Conversion Blues on Substack

Here’s where I play a tiny violin for myself

Karen Cherry


Photo by Luwadlin Bosman on Unsplash

Last week’s post about Substack Recommendations prompted some discussion in my newsletter community about the quality of readers from recommendations.

More specifically, how they affect conversion rates.

The thinking goes that new subscribers derived from recommendations are lower quality, less likely to upgrade to paying subscribers and will therefore make your free-to-paid conversion rate suffer.


Reminder: a publication’s conversion rate is the percentage of paying subscribers out of the total number of subscribers. For example, if your newsletter has 200 free subscribers and 4 paying subscribers, your conversion rate is 4 divided by 200 times 100, which is 2 percent.

Recommendation-derived readers are people who find your publication after it was recommended by another Substack creator. Some creators get a significant portion of their readers from recommendations. For example, my free publication gets 23% from recommendations (love it!)

When you get a bunch of new subscribers from recommendations, your total subscriber count will go up but (uh oh), your number of paid subscribers won’t go up at the same time and therefore your conversion rate will go down.

Does this matter? Nope. Not unless you are using your conversion rate as a measure of ‘success’ or self-worth, in which case it’s going to feel pretty shitty.

More free subscribers: always a good thing

Free subscribers are brilliant, even if they make your conversion rate go down.

No one is gonna get their wallet out to pay for your newsletter on day one — no one (okay, maybe your mum). You need new readers to first subscribe for free, then get to know you, and then decide to support your work.

More free subscribers will, eventually, lead to an increased number of paying…



Karen Cherry

Substack writer. Secret tree hugger. Aussie business owner with >$13K revenue on Substack. Refusing to dumb it down.