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. Jan Schroeder

    Hi there Allen

    Ref: http://www.allenwyatt.com/blog/understanding-the-mix/

    I’ve been a premium/ribbon subscriber for som time now, and – frankly speaking – I fail to recognize the problem described by Ralph. It’s a question of ballance, which – I believe – you’ve solved neatly and in a very reasonable way.
    After all, there’s no such thing as a free meal…

    Best regards

    1. Allen Post author

      Thanks, Jan. I did fail to mention that I do offer premium versions of both ExcelTips and WordTips. Those versions are absolutely advertising free, although I still do ask those subscribers, from time to time, do do things like tell others about the newsletters.

      For those interested, you can find information about the two premium newsletters through this link.


  2. Ashley

    Dear Allen,

    I’m sorry to hear that Ralph has decided to unsubscribe from one of your newsletters for the reason that he gave. He has a right to his own opinion, of course, but I strongly disagree with him. He ought to have at least imagined himself in your position and thought through why you need to include adverts, etc. in your newsletters.

    You do not issue the newsletter for free out of the goodness of your own heart (well you might do, but you need not!). The vast majority of people need to earn a living in some way or other and the fact that you quite reasonably place a limited number of adverts of one kind or another in your newsletters, to pay the salary of you and your associates, simply tells me that you are more likely to continue issuing them than be forced to stop in the absence of adverts, because you need to go find another job.

    We all know that adverts can be irritating, whether they be on television, on the web or wherever, but as long as they are not too intrusive, they can generally be accepted for the kind of reasons given above. I do not find the adverts in your newsletters at their current levels in any way obtrusive.

    I’m just grateful that I discovered your newsletter tips when I did, so many years ago. They have certainly helped me immensely, along with the odd specific question or two that I have put to you, which you have so kindly helped me with.

    No, I say ignore what Ralph says and continue the good work.

    Best wishes


  3. Hugh Tannenbaum

    As a 72-year-old retired data processing professional, I am only sorry I didn’t find your Word Tips while I was still working. I have been a subscriber of yours for several years now. If I were still working, I would most assuredly have purchased your books by now. Unfortunately, I have no immediate need of them. Having been through WordStar, WordPerfect, and MS Word, I can vouch for just how helpful your work is. I, too, developed a series of tricks and tips during my career that I published internally for my co-workers but never had the audience you have. I commend you for the work you do and I look forward, every Saturday morning, to see the latest of your excellent tips. Thank you for your work.

    1. Allen Post author

      Thanks, Hugh! I remember the days of WordStar. (Or, more correctly, I should say I remember the days before WordStar. Oh my!)

      WordTips was my first newsletter, which I started over 17 years ago. It was an off-shoot from a book I had written about Word, which book used the same title. That book was an outgrowth of work I did in publishing corporations converting them over from pen-and-paper editing, internally, to doing work on the computer. Fun days!


  4. Peter Cotton

    Hello Allen

    I would not be to concerned regarding Ralph’s response. His description of his “understated English nature” says it all. Many English people are, by their very nature, of a reticent disposition, and do not take kindly to the “hard sell” approach of their American “cousins”.

    Not much else to say, although I thought you did quite well in describing your “raison d’etre”.


  5. Brian Crane

    Oh dear. There is no pleasing some people. Unfortunately, we live in a world where everybody want’s something for nothing. Yes, adverts can be an irritant, particularly when you are working on something. However, we the end user must be made to realise, we get nothing for nothing in this world. With people like your goodself, who run a business, while at the same time offering some damm good info much of which is at no cost is a happy compromise against a few ads. At least what you offer is tried and tested material. So why should you give all away for FREE.
    Keep up the good work and become a bit of a pachyderm when the odd client cancels out on you. It’s their loss!

  6. Susan

    While I may get annoyed at advertisements, I recognize that they are the reason I can get the FREE tips! I appreciate your efforts. Don’t let one (or many who haven’t complained) person’s negative comments stop you from your work/hobby/interest – whatever. There are more of us who do appreciate you. Thank you!

    1. Allen Post author

      Thanks, Susan. I won’t let it stop me; I just figured that there might be some “unclarity” among others who don’t understand the approach I use to mixing free content with advertising and/or promotion.

      I appreciate the appreciation!


  7. Ellen

    I find your Word tips to be very useful and always welcome. The advertising seems minimal and not intrusive or bothersome. Thank you for your efforts.

