2023: A Year in Metropolitan
The year in review
We hope you all had a fabulous Christmas/non-specific holiday.
Line goes up and to the right
This year at the Metropolitan can probably best be summed up as ‘slow and steady’. Steady like Jack Reacher, steady like Mary-Beth Lacey, steady like, er, the Rock Steady Crew? Maybe not them. But you know what we mean. Our total number of subscribers rose from just over 400 at the end of December 2022 to nearly 650 as of right now, which is year-on-year growth of over 60%. The average number of ‘reads’ of a piece rose to around 750, meaning we get quite a few reads from non-subscribers, which is cool. We can also see that most of our subscribers open and read our emails, which is VERY gratifying. (‘Open rates’ in this industry - the proportion of your email list that actually opens your emails - rarely crawl into double figures.) And we seem to have very little audience ‘churn’, with a remarkably low number of unsubscribes.
All of this is great. When we started out two years ago we wanted to reach a particular kind of audience - thoughtful, intelligent and engaged - and give them something that they wanted. These metrics suggest we’re going in the right direction for that. We didn’t want to grow in ways that would have been wrong for us: we didn’t want to do ‘Five hilarious continuity errors in Doctor Who’ or ‘Who remembers Toffos?’; we didn’t want to do long, whining essays about things that are ‘woke’ but we also didn’t want to just hop on somebody else’s puritanical-progressive bandwagon. As our brand promise (yes we have one, we work in comms and marketing!) states, ‘No dunking, no hot takes, no false nostalgia.’
Steady growth in an extremely competitive field is good; finding a loyal, intelligent audience (an audience, moreover, that is curiously attractive, extremely well dressed, and has charming pets and/or children) is even better. When we started off we had no way of knowing whether we’d ever grow beyond our immediate friends and family. We are still tiny enough to get a dopamine burst every time we get a new sign-up, a like, a comment or a share. We’re genuinely grateful to everyone who reads The Metropolitan. We know there are a lot of competing calls on your attention, and we hope your time with us in 2023 has felt well spent.
Ideally, though, there’s no doubt we want MORE: more traffic, more subscribers, more validation for our parched little writers’ souls. We think the core Metropolitan idea - intelligent but digestible pop culture for Gen Xers - is fundamentally sound, and that there’s a bigger audience out there that we haven’t quite found yet. Also, and just as importantly, we (principally Tobias and Rowan) put quite a lot of time into writing this stuff - probably around ten hours a week, between us - and we’d like to get more of a financial return for it. Which leads us to…
Plans for growth
(including some paid content)
This isn’t the best advertisement for our proficiency in our real-life jobs, but we have to admit we haven’t found reliable ways to grow our audience quickly. Twitter used to work pretty well, and we were delighted to get a shout out from the wonderful Victoria Smith (@glosswitch) earlier this year. But the platform’s degradation under Musk - and particularly the way X buries non-paid accounts - means it’s now mostly useless for getting our stuff in front of new people.
We have a hunch some of our audience might be on Facebook, but it’s a platform we are utterly clueless about. In all seriousness, if any of you have read this far and you know something about Facebook marketing and would like to help (possibly for some money, although doubtlessly less than you’re worth) we’d be delighted to hear from you - email us on firstname.lastname@example.org (this address also works for private notes and comments, suggestions, pitches and jokes).
Cross-promo on Substack itself works well. We’ve been lucky this year to be recommended by some wonderful Substackers including How About This, Harry Freedman, docu-mental, Think of the Children, and Oliver Johnson, the mathematician who became justly Twitter-famous for explaining log scales to a terrified population during the early days of Covid. We’ve also gathered a lot of subs this year via a recommendation in DeFiance, a Substack newsletter about crypto currency, which just goes to show that synergy is a mysterious beast. We’re not quite sure where the Metropolitan fits into any of this, but thank you all.
In this round-up last year we mentioned plans for a podcast; that didn’t happen this year but Tobias in particular is mad keen on the idea, so we might start to release something simple - audio versions of the weekly pieces - for those who prefer to listen rather than read.
