How Ben Cohen built The Banter, his politics newsletter

Welcome to the latest edition of Creator Collab House. I’m your host, Simon Owens. For those who don’t know me, I write a media industry newsletter you should definitely check out.

Today’s featured creator is Ben Cohen, who runs the left-of-center newsletter The Banter. I’ll start by asking him a few basic questions, but my main goal is for you, the audience, to ask him questions of your own. Ben is an expert on everything from U.S. politics to building a successful paid newsletter.

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Ok, let’s turn it over to Ben…

What's the origin story of the newsletter version of The Banter?

I started The Banter Newsletter in February of 2019 after a year of trying to save The Daily Banter, the original site I had run. Facebook had essentially demolished our traffic and it was impossible to keep the model going no matter how much effort we put in. Facebook basically drove a lot of small and mid sized publishers out of business in 2018/19 and fundamentally changed the economics of publishing. I could see a pivot towards email and subscription for those publishers because there really were no other options available. I had followed Substack closely for some time and became convinced they were on to something, so it just became a matter of when would make the switch. I poured my heart and soul into The Daily Banter for many years, and did not want to give it up. The newsletter gave us an opportunity to keep it alive, so it was a logical next step. The plan from the get go was to focus on fewer, longer, more thoughtful pieces and give everyone — including our team — a break from the 24/7 news cycle. 

What have you found to be some of the most effective growth strategies for getting new subscribers?

Good content. No matter how much you fiddle with format, send out pitches, run promotions and so on, the only way to attract readers (and keep them) is to continuously publish high quality stuff. A discount on the first year of membership does help though.

Can you walk us through the business model for your newsletter?

The business model is simple: you pay $5/month or $49/year for a membership. That membership gets you access to all our premium content, which is about 50% of what we publish overall. The newsletter doesn't generate enough revenue to be full time yet, but it is a big help. The aim is to get there in the next year.

What are some recent pieces that you're particularly proud of?

I've done two big pieces on Covid conspiracy theories in the wellness/spirituality industry that I am quite proud of. They both took a lot of research and time to get right, but I think they are important given the extraordinary influence some of the figures in that world are having on our battle with the pandemic.

How 'Conspirituality' Wrecked The Wellness World And Destroyed Our Response To COVID-19

Aubrey Marcus: How A Wellness Guru Became An Irresponsible Covid Conspiracy Theorist

What are the newsletters from other people that you open almost right away when they hit your inbox?

Well, yours is great! It is extremely important that I keep up with what is happening in the industry, and your newsletter is way ahead of the curve. I don't think I've missed a single one! I also get Andrew Sullivan's newsletter, which is great. I'm reading fewer newsletters than I used to though, and I'm sure that's a trend hitting our industry.

Want to ask Ben questions of your own?

Go ahead and leave your questions in the comments section and he’ll dive in and answer them.

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