  8. Bill Kruger

    Hello Allen
    I read your comments with a great deal of sympathy for you.
    It is my unqualified belief that you provide an immense service to all Excel lovers.
    Your weekly emails plus any other communications you may send are most refreshing and certainly immensely helpful to persons like myself. Take for example your reminders of Mynda’s Dashboard course. My son has registered for this course and has already gained much benefit after only a few lessons.
    I always admire people that do not jealously guard their knowledge, but rather share what they know with others – that is exactly what you doing!!!! And hats off to you!!!!
    Like everything in life, you cannot please everybody all the time.
    So rest assured that you will get some people who have something to complain about, but I am very sure that the greater majority of your subscribees are very, very happy with what you produce.
    Please keep up the good work and I (and many, many others) will continue to benefit from your posts.
    Bill Kruger
    South Africa

      1. Mike V


        I’ll double Bill’s and Joyce’s comment. It is amazing how complex these programs have become and specialist are needed to get through them. Yes, I too remember the old days when we did work on PC’s where we only had 0.64MB of RAM.

  9. Leslie


    I’ve been a Word Tips subscriber for years and years. Given the small number of ads in the newsletter and the infrequent promotional emails, I’ve always wondered how you manage make a living.

    I suspect that Ralph’s problem has less to do with his “understated English nature” and more to do with his lack of respect for those of us who create content for a living. He doesn’t see it as work and believes it should be free for the taking. I’ll bet he pirates music and movies as well.

    I very much appreciate Word Tips. And if you want to increase your revenue by increasing the number of ads, you won’t lose me as a subscriber.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Daniel g smith

    I read each of your tips and love your content. I honestly don’t usually notice your ads unless I consider purchasing something . Keep up the good work

  11. Steve Jezard

    Some people don’t appreciate a good thing when see / get it.
    I’ve been a “subscriber” to Excel & Word Tips since May 2009 & Daily Nuggets since Sept 2009.
    I’ve also purchased a number of your e-books & often search them for solutions to problems I’m currently working on.
    Not every tip is of interest or is applicable for what I do – it would be truly miraculous it were, but I skim them all & digest the ones that I find relevant. It’s like You Tube or the Internet in general, not everything is for everybody, but there is something for everybody.
    As you say above the consumer has ultimate control – to buy or not to buy (subscribe). The developers of the fantastic software we now all take for granted, incorporated a delete key to remove stuff we no longer want.

    You keep on producing valuable information, free, paid for – only when everybody has unsubscribed is it time to call it a day.

    Keep up the good work.

  12. Joe

    Nice job on the ‘Tips”, Allen. Actually, I do not find the advertising and/or the solicitations offensive because the value added by the content far outweighs the minor inconvenience a few ads, which I am sure, are carefully selected. Just look at Google or Bing or take a leisurely drive down any street or highway and count the ads and billboards. Even public restrooms have legitimate ads and don’t laugh at that. Next time you need some rent money, let me know and I will buy a few e-books.

    1. Allen Post author

      Joe, thanks for the kind words. I hope that the e-books are helpful to YOU. While they do help with rent money (well, they help when they are bought), I do hope that the greatest value is to those who use them.


  13. Frank

    You’ve got to do what you need to do! I have no problem with solicitations. As a matter of fact some have been very rewarding. I wouldn’t worry about it. But thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  14. Hazel

    Like Ralph, I am English, and also reticent by nature. Neither of those facts would cause me to unsubscribe from your newsletters! I’ve been a Word Tips and Excel Tips subscriber for several years, and have bought several of your books as downloads. I find them incredibly useful, and refer to them over and over again.
    Why Ralph can’t simply ignore the adverts that he finds unhelpful is beyond me. OK, some of what gets advertised on your newsletters isn’t relevant/available in the UK, but honestly – does that matter?

  15. Walter

    Just to add to the positive chorus here, I don’t have a problem with ads and I have found some of them of interest, and have clicked through to see what they were about. Your direct solicitations also are not a bother and I have purchased some of your offerings.

    The service you do provide is very useful and there is a cost to you to provide it. If the ads cover this and you make profit to sustain it, that’s great.

  16. Don


    I’ve always considered your offers to be part of the cost of subscribing, like ads on TV, on radio, and in print. If someone thinks that cost is too high, that’s their choice. Like all other offers, I have the opportunity to say “No”.

    One thing I appreciate about your offers, after a short while I knew your cycle. After the first email, if I am not interested I know the follow ups can be deleted during the daily email cleanup.

    Another thing I appreciate about your offer presentation cycle is they remind me to act. I’m not an impulse buyer, so the reminders put the idea back to the forefront and if it still seems like a good idea I make the purchase.

    IOW, from a business perspective, it seems your selling cycle is works.

    Last, it seems from the other posters I am not alone. You and your work are well appreciated. That’s my way of saying “Thank you.”


  17. Tony2

    No problem at all with your ads. I sure feel guilty now for using all your free content without making a purchase, but I’ve never felt forced, or pushed, or bombarded by the announcements or reminders. Any other advertisements not directly related to the stated tech content of your site also seem very limited, so no issues there either.

  18. Tracey

    Allen, I have been a subscriber to the free editions of Exceltips and Wordtips for some years now and my first reaction to Ralph’s note was “What ads?”. They are not “in your face” at all. I have bought a couple of your e-books over the years and was delighted by the quality (and quantity).
    I’m also English and have no problem whatsoever with your mix. Many thanks and keep up the good work!

