Understanding the Mix

By | May 16, 2014

Most everyone knows that I publish free online newsletters for a living. That may sound like a bit of a contradiction—earning a living from publishing something free. In light of an e-mail that I received from someone the other day, I figured I better lay out a bit of information about how it is possible for me to earn a living from something that is free.

You see, my newsletters are free in the same sense that over-the-air broadcasts from your local radio and television stations are free. Everyone knows how they make the money necessary to pay the bills—they generally sell advertising. Or, they may sell a product (such as a coupon book) or they may sponsor an event (such as concert).

The idea is that if they give something away for free (the content), you as a listener or viewer will stick around for the advertisements, purchase a product, or attend an event. If enough listeners or viewers do that, then the station makes money. If enough don’t, then they go out of business.

The other day I had someone who was kind enough to write to me about why they were unsubscribing from my ExcelTips newsletter:

Sorry Allen,

This kind of email just makes me want to unsubscribe which I have done. A culmination of recent attempts to sell stuff and unsolicited reminders makes me think thanks but no thanks. I am perfectly able to make my mind up about what I need without having it pushed..shame because it started well but has just become irritating. Perhaps the constant selling up and my understated English nature just don’t go together


vintage4Ralph’s e-mail, as sent, was a response to an issue of ExcelTips where I, in my “Publisher’s Notes” section, asked people to invite someone to subscribe to the newsletter. It seems my request was enough to push Ralph over the edge and cause him to unsubscribe after receiving ExcelTips for almost four years.

In looking into Ralph’s interaction with me over the term of his subscription, I couldn’t find any e-mails I’d received from him before, nor could I find any record of him having purchased any of my e-books or archives.

What is potentially bothersome to me is that there may be other “Ralphs” among my subscribers who think that ExcelTips (or any of my newsletters) should be free of advertising, that I shouldn’t ask anything of subscribers (like asking that they share a newsletter with others), that I shouldn’t let subscribers know about e-books or archives, or that I shouldn’t let anyone know about great offers elsewhere.

So, I figured I would lay out for anyone and everyone exactly how often I publish content and advertisements—in other words, the “mix” of the two that forms the basis of my business. I’ll break this out into sections on regular newsletters and daily tip services.

Regular Newsletters

I publish the following newsletters 52 times per year, once per week, absolutely free:

Each newsletter includes a summary for four tips. (If you do the math, you’ll see that I publish a lot of tips.) To see the tips, you need to click a link and visit my websites. On those sites you will probably see advertising. If you click on one of the advertisements, I may make a miniscule amount of money.

In addition, each of the above newsletters may include a single advertisement within it. Most are for e-books or archives that I publish.

Also, each issue includes a “Publisher’s Notes” section which sometimes includes a request for readers to do something—such as inviting others to subscribe. It is more likely, though, that the “Publisher’s Notes” section will include a comment about the weather, the changing seasons, a recent holiday, or something happening in my family or the world. In other words, it is a place for me to let you know what is on my mind as I’m putting together the newsletter.

vintage2In addition to the 52 newsletter issues that I put out each year, I also send out special notices from time to time. Generally, I publish a new e-book or update once every other month and make a special offer related to that event. When the event kicks off, I send out a notice. When the event ends, I send out a notice.

An example will help here: In the case of WordTips, this year, I announced the annual archive in January. I also released a new or updated e-book in February, April, and will do so in June, August, October, and December. Since each of those involve an announcement and a reminder, that is 7 announcements and 7 reminders, for a total of 14 special e-mails.

That means that I send out 52 regular newsletter issues and 14 special announcements or reminders, for a grand total of 66 e-mails per year. That’s a better ratio of content to advertisements than you’ll find at any radio or television station. In the case of WindowsTips and Cleaning Tips from Tips.Net the ratio is better still as I don’t, at the current time, have any e-books for those newsletters.

Do I hope you will take advantage of one of those special announcements and reminders and, perhaps, purchase an e-book or archive? You bet I do! Just as in the case of the radio and television stations, that’s what pays the bills. And, because of that, I really appreciate it if you do make a purchase. But I don’t kick out the “Ralphs” of the world. If you want to subscribe for years and years without any visible or tangible support offered in return, that’s up to you.

Daily Tip Service

I publish the following free tips on different days of the week:

This represents, in aggregate, 1,248 tips per year, with each e-mail composed of a single tip. There are no advertisements in these tips, although subscribers to Daily WordTips Nuggets and Daily ExcelTips Nuggets may receive notice of e-books and archives every other month, like the regular newsletter subscribers do.

