The first year of The Writ is about to go in the books — and it’s been quite a year.
A week from today, I’ll be marking the first anniversary of the launch of The Writ. With that milestone just around the corner, I wanted to share with you how it’s been going and get your feedback on what should come next.
First, let’s turn the clock back 12 months.
I announced my departure from the CBC after nearly seven years working with the parliamentary bureau. It had been a great experience and I learned a lot, but I had come to the conclusion that I wanted to strike out on my own again and do something different. I wrote about that decision in my first piece here on The Writ.
It wasn’t a decision I made lightly and it came with a good deal of risk. I didn’t know what the reaction would be or what The Writ would become. Now, nearly a year later, I can say without any doubt that I’d do it all again.
The Writ has only become a viable project through the support of readers, listeners, viewers and, most importantly, subscribers. Becoming a tiny independent online media outlet these days is impossible without the direct support of the audience. And in the small market that is the Canadian market it is all the more vital to have that support.
So, let me say thank you to all of you who have subscribed to The Writ. Your support for the last 12 months has been deeply appreciated.
It’s gratifying to share my passion for elections and Canada’s political history with others who are passionate about what makes, and has made, the pulse of our democracy beat. In a world where it increasingly seems that the only way to be successful in independent media is to delve into opinion or partisanship, it’s good to know there is still an audience for non-partisan political analysis.
Just how many of you are there?
Well, that’s what I’m going to share with you today. Hopefully this information will be enlightening to others contemplating a similar path, and I hope it will peel back the curtain a little on what it’s like to be in content creation or independent media in Canada.
Let’s get right into some of the numbers: the total subscribers to The Writ, which includes the majority who signed up for free emails and those who purchased monthly or annual subscriptions.
At the moment, there are a little under 3,700 total subscribers to the site. The chart above shows how that has grown over time. There was an initial spike when I launched the website and another jump in the days ahead of the official call of the 2021 federal election. During the campaign itself, subscriptions grew from 1,762 to 3,088.
Things plateaued after the election, as those disabling their email subscriptions and those newly signing up balanced each other out. The number of subscribers kept steady at a little over 3,000 until after the holidays.
The kick-off of the Conservative leadership race got some momentum going again with the number of subscriptions, which reached 3,354 on the day that Doug Ford dropped the writ on the Ontario election campaign. By the end of that campaign, subscriptions stood at 3,684.
What drives subscriptions? Social media is limited in traffic generation. Appearances on television and radio only rarely produce more than a handful of new subscriptions, while non-paywalled pieces that are widely shared can be hit-or-miss, producing between one or two and a dozen new subscriptions after they are published. It was really only during the federal and Ontario campaigns that subscriptions grew consistently on a day-to-day basis.
This shows how tightly tied The Writ is to whatever is going on in politics — which makes sense. People are primarily interested in a website about elections during elections.
Figuring out what to do between elections has been a bit of a challenge. So, in November I started the Weekly Writ, a newsletter going out every Wednesday that contains all of the need-to-know news related to elections and leadership campaigns, as well as details of the latest polls. The Weekly Writ also contains profiles of important ridings and historical election vignettes that form my #EveryElectionProject, my attempt to chronicle every election in Canadian history.
That last segment of the Weekly Writ might be my favourite to write, as one of the reasons I made this move in the first place was to have an excuse to write more history.
Another was to launch a podcast. I loved doing The Pollcast when I was with the CBC and I was very sad to see it go. The Writ Podcast started out as more of a solo effort — roughly being the audio version of what would become the Weekly Writ — but since the beginning of this year I’ve been having guests on every week.
The results have been rewarding. The weekly audience for episodes peaked to about 3,000 during the federal election campaign but dropped to half of that by the end of the year. Since January, the audience has doubled again. Instead of a momentary surge tied to the federal election, The Writ Podcast is now regularly getting an audience of about 3,000 per week.
Thanks go to my guests who have come on the podcast since the beginning of the year. It’s been great to connect with them and the conversations have been lots of fun. Of course, thanks also to everyone who listens every week! Let me know if there are other guests you’d like to see come on the show.
I also set as a goal this year to grow The Writ’s YouTube Channel. I’ve been posting the video of the podcast discussions, as well as a series of other videos about everything from the rules of the Conservative leadership race to the history of elections in Ontario (all of them):
A special thanks goes to Jamie Grondin, who has produced and edited the (non-podcast) videos for me. We’ve got more planned!
In addition to the videos, I ran a few livestreams, which were fun ways to cover live events and interact with viewers (including some of you!). I did livestreams for the Nova Scotia and federal election nights, as well as for the Marie-Victorin Quebec byelection. I intend to do more!
Since launching, the channel has grown to just under 1,200 subscribers, with most of those coming in the last four months when the quality of the videos improved.
Hitting 1,000 was an important milestone, because that is the threshold required to monetize your channel on YouTube. Finding multiple streams of income is extremely important for any independent freelancer — trust me, it is what I’ve been for most of my career since leaving university — but YouTube is not exactly a goldmine if your audience remains niche. My best earning video has made just over five bucks!
So, it’s a work in progress. But thanks to those of you who have subscribed to the channel or have stayed up late watching election returns with me. That kind of connection with the audience is one of the reasons I wanted to try something like this and the seven-hour marathon livestream from the federal election is definitely one of the highlights of Year 1.
Now, before I get into the number of paid subscribers to The Writ, it is time to say goodbye to the non-paid subscribers currently reading (yes, the dreaded paywall looms). Some things are meant to be kept behind the curtain, and not just the Weekly Writ, the in-depth analyses and the bonus election podcast episodes that paid subscribers get access to!
Nevertheless, to those of you who have subscribed for the free emails: thanks for reading! If you have any feedback about what you like about the site, what you don’t, and what would tip you over into purchasing a subscription, you can email me. (If you’re a student on a limited budget or you’re someone interested in a group subscription for your organization, you should also get in touch!)
The next 12 months should be lots of fun. There will be provincial elections in Quebec this October and in Alberta next spring (if not earlier), along with municipal elections across Ontario, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and British Columbia this fall. The Conservative leadership will only be decided in September. The Greens need to kick-off their leadership race soon. And major provincial leadership races are ongoing or about to start in nearly every province across Canada.
As always, over the next year there will be a myriad of federal and provincial byelections and plenty of political drama that has yet to rear its head. So, lots more to come from The Writ as it enters Year 2. Thanks for being there for Year 1!