I waited to send this until after the holidays
State of The Boozeletter™: 2021 Year In Review edition!
Friends, enemies, and PR people:
Happy New Year! 2022 is going to be our year, I can just feel it. Below is a big recap of the boozeletter’s performance and publishing highlights in 2021. If you’re interested to know what it’s like to publish an independent newsletter about drinking in America, dig in!
If not, do me a quick solid before you vamoose back to the wilds of your inbox, wouldja? I’m conducting an end-of-year survey to inform my publishing strategy in 2022. Now’s your chance to tell me what you love/hate the most about Fingers! It’ll take ~10min and I’d really appreciate your perspective:
And of course, if you haven’t yet, please consider purchasing a subscription to support this project. I’m an independent journalist and I count on reader backing to publish Fingers, so if you value my work and want to read more of it, snag a year of boozeletter coverage at 15% off today:
OK, on to the meat of the matter!
It’s standard practice amongst freelance journalists to do a big Twitter thread at the end of each calendar year highlighting their best work from the previous 12 months in hopes that editors will see those posts and hire them for lucrative, stable, interesting gigs in the new year. Dare to dream.
I didn’t do one of those threads this year. I actually got crazy-busy in December 2021, and didn’t really reflect on my work at all until after the holidays. So this recap is a little late. But that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of the work I did this past year, and in particular, the work I did here at Fingers. I am! Accordingly, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite boozeletter stories, interviews, and memes from 2021 below, plus an overview of ye olde boozeletter’s performance (open rates, web traffic, subscribers, etc.) from the past twelve months. Generally speaking, our dear boozeletter grew tremendously in 2021, and thanks to reader support, we’re poised for even more success in 2022.
I want to especially thank every single one of the paying Friends of Fingers who have stepped up to fund this project with their subscription fees. That goes double for the Fingers Founding Members who have chosen to kick in far more than asking price just to underwrite independent journalism about drinking in America. I literally couldn’t do this without your financial backing, and I really appreciate it. (Keep an eye on your mailbox for your Fingers x Butts by Brando sticker, which should be arriving soon!)
If you haven’t yet, please consider buying a subscription today! I can’t afford to labor for free, so I count on readers like you to sustain this project:
Thanks as always for reading Fingers. I’m proud of the community we’re building here and I’m glad that you—yes, you—are a part of it. Whether you’re doing January dry, wet, or… ah, whatever this was, I hope your year is off to a strong start. Onward!—Dave.
P.S.: Don’t forget to take the survey!
📝 5 great stories from 2021
On Fingers’ About page, I describe this project as “a smart, funny, and utterly unorthodox mix of award-winning journalism, interviews, and cultural criticism about how, what, and why we drink.” Interviews aside (we’ll get to those next), I think these five stories from 2021 best showcase the breadth and depth that I aspire to publish here at the boozeletter.
How to appreciate "How To Appreciate Wine" | Roaming the American drinking landscape with HBO's John Wilson
How the Twin Cities became a hotbed for craft beverage unionizing | How the Twin Cities became a hotbed for craft beverage unionizing
The sinister politics of pouring beers for dead troops | On the curious practice of filling pints for fallen American soldiers in Afghanistan
“My boyfriend loved it and especially loved the real bullet.” | A virtual shopping spree through the worst Blue Lives Matter drinking schlock Etsy has to offer, in collaboration with All Cops Are Posters
Budweiser's "super-calculated" Super Bowl sidestep | For the first time in 37 years, the King of Beers will skip the Big Game. But what does that *mean,* exactly?
🎙️3 fascinating interviews from 2021
I hate to play favorites, because I value all my interviewees’ time and perspective. That’s why I chose to interview them in the first place! Still, three conversations from last year really stood out to me because of the ways in which guests’ expertise—in the music industry, 20th-century social justice organizing, and modern supermarkets, respectively—added nuance and dimension to my understanding of the beverage alcohol business. Really looking forward to more interviews and podcasts in 2022!
"Anybody that partners with the machine has this really naive way of thinking" | The Fingers interview with Dan Ozzi, music journalist and author of 'Sellout'
"They were dumping money into these events, and every time they did, boycotters would show up." | The Fingers interview with Allyson Brantley, Ph.D., on the historic Coors boycott, the pitfalls of consumer activism without endpoints, and more
"In the face of commodity, we've replaced all of the nuance of goods with marketing." | The Fingers interview with Benjamin Lorr on 'The Secret Life of Groceries,' the fearsome power of commodity, and more
🤳3 dank memes from 2021
I launched an Instagram for Fingers early on, but it was only midway through 2021 that I began posting original content to the account. Turns out, I love creating memes! They’re like little puzzles—you have to understand the dynamic presented in the underlying media, then recontextualize it based on tropes and in-jokes your audience will understand. It’s actually pretty challenging and stimulating, so no surprise that it’s become my preferred writing procrastination tactic. Below are three of the most-liked posts of the past year. I’ll be posting plenty more throughout 2022, so if you haven’t yet, follow @its.fingers now!
📈 State of The Boozeletter™: 2021 Year In Review edition!
Still with me? Right on. Thanks for reading this far. Like I said up top, 2021 was a big year for Fingers. Some topline figures:
58% net increase in free sign-ups vs. 2020
8.3% of total audience are paying Friends of Fingers
38% average open rate (closer to 46% if you exclude the first six months of 2021 when I was publishing more sporadically)
I’m not a professional email marketer by any stretch, but from my conversations with other independent publishers and reading analyses like this one and this one, these are healthy figures! I try to avoid getting too obsessed with the boozeletter’s “performance metrics,” but from what I can tell, things are trending in the right direction.
Ditto for Fingers web traffic. It’s still pretty dependent on the email sends, which account for most of the spikes you see in the chart below. But the off-day traffic is also growing pretty steadily, too. Cool!
According to my Substack dashboard (which, to be fair, is pretty bare bones, so grain of salt and all that) Fingers’ top web traffic sources are, in order:
Direct: People either clicking through from the email, or typing the URL directly into their web browser like a sicko;
Google: Not totally sure about this one, but I’m assuming it’s search traffic? Or maybe it’s Gmail click-throughs? I should probably figure this out.
Twitter: The most successful publishers on Substack seem to have strong built in Twitter audiences. As Garbage Day’s Ryan Broderick bluntly put it the other day: “Substack traffic is Twitter traffic […] Substack seems to be either a companion service or a replacement for Twitter for a lot of readers.”
So that’s how everything is going performance-wise. As far as money-wise: since turning on paid subscriptions in September 2021, Fingers has grossed subscription fees in the high four figures thanks to the generous support of Friends of Fingers that have stepped up to pay for my labor. (If you haven’t yet, no time like the present!) I’m of two distinct minds when it comes to evaluating this revenue:
It’s extremely cool that anyone is willing to pay for this work, and I’m very grateful to have the extra dough.
After platform fees and taxes, I haven’t really made that much money, and certainly not enough to sustain this project longterm.
Simply put, to keep the boozeletter going, I have to increase the income it generates in 2022. So this is going to be a formative year for the boozeletter. To start things off, this month I’m participating in Substack’s Grow fellowship, which in addition to some very-welcome grant money also gives me access to other publishers and platform reps to share ideas for how to… well, grow this project further. Stay tuned!