How do I pay the bills, then, from those who subscribe to my daily tip services? Quite honestly, I don’t. I can only hope that subscribers will, at some point, visit one of my websites and click an ad there.


vintage3I hope it is clear that I don’t engage in a “constant selling up” (as Ralph put it) with my newsletters. I have no reason to doubt that he perceived it that way, but the statistics just don’t bear that out. I try to be very, very careful in making sure that the value received through my newsletters (as measured by the content) is many times more than what is received in advertisements. And, the ratio of one to the other hasn’t changed in well over a decade.

If someone believes that the “mix” of content to advertisement isn’t right, then they (like Ralph) should probably unsubscribe—you wield, after all, the ultimate control. I understand that the mix I try to maintain isn’t right for everyone. If you decide to take such a path, though, I would appreciate it if you would drop me a line (or leave a comment below) to let me know what you view as an acceptable way to try to “keep the lights on” (so to speak) so I can continue to publish newsletters that people will want to read.



49 thoughts on “Understanding the Mix

  1. David

    Of all the tips in your stable, I have to admit that I have only subscribed to Excel tips, although I have a look around some of your others now and again. I was introduced to ExcelTips several years ago and continue with it today.

    You were kind enough to publish my one and only “Help wanted” item and I gained greatly from the answers which saved me hours of work month in, month out. You also incorporated an answer I gave for someone else’s request for help. I have also been known to buy an e-book or two from you.

    Over the years you have been a conduit for gracious sharing of information for the good of all who participate.

    You have set out very clearly the rationale of your advertisements and, having subscribed for 4 years, the rationale and the pattern should have been absolutely self evident to Ralph.

    Emails from you that are wholly promotional are easily identified as such.

    Unless he no longer has any need for the information you publish and the help that you provide, it seems my fellow countryman has cut his nose off to spite his face.

    From your “Publisher’s Notes”, I quickly came to the conclusion that you are clearly one of the good guys out there. I hope you keep up the good work and continue to make a satisfactory living. I may even click on a few adverts just for the sake of it!

    1. Tip Enthusiast

      I personally think the man had a chip on his shoulder and was looking for a fuss. I agree with you, David!

  2. Ric Glines

    As more and more businesses and organizations are turning to email as a means to market themselves, we will probably be seeing more and more of us feeling the stress of sorting out those commercial messages from our other email. I myself have been unsubscribing from organizations that I support and businesses that I like, because I just can’t handle the volume of daily messages–too many of which portraying themselves as urgent–that fill my inbox. So when someone unsubscribes from one of your newsletters, they may be responding to the frustration of a torrent of messages that is much wider than what you yourself send out.

    Allen, I think that your business model of offering free tips along with advertisements for your paid products is legitimate. Many of us probably just “get it” that you need to sell stuff to stay in business. I suppose you might head off some frustration on the part of some subscribers by saying this explicitly in your welcome messages to new subscribers, but maybe you’re already doing so; it was so long ago that I first subscribed, I no longer recall how explicitly you stated this.

    1. Bryan

      Ric, after you’ve already subscribed, the Welcome letter states (near the bottom) “Besides the regular weekly issues of WordTips that I’ll send you, I’ll also check back with you from time to time with ideas on how you can make your experience with WordTips even better. Watch your inbox; you never know when I’ll send those to you. (I promise not to overwhelm you; I hate being inundated with e-mail myself.)” That’s as close as it gets to warning you that you’ll get some spam along with your newsletter.

  3. Gayle Larson

    Thank you Allen for the explanation although I feel it was totally unnecessary. I have subscribed to several of your newsletters for many years, have contributed a few tips and purchased several downloads. You have proven to be a person of integrity who follows the golden rule of online business where your ratio of offering information of value vs. advertising or promoting more than generously tilts on the side of value. There will always be one or a very small minority that will throw mud at a Mercedes even when you offer them the keys! So, if Ralph wants to unsubscribe and pay for solving his computer questions, who are we to stop him?

    Please don’t change a thing. I appreciate that the well-rounded information in your emails reveal the human being behind the expertise. Also, I still open each email (especially Excel) with anticipation because I know that tip will provide a fix, if not for today, then for the near future, and I didn’t haven’t to search or troll for it.

    You’re the best!

    1. Allen Post author

      Those are very kind words, Gayle. I do try to establish a “ratio of offering information of value vs. advertising or promoting” that (as you say) “tilts to the side of value.” It is nice when people recognize that effort. Thank you.