And so. We said last year ‘Our goal is to get up to around 1000 subscribers before providing something extra for paying subscribers’, but secretly we’d hoped to be up to 1000 by now, and - as above - we want to both grow our audience and start earning a bit more from The Metropolitan. So we’re going to start to make some of our content available only to paid subscribers - on the principle that if we don’t place a value our content, why should anybody else? This will probably take the form of one of the four (ish) weekly emails every month; the others will remain free. We will be gifting free paid subs to the people who have been brilliant about commenting and sharing this year: there are a few of you out there and we definitely owe you, big-time. Sharing is really valuable to us when it comes to growing the audience, and comments and likes keep us going when we’re feeling a bit huffy. So if you’d like the paid content for free, get busy with the sharing buttons or the likes/comments buttons. If you’d rather pay around £4 a month and keep your likes, comments and shares to yourself, we would be extremely happy to take that deal. And if you just want to read the three free emails each month and ignore the fourth, that’s entirely understandable. We still love and appreciate you.
Look at this entirely incidental positioning of a subscribe button, right after the discussion of paid subscriptions. What a coincidence.
We’ve sort of turned around on our decision about when to go paid, but we have followed through on some of the other commitments we made last year. We promised to move our focus onto contemporary culture occasionally, which we’ve done through pieces on The Bear, Stranger Things and Babylon Berlin. These have been fun and we’ll probably do even more of it next year. Suggestions for things you’d like us to cover are welcome, as ever.
We also decided to be more systematic about our ‘formats’, the structured review pieces that fall under OK, Boomer (Boomer shibboleths), Friend in the Corner (TV shows), Can We Show The Kids (films), Track Listing (music) or X Libris (books). The observant among you will have noticed that this year we’ve mostly stuck to a pattern of running formats on alternate weeks. You probably don’t consciously care about this, but hopefully it means that in an average month there’s at least one piece that’s likely to tickle your fancy. In 2024 we’re going to be tackling the ‘big beasts’ that we’ve avoided so far, so hang on to your hats for Tobias’s definitive take on David Lynch and something from Rowan about Duran Duran (probably).
We also promised last year that we wouldn’t do a full month of Halloween and Christmas content. We stuck to this for Halloween but we gave in to our primal urges and did a Christmas month. The numbers for that weren’t great so ok, ok, we’ll really try to give it a rest next year. (You absolute Grinches.)
Most read this year:
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2,210 views): in which Rowan tries to popularise the phrase ‘macaron timeclash’
I’m Still Here, in D Flat (1,840 views): Postcards from the Edge and mums
Life of Brian (944 views): still great. The film’s not bad either, a-hahaha!
John Peel Has No Idea What E-Mail Is (891 views): low stakes in the early ‘90s
Eddie Izzard Live At The Ambassadors (832 views): the misunderstanding of a Gen X icon
Lady Caroline (816 views): posh people and their weird rules
Something Like A Phenomenon (792 views): A guest post from the eminent Dr Adam Frost (and hands-down our best social sharing image of the year).
The Draughtman’s Contract (782 views): we invoke the subclause to our ‘no dunking’ rule, which states ‘unless you can provide a sufficiently well-reasoned explanation for your dunkage’.
Blank Space (781 views): ‘Boyhood’, the Cazalet saga, ‘Twentieth Century Women’, and the empty nest
I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue (769 views): if you know, you know. If you don’t know, it’s bloody annoying.
To Lou T, Lou B, Tess, Carol, Victualis, Nick, Hayley, Annette from Non-Boring History, and Лариса
To Adam Frost and Jon Millington for writing for us, and to Annette Richardson, Chris Waywell, Finbar Hawkins, Lucy Thomas, Adam Goodfellow, Ross Sleight, Pete Wolf, Kate Williams, Margaret Fiedler MacGinnis, Bojana Sarenac, Anna Cook and Imogen Tilden for emergency support via WhatsApp and IRL
To Simon Stephens and Polly Heath, and to Morgan and Curtis and Bella and Pippa, for everything
Happy New Year!