Manchester-based email newsletter The Mill says it has broken even a month before its second birthday.
The outlet, which publishes via newsletter platform Substack, now has 27,000 people in Greater Manchester on its email list and 1,600 paying subscribers.
Meanwhile, sister newsletters the Liverpool Post and Sheffield Tribune have reached 650 and 900 paying subscribers respectively.
[Read more: Why are successful paywalls such a rarity in UK local press?]
All three titles cost £7 a month for a monthly subscription, which offers readers, among other things, two members-only issues a week. This gives annual subscription earnings of £134,400 for The Mill, £54,600 for The Post and £75,600 for The Tribune.
The three titles, all currently published by Herrmann’s Millers Publishing Company and operating as a team, share a mission to produce quality local journalism that focuses on “important stories across politics, education, business and culture”.
The Mill is one of the few successful examples of paywall-funded local journalism in the UK.
The Mill, Tribune and Post all got a kickstart in June 2021 when Substack announced their project was one of 12 local journalism programs to which they would donate up to $100,000.
[Read more: Substack invests in ‘thoughtful and nuanced’ local news in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield]
Mill editor Joshi Hermann (pictured above, second from left) said: “I think when we started there was a lot of enthusiasm for what we were doing, but people didn’t share their secrets with us – because you know you do.” need to build trust.
“I feel like we’ve gotten to a place in the city and region now that people are reaching out now – the amount of advice we’re getting is really incredible compared to anything I’ve had before had in my career.
“Even when I was at the London Evening Standard, where you have such a large audience and are read on the tube every night, I never got as many tips as I do now.
“I think the challenge now is to build a team big enough to be able to pursue it. We still have a tiny team — there’s me, there’s a couple of full-time reporters and there’s a part-time editor, but it’s not a very large team given the size of — you know, [it’s] three million people that we’re trying to cover.”
One such tip came from a reader who pointed out that the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester appeared to have had large chunks of time without programming, which The Mill learned was an ongoing impact of the pandemic.
Another ran a story about a review site in town that allegedly bullied local restaurants: The story received 45,000 views and brought in a few hundred new newsletter recipients for The Mill and a dozen new paying subscribers.
The key to profitability for The Mill
Herrmann launched The Mill on his own and now employs managing editor Sophie Atkinson (pictured right), who has previously written cultural stories and essays for The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian. The Mill also counts on staff writers Jack Dulhanty (left) and Mollie Simpson (second from right).
Speaking of The Mill’s evolving editorial mix, Herrmann said: “How much cultural coverage do we want, what kind of coverage is that? We’ve opted for story-based and fairly idea-based coverage primarily, rather than coverage that’s all about reviews or whatever. We’re doing more politics than ever before, but we’re trying to do politics our way.”
He said that means that instead of following the agendas of council meetings, The Mill tends to try to put out a bigger article every few months that looks at “something really important behind the scenes”.
He added, “I think the most important thing for us to make a profit is that we produce highly differentiated journalism that you can’t get anywhere else about this city – and we do that consistently.”
He contrasted this approach with what he saw as the strategy of many regional news websites.
“They do a lot of things they’re not the best at. They make SEO content about when a football game starts. They rewrite press releases that went to all the country’s newspapers. They’re taking notes of what Piers Morgan says on the news this morning…
“The thing about all of these things is, yes, people will click on them — but you’re not the best at doing all of these things.”
And he argued that posting things unrelated to the region you cover “slightly undermines your brand.”
Herrmann had previously leveled similar criticism at Reach, the country’s largest local newspaper publisher.
Did Herrmann have Reach in mind now?
“I think Reach plc has a lot of websites that spend a lot of their time doing things that aren’t local journalism, even if the masthead claims to be a local newspaper website.
“There’s great journalism at the MEN, there’s great journalism at the Liverpool Echo. But there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t journalism and isn’t local.
“And not only is that a tremendous waste of time for their journalists… it’s also just erosion and erosion and erosion of these great brands that have been around for hundreds of years…
“It’s actually vandalism of really, really important and effective institutions in this country.”
Earlier this year, Liverpool Echo editor Maria Breslin told MPs there were “elements of truth” in the idea that Reach titles need to have a compromise between hard news and clickbait, but “there can very well be a way of doing it.” Breaking Snobbery When Proposing Some journalism is more valuable than others.”
[Read more: Liverpool Echo editor accuses critics of ‘snobbery’ amid clickbait debate]
Image: Manchester Mill
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