      1. Tip Enthusiast

        I tend to go along with Gayle. I’m still unsure whether I enjoy the new format or no, but keep up all your tips, please. I have used many, and I’ll gladly support your efforts with recommendations to my friends. Thank you!

  4. Dan

    I think that online advertising has become far too invasive into a perso’sn ability to just read and interact with the internet in a manner that is peaceful and enjoyable.
    Take Facebook, for instance. A data mining operation that is constantly evolving into a purely commercial advertising robot with little to no regard for what attracted it’s users in the first place, or how detrimental their sharing practices were to the lives of those users. I beleive this has bred a certain low tolerance threshold for many, I myself included. Knocking on my door is one thing, sticking a foot in it, going through my mail, address book, family photo album, and every ohter conceivable facet of my life is entirely another. Folks don’t care anymore and they are becoming more and more fed up. They just want a break from the insane and neurotic sales and data mining. They want some true leisure time on the internet, put their guard down, etc.

  5. Erik

    I’ve looked in my archive and found on Sunday 16-11-2003 a mail stated “Welcome to ExcelTips” and I read in it ”
    We are sure you are going to like what you see in ExcelTips. We encourage you to share the word and let others know about this free service”. Well that’s exactly what I did, I still like it, I’ve shared it with others and bought some of your excellent eBooks.
    In those 10,5 years I never felt I was pushed to buy something I didn’t wanted, most likely due to the fact that there was always more content then advertising.
    I only can say keep on doing your great job and you can count me as subscriber for at least another 10,5 years.

  6. Martin Shingler

    Hi Allen,
    I have been reading the excel tips for several years. They are excellent. I like the examples – they often provide the basis of a macro that I end up using for real, or simply demonstrate a technique that I can apply. It is also “drip-drip” learning; I get a bit more expertise each day – I would not be able to justify taking days out for a course on Excel.
    Your advertising seems very low key to me – and of course you need to sell to make a living. The personal comments that you add give the feeling to the site that there are real people with real tasks to achieve rather than being on the end of a marketing robot delivering a daily preset message.
    Please keep up the great work

  7. Dave Wolf


    I certainly appreciate what you do and also understand the need to advertise, to “keep the lights on.”

    My only objections are the occasional “mouse-over” ads that self initiate and begin blaring out audio and/or video, without user permission, when the mouse cursor happens to hover over them for more than a second or so. These unsolicited incursions create work-environment disruption not only for me, but for others in the office. That forces me to keep my volume very low or muted – and thus potentially miss important audio for things I am working on.

    A bit more selectivity would be appreciated – hopefully losing the intrusive content, unless users opt for it.

    Otherwise, thanks for the wonderful tips and ideas!

  8. Mike Brumberg

    I have been a WordTips subscriber since July, 1998. I also have subscribed to the Daily Nuggets since they have been offered. When I don’t get them every week or day, I complain, as Allen can probably attest to. Allen has always graciously responded. I have touted his work several times to various people and would be happy to do it again, if asked.

    I, too, understand his need to “keep the lights on” by advertising his books. I even purchased one or two, as I recall, although I have not been opted for a Premium subscription. Mainly, I have benefited from his tips much more than he has annoyed me with his advertisements. I hope you keep up your excellent work.

  9. jon halsey

    Do whatever it takes to keep the lights burning. Your content is too valuable to 73 year-old non-techies like me who want to do more than just surf for cute pussy (cats).

  10. Tip enthusiast

    Allen, I may not be able to use all your tips, but that makes no difference. If I can’t, I just pass it on. I have done so a number of times, namely money-saving tips; a friend of mine always needs tips like those! If I don’t know anybody who can use a certain tip, I just ask to “opt out” of that particular one. If anybody runs down your tip site, they have a big problem, that’s all.

  11. Tip enthusiast

    As a matter of fact, if you can put out more money-savers, you will make me a very happy subscriber! (-:

  12. Terry Collins

    Hi Allen

    I stumbled upon your website when I just started this job and had not used the version of Word supplied and needed to refresh my knowledge. How wonderful to find your free daily tips newsletter. They have been invaluable to me over the last couple of years and I have recommended your site to other Word users I know. The adverts are a small price to pay for such brilliant advice and do not mind them at all after all you need to feed your family like the rest of us! Also I love your friendly chat about what is going on in your world at the top as I know I am dealing with a down to earth human!

    Thanks again for your wonderful tips.

  13. Deb Fournier

    After being inundated with “in your face” advertising on social medi sites such as Facebook, your advertising techniques are hardly noticeable. Thank you for that.

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