illustration of the number five, representing the five subscription business topics for this column, Five-on-Friday

Five on Friday: Lawsuits, Newsletter Platforms and SEO Tips

Featuring TikTok, Shudder, Search Engine Watch, Substack and Microsoft

In this week’s edition of Five on Friday, we’ll share an update on TikTok, including a timeline with the latest events, and 5 SEO tips to attract visitors to your subscription website. Also, Shudder hits 1 million subscribers, journalists are turning to newsletter platforms like Substack to grow readership and revenue, and Microsoft Office may release a perpetual-license-based product in 2021 for those who don’t want to subscribe to Microsoft 365.

TikTok Update: A Timeline

The TikTok saga continues with posturing between President Trump and the Chinese government. By the time this article publishes, there may be additional changes. As of last evening, around 7 p.m. PDT, this was the latest news about the TikTok deal: WeChat and TikTok will be removed from app stores on Sunday, and the Oracle-Walmart deal that President Trump tentatively approved does not meet his conditions. Meanwhile, TikTok has filed for a temporary injunction to prevent the removal from the app stores this weekend. And the fight goes on…

Shudder Hits 1 Million Subscribers with Popular Horror Content

Five weeks before Halloween, it seems appropriate that premium streaming service Shudder hits the 1 million subscriber mark. Part of the AMC Networks, Shudder launched in 2015 as a streaming service specializing in horror, suspense and thriller genres. The streaming subscription service features originals, including Creepshow, Room, The Beach House, Z and Revenge, as well as classics like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In a September 22 news release, the company said it has seen subscription growth since premiering the original series Creepshow a year ago.

“The addition of original series and movies turbocharged our growth and turned Shudder into a must-have service for anyone interested in great horror, thriller or supernatural entertainment,” said Miguel Penella, AMC Networks SVOD President.

“Our relentless focus on quality programming, innovative content and finding the best up-and-coming creators has enabled Shudder to break out in the crowded world of subscription services. Shudder’s success comes as our other targeted SVOD services—Acorn TV, Sundance Now and UMC—continue their strong subscriber growth momentum by super-serving passionate fans with the content they love the most,” Panella added.

Shudder offers a seven-day free trial and ad-free monthly and annual plans, starting at $4.75 a month. It is available on a variety of platforms including mobile apps, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Xbox and Amazon Prime, among others.

5 SEO Tips to Drive Traffic to Your Site

To attract new prospects, every subscription company needs a website that has been optimized for search engine traffic. Here are 5 tips from Search Engine Watch to make sure search engines are sending traffic your way:

  1. Your site must load quickly to keep visitors and reduce bounce rates. Google says that 53% of mobile users will leave your site if it takes more than three second to load. That doesn’t sound like a lot of time but think of your own browsing behavior. Will you wait around for a slow site? I won’t.
  2. Your site must be mobile-friendly. Optimize your content for screen size and different devices.
  3. Use title tags between 50 and 60 characters long, including spaces. They should include important keywords at the beginning of the tag.
  4. Write meta descriptions between 135 and 160 characters for search engines to grab. If your descriptions are too long, they’ll get cut off, so learn to write “tight” copy.
  5. Headlines should be less than 55 characters to improve their visibility. Of course, you want them to be engaging, witty and wise too.

For more great SEO tips, visit

Good search engine optimization will drive traffic to your subscription website.
Good search engine optimization will drive traffic to your subscription website. Image: Pixabay

Why Journalists Are Turning to Substack to Grow Their Audiences and Make a Living

It is tough to make a living as a writer, reporter or journalist these days, and many of them are turning to nontraditional platforms to build an audience. Though they’ve changed their business model half a dozen times, Medium has been one forum for that has worked for some writers and publications.

Others are turning to Substack, a three-year-old newsletter platform for writer, bloggers, journalists and other creators to share their work with readers while generating income. Writers can built their email lists, add paid subscriptions, and make money doing what they love.

“Readers pay directly for writing they care about. Start accepting paid subscriptions in just a few minutes. Top writers on Substack make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year,” Substack says on its website.

We can’t verify the income claim, but Substack is getting a lot of attention these days. For example, earlier this week, tech reporter Casey Newton left his gig at The Verge to write a subscription newsletter. When asked why he made the switch Newton told The New York Times that readers follow writers, reporters and podcasters, not necessarily an entire news organization.

“People are increasingly willing to pay to support those people,” Newton says.

In a May 18, 2020 article, one of Substack’s co-founders Hamish McKenzie wrote about how difficult it is to get a good-paying writing or reporting job these days. Media outlets are regularly laying off staff, and the future of journalism is unknown, yet there are still important stories to be told and journalists who want to tell them. Through a platform like Substack, those journalists can still make a living while serving their audiences and being in control of their own futures.

“This is one of the key reasons we started Substack. We’re attempting to build an alternative media economy that gives journalists autonomy. If you don’t rely on ads for your revenue, you don’t have to be a pawn in the attention economy – which means you don’t have to compete with Facebook and Google. If you’re not playing the ads game, you can stop chasing clicks and instead focus on quality. If you control the relationship with your audience, you don’t have to rely on outside parties to favor you with traffic. And if you own a mailing list, no-one can cut you off from your readers,” McKenzie writes.

McKenzie further points out that the subscription model makes this all possible. To make $100,000 a year, a writer needs 1,667 monthly subscribers to pay $5 a month to read their work. For a new or unknown writer, it could take time to build up an audience of that size, but someone well-known like Newton should be able to do that fairly quickly.

McKenzie cites the example of Emily Atkin who used to write for the New Republic. She launched a climate change newsletter, Heated, late last year. Within a matter of months, she was doing significantly better than she had done at any of her previous jobs. Atkin was scared about leaving her steady gig, but admits she was wrong that it couldn’t work out.

“I’ve never seen the type of impact that I’ve had in a 10-year reporting career than what I’ve had with such a smaller news audience, and that’s because these are passionate people. These are people who are there because of you, and they’re invested in you, and they take what you do and they yell about it,” Atkin says.

Innovation through products like Substack, Subtext and The New Paper have the power to shift how and where we get our news.

Microsoft to Release Office with Perpetual License in 2021

Do you remember perpetual software licenses? You’d buy software like QuickBooks, Adobe or Microsoft Office for a flat fee, and you’d get a CD or a download link. You installed the software, according to the terms of the license you purchased. The initial price usually included product updates up to a certain point. As companies like Microsoft have shifted to the subscription model, perpetual licenses are not as common, though they do still exist.

Microsoft will release a perpetual license version of Microsoft Office in 2021.

In a recent post on Microsoft’s Exchange blog, the company quietly announced that Microsoft Office would offer a new perpetual release for both Windows and Mac in the second half of 2021. They did not indicate the name of the product, the price or who its target audience was. Instead, Microsoft said, “We will share additional details around the official names, pricing and availability of all these products later.”

“All” refers to Microsoft Office as well as Exchange Server, SharePoint Server, Skype for Business Server and Project Server, all of which are only available via subscription. The benefit of the subscription, says Microsoft, is the subscription entitles subscribers access to support, product updates, security and time zone patches.

While Microsoft has done quite well with its subscription products, it is smart for them to consider that a subscription doesn’t fit every situation. Not everyone needs the latest, greatest software to accomplish their tasks, and some customers simply don’t want to pay for a product every month for the rest of their lives. They want a product that is “one and done.” Microsoft appears to recognize that need, and they’re finding a way to fill it.

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