate it, and change what doesn’t. Test, test, test.  

Numbers and figures:

Say you have 10,000 subscribers to your newsletter, and you want to sell an eBook for $29. Digital product sales conversion rates to an engaged email list usually fall between 1% and 5%. Given a conservative conversion rate of 2%, 200 of your subscribers would buy the eBook. You would make $5,800 at $29 a sale. 

Example:

Justin Welsh is a good example amongst many digital creators to learn from. With zero employees and very good margins, he’s making $1.7 million per year with approximately $1.3 million in revenue from the sales of his digital courses priced at $150. 

Example of email selling a digital product
Source: Really Good Emails

Paid recommendations

Paid recommendations help to monetize the subscribers’ list without almost any effort from the newsletter owners. Email newsletter owners can advertise other authors’ newsletters to their own readership and get paid for each successful suggestion (once someone subscribes to the recommended list). Newsletter owners profit from their readers’ trust, and if recommendations are relevant, you even boost this trust further. It’s a win-win. 

How it works: 

Newsletter marketing services like ConvertKit and beehiiv Boosts made it easy to earn passive income thanks to promoting high-quality content from other creators directly to your audience.

You share other related newsletters within your own, and if your subscribers sign up, you get paid. It’s as simple as that. 

Numbers and figures:

On beehiiv, for instance, the average cost per subscriber is $2.37. The numbers quickly add up. Imagine boosting 1,000 subscribers to a partner newsletter each month, in that case, you’re looking at an additional $2,370 per month with very little extra work. 

Example:

Here’s an example of what those email recommendations look like on Substack for a reader of Laura McKowen’s Love Story newsletter:

Example of one email creator recommending another one: Laura McKowen of Love Story explains why she loves SubMakk.
Source: Really Good Emails

Best practices for an email monetization strategy

Email is all about relationships, and the way you monetize your newsletter needs to be personal and audience-based. The formula of success is simple yet hard to achieve — you have to balance marketing tactics with genuine care for your subscribers. Use these tips to make email communication both profitable for you and engaging for your recipients:

Provide free value

Give them something useful for free to get the relationship going. Create an interesting e-book on a relatable topic, write a list of tips from experts or your team members, or include a video with limited access exclusive to your subscribers, etc. Your goal? To get people to really enjoy the quality of your newsletter so that you can offer paid services in the future. This is like planting seeds that will grow into a beautiful garden of interested, paying customers over time.

Focus on high-quality content

The best way to turn casual readers into loyal fans and, finally, customers is to give them high-quality content. Add excellent content to every message to make it better. Your emails shouldn’t just give people information. They should also be interesting stories that really connect with the reader, even if it’s a marketing message. Make sure that every message is carefully written, whether it’s breaking down complex topics into manageable chunks or offering new ways to deal with old problems. 

Make payment frictionless

Smooth the path from interest to action so that nothing stands between your customers willing to pay you and the payment itself. Use secure payment methods, give customers a choice of how to pay, and make the checkout process easy to keep people from leaving their items in the cart or not subscribing for premium content. A smooth purchase process shows that you value your offer and value your customers’ time, which makes them more likely to commit.

Leverage personalization

Some tactics are a useful addition to your email strategy beyond monetization. Personalization is one of those golden-standard approaches you should use no matter the campaign. It brings out the full potential of email marketing and makes the person on the other side feel unique and appreciated. You can use dynamic email content to insert subscribers’ names, mention their interests, suggest products based on how they’ve behaved in the past, or otherwise apply the data you have on them. All these strategies improve engagement rates and pave the way for you to make more money.

Optimize for mobile

Mobile is the new default platform for viewing emails, and if you don’t use responsive design, all the monetization efforts are in vain. You need to make sure the email you are sending looks great on all devices, especially with smaller screens. Optimized emails make the user experience better, and this in turn brings more sales.

Test and iterate

Never settle — always improve. Regularly test different aspects of your email campaigns, from subject lines to call-to-action buttons, and analyze what works best. Use A/B testing to refine your approach and continuously improve the effectiveness of your monetization strategies.

Final thoughts

Here you have it, the five most common and straightforward strategies of email monetization:

  • Paid newsletters 
  • Ads 
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Selling your own products
  • Paid recommendations

These practices can increase your potential earnings from email marketing and also come up with a sustainable system where value and revenue grow hand in hand. Your email list is full of opportunities — treat it wisely, and your efforts will pay off.

To make sure your email monetization strategy truly works, think of your audience as co-creators. What offers make them the most excited? The answer to this question will guide your approach to monetization and help better understand your audience in general. If insights and deep dives get the warmest reaction, consider a tiered membership for in-depth content. If quick tips and tricks see higher engagement, affiliate products related to those tips might be the way to go. The goal is to monetize while enhancing your subscribers’ experience, not interrupting it. This approach keeps your strategies fresh and your audience interested and invested.

15 May, 2024
Article by
Ana Balashova
I'm a seasoned PR and marketing pro turned tech writer, with a decade of experience working with big names like DuPont, Avon, Evernote, TradingView, and SAP. I've also dived into the world of crypto startups, contributing to several blockchain publications. Now, I'm bringing my passion for technology, entrepreneurship, and marketing to Selzy. Here, I combine my love for writing and excitement about contributing to the growth of a great product.
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