  19. Bryan

    I see the comments are a bit of a love fest, but let me offer an alternate take. By my count there are four kinds of ads that a newsletter subscriber would be subjected to:

    1) Site ads. These are the most annoying and are the “cost of doing business” on the internet. I would think most internet users are pretty good at mentally filtering them out. And they are targeted ads, which means they aren’t those annoying and misleading/dishonest “one weird tip!!” ads (most of the time, anyway). I actually occasionally get content that interests me on these types of ads.

    2) Newsletter “banner” ads. While your site says that you sell advertisement space within your newsletters, they are almost always ads for other Tips.Net products. They are predictably-placed and therefore really super easy to ignore. They don’t help me because I’m never going to buy one of the supplemental tips books, and because I already know about Cooking.Tips.Net, but they would be nice for someone who isn’t as familiar with the brand.

    3) The “publisher’s notes” ads. Granted, these *are* usually about something mundane (which I actually also find a bit annoying, but it’s not an ad so not relevant to this discussion), but I know exactly the newsletter Ralph is talking about, because it skeeved me out as well. That sort of hard sell brings back PTSD flashbacks of multilevel marketing schemes; not so much that I would unsubscribe from the newsletter (yet…), but enough that it lowers my overall opinion of the website.

    4) Unsolicited, non-newsletter related emails, a.k.a. SPAM. When you sign up for WordTips (or the other newsletters), the advertisement reads, “Get tips like this every week in Word Ribbon Tips, a free productivity newsletter. Enter your address and click ‘Subscribe.'”. There is no mention in this email that you will be getting anything other than the once-a-week newsletter. It’s common practice nowadays to include granular subscriptions, so users can choose to subscribe to the newsletters, the other emails, or both. If you don’t have this choice, and you aren’t told about the other emails until *after* you sign up (it *is* included in the welcome letter that I’m certain nobody reads thoroughly), then they are simply spam, the lowest form of internet advertising. Interestingly enough, however, this does not seem to be Ralph’s gripe, though I’m sure it contributed to his issues.

    (PS: I think it’s hilarious that the blog post defending advertisements is itself an advertisement for various Tips.Net products.)

    1. Jennifer Thomas

      Agreed – I guess I’ve been mentally filtering out online ads long enough that I don’t notice them and/or am certainly not annoyed by them on this or any other site. I was taught as a child to a consider the the source carefully before reacting emotionally to comments, and in that context I think you can safely ignore Ralph’s negativity — perhaps he is a newbie to online content and just hasn’t learned that this is the way the web works.

  20. Tim Cushman

    First let me say that I enjoy the emails and the tips. I would like to ask “Ralph” if he used any of the tips that he received in the emails. If you did, then you “got something for FREE” which, in this day and age is RARE.
    Sure, people give “advice” all the time but to have a professional give you FREE advice is rare. For that, Allen asks you to accept a very minimal amount of advertising. Come on now, if you watch TV, you get bombarded with much more in the way of advertisements in a 1/2 hour show than you get in months of Allen’s emails.
    Reading the above responses you can see that there has always been a lot of good information provided and for the little bit of commercials, it is well worth it !
    I use Open Office more than M$ Office now because of the cost but the tips are also helpful with that suite.
    Tim C

  21. Steve

    I have ben a subscriber to several of your free tips for a few years now and appreciate the great information provided. I have never felt put off in any way by the amount of ads there and realized exactly why they are there. I thought you did a great job of explaining your reason/position but sorry you felt the need to do so. Keep up the great work you do it is very helpful.

  22. Tom Redd

    I am so grateful for your newsletters. I have never felt that you advertise too much. In fact I have purchases items and I love your excellent advice. Please do not be bothered by the “Nay Sayers” because they undoubtedly are the people who think the world owes them a living. Those of us who work an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay understand–and appreciate–the offers you give us to purchase items that have value far beyond your asking price. On the rare morning when there is not comment update sent, I really miss my early morning read. Thanks so much for all you do. Your service is outstanding!

  23. Chris

    I find your newletters and updates quite useful. Keep up the good work. I completely understand your desire the have this service pay the bills

  24. Jayne

    I too have subscribed to a few of the newsletters and it appears you are running your business as a business. You do not “push” , “demand”, “intimidate”, to purchase a thing. If I see value to me I will purchase. Your newsletters offer quality and a good amount of quantity.Good luck to Ralph in avoiding “commercialization” in the world we live in.

  25. Char

    I agree with Steve and I have purchased a couple of your offers. I have never be put off by your solicitation and ads. I too receive more than one of the daily tips (excel and word) and love their content. I have used MANY of the helpful tips and I’m an old timer who has been using these 2 programs for some time. Thanks for the effort and keep the ads coming I have found the purchase of the offers quite useful in my daily work life and will probably purchase more as needed. Thanks again.

Comments are closed.