Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

The PainSci newsletter is one year old (and I’m taking a break)

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

I am going to take a holiday from the PainSci blog/newsletter for the rest of August.

  • I will publish some re-runs, content that 30-80% of subscribers have not yet seen.
  • I am not taking a break from my other newsletter.
  • I will continue to prepare content for September and beyond (and I already have quite a bit saved up).

I need a break because, phew, newsletters are HARD

I never thought that writing and updating a whole library of articles and books was an easy job, but it seems like a walk in the park with a piece of cake to a tea party after a year of producing this newsletter. 😜

Writing for people who have already paid me is a completely different beast from writing for an audience that only gives me money if they find something they want on my website. The pressure has been a bit epic. I thought I’d learned to work as hard and smart as I possibly could ages ago, but I seem to have found a new level.

And so it’s time for a breather.

Time for a nap. For a month, maybe. (This is a puppy I took care of for a week long ago. He was extremely worn out by something that involved a lot more mud than writing newsletters.)

A huge content surplus ready for September and beyond

I have at least a couple dozen posts that are more or less written. So why aren't they already in your inbox? The last step for any post is always a doozy: they always take 2–10 times longer than expected to polish and publish. I have more content to publish than I have time to actually publish. 😜

It’s a good problem to have… and a great time for a break. I will work on the newsletter in August, but I will just be preparing that content for release in the rest of the year. It will be deliciously easy to do that without time pressure for once.

I’m only taking a break from this newsletter

I am also publishing a much more personal newsletter about my struggle to cure or ease my own chronic pain and illness: “Project Try Everything.” You’re all invited to go on the journey with me. The professional and personal newsletters are definitely complementary.

I need to work on this project — “everything” is a lot — and the writing helps to motivate and focus me.

Newsletter/memberships timeline

  • July 2021 — Started the newsletter. After 20 years of just writing articles and books, I decided it was finally time to provide an answer to the most frequently asked reader question in the history of the business: “So, can I subscribe to your stuff?” (For many years the only answer was “if you know about RSS, sure.” Most people don’t.)
  • August 2021 — Launched premium subscriptions (and quite a few people signed up on my birthday, which was super nice).
  • December 2021 — Converted “premium subscribers” to “members” by offering extra benefits.
  • March 2022 — Started doing audio versions of some posts — a sort of pseudo-podcast.
  • August 2022 — Collapse in exhaustion?

Some PainSci newsletter stats (and thoughts)

  • Newsletter posts so far: About 120. It’s surprisingly hard to get a precise count.
  • Average posts per week: 2, which is lower than expected.
  • Average word count: 800, which is much higher than planned.
  • Biggest post: 3500 words, from the most recent member post, the one about the vagus nerve.
  • Member posts: 18 or 1.5/month, average length 2000 words (well over average blog post length). This is the most unexpected stat! My plan was to have a mixture of small and large extra posts for members, but in practice I felt highly anxious motivated to produce beefy posts to really “earn” your membership fees.
  • Subscribers: 1666! And several more every day. It’s not a big list, in a world with many newsletters than have tens of thousands of subscribers. For instance, Todd Hargrove's excellent newsletter has a much larger one (which he started building many years ago). But this is really not bad coming from a standing start a year ago.

And here are a few more details for members only…

  • # of Unsubscribes: 282 or 14%. Also: zero unsubscribes after any post that I thought might piss some people off. That’s a proper surprise.
  • # of Members: 282 again! Weirdly, this number actually is the same as unsub count. Again, not all that many… but decent for a year old project!
  • Churn rate: 5% of members unsubscribe per month. I have asked some randomly selected ex-members why they stopped, and, so far, the answer has always been some variation of “I’m a huge fan but just can’t afford it right now.” (I have nightmares that I’m charging too much.)
  • Revenue generated to date: Roughly $12K (it’s surprisingly hard to get an exact number). A good start. As planned, the newsletter is now supplementing book sales significantly, becoming a healthy slice of the pie chart of PainSci's revenue.
  • Monthly recurring revenue (MRR) from memberships: The “MRR” is the metric that all subscription business are most keen on. And how’s mine looking? It’s about USD 1320/month. It waffles up and down a lot as the churn rate adjusts, but so far it is been ratcheting upwards, higher every month but one.

Highlights and lowlights

  • Best writing: I am most proud of my “proteins of pain” series of three, which started with The Proteins That Help Us Feel the World.
  • Worst glitch: A recent post got sent out twice to every single subscriber. 1660 × 2! It was caused by a low-level glitch, some service I don’t even interact with directly — completely out of my hands, unfortunately. “Internet weather.” *shakes fist at complexity of tech*
    • Runner-up: During the winter, several members weren’t updated to “premium” after paying. Ruh roh! It was all relatively easily resolved, but yikes. *shakes fist at complexity of tech some more*
  • Nicest patient feedback: Someone wrote in with quite an amazing story about the effect of one of my posts on an important family medical decision, which led to happy ending. So nice.
  • Biggest regret: No subscription/membership tiers. I sympathize with my overwhelmed past self, but it was a strategic mistake. Tiers will probably still happen, just much later than they should have.
  • Greatest frustration: Typos! *shakes fist at typos* Despite extraordinary efforts, and help from many generous proof-readers, there has been at least one typo in every larger post, and probably even most of the smaller ones. It’s well nigh impossible to kill them all. Sending out a post and immediately being told that there’s a typo in the intro is a terrible feeling. Not serious, of course. But terrible! (I have one subscriber who is particularly good at spotting those!)

And again a bit more for members…

  • Nicest pro feedback: More than one subscriber this year has told me how influential my work was on their professional education — not just the newsletter content, of course, but they were responding to the newsletter, and that is definitely something nice about the newsletter. It encourages interaction, and almost all of that has been rewarding and helpful.
  • Hardest technical work: I do most of my own website programming, and it got pretty hairy teaching to understand the idea of recurring payments. After years of dealing only with customers making single payments for books, the code was quite baffled by these new “member” people. This is why I still haven’t done “tiers.” One kind of member was hairy enough!
  • Most profitable posts (posts that inspired the most sign-ups):
  • Least profitable posts: Five posts bombed, inspiring zero sign-ups, and another three netted less than 3 new members. The biggest surprises (and disappointments) on this list were a couple of recent ones, one about probiotics and another about placebo paradoxes. The “robotic mouse massage” post also stands out: a lot of work, at 2500 words, but not one new subscriber.

I’ll be back with original content in September! Unless you subscribe to Project Try Everything, in which case it’ll be later this week. 🙂 Honestly, that newsletter is going to be quite a good pinch-hitter for this one.

PainSci Member Login » Submit your email to unlock member content. If you can’t remember/access your registration email, please contact me. ~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher