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The Year in Review
Top twenty articles of 2022 and plans for the future
The Rational Walk grew rapidly in 2022. Total readership, counting both free and paid subscriptions, increased by 75%, with most of the growth taking place in the second half of the year. Whether you have been reading since the inaugural issue three years ago or just signed up recently, thank you for subscribing!
In 2022, I published the following content on The Rational Walk:
57 Weekly Digests
11 Business Profiles
It has been a very busy and productive year! The following articles are all free to read and, based on my subjective opinion, represent the best content published in 2022.
Top Twenty Articles of 2022
The Futility of Hatred, January 3, 2022
The Anchoring Effect, January 19, 2022
Warren Buffett’s 2021 Letter, February 26, 2022
What Does Buffett See in Alleghany?, March 21, 2022
Necessary Inefficiency, March 29, 2022
Auto Insurance Competitive Dynamics, April 6, 2022
Business Lessons from Tom Murphy, April 8, 2022
The Trouble with FIRE, April 23, 2022
How Berkshire Could Deploy $6 Billion, April 26, 2022
Kidney Failure and the Dialysis Industry, May 14, 2022
Buffett’s Philanthropic Record, June 15, 2022
Survey of the Title Insurance Industry, June 27, 2022
Wealth Clarifies, July 17, 2022
Survey of the Automobile Industry, August 4, 2022
Berkshire Hathaway’s Distorted Quarterly Results, August 7, 2022
Dempster Mill Manufacturing Company, August 29, 2022
Greg Abel’s Bet on Berkshire Hathaway, October 7, 2022
Observations of a New Costco Member, October 18, 2022
A Closer Look at Berkshire’s Q3 2022 Operating Income, November 7, 2022
Exemplars, November 17, 2022
Plans for 2023
“On the one hand you have … is that information sort of wants to be expensive because it is so valuable — the right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information almost wants to be free because the costs of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time. So you have these two things fighting against each other.”
Stewart Brand, November 1, 1984
When I started Rational Reflections, my plan was to use the newsletter to send out links to content written by others while continuing to publish all of my original content on The Rational Walk, a website that I started in 2009. However, I soon learned that many readers prefer to receive all content via email, so Rational Reflections gradually evolved into the main distribution channel for all of my writing.
Stewart Brand, the founder of Whole Earth Catalog, was ahead of his times when he said that information wants to be free. The cost of distributing information is now essentially free. Authors can create a Substack publication and distribute content to thousands of subscribers at no cost other than their time. Of course, time itself is not free. Time is actually our most finite and precious resource, far more so than money.
As I began to spend most of my time on Rational Reflections, I started to think about how to create a sustainable economic model and decided to create a paid tier for the newsletter in April. Many longtime readers immediately subscribed even before it was clear precisely what they would receive in return. I am very grateful for that vote of confidence! By May, I settled on a strategy of publishing Business Profiles which would represent the main value proposition of a paid subscription. This helped to more than triple the number of paid subscribers between May and December.
There’s a balancing act when it comes to deciding what kind of content to keep free for the widest possible distribution and when to use paywalls. Almost all writers want to be read widely for various reasons, most often because they have a message that they want to send into the world to a broad audience. At the same time, it is necessary to build a sustainable economic model that can justify the time commitment.
Here is my current thinking for walking this tightrope next year.
The following types of articles will remain free for all readers in 2023:
Weekly Digest will remain free and essentially unchanged. However, I will attempt to find sponsors for Weekly Digests in 2023. I will never accept sponsors unless I am OK with what they are selling, nor will I provide subscriber lists. It will be entirely up to subscribers whether to click on sponsor related material. If your organization is interested in becoming a sponsor, please let me know.
Educational articles of high value to a broad audience will remain free. For example, my article on I Bonds in December 2020 alerted many readers to a safe way to earn returns above the typical 0% bank account. My article on the dialysis industry published in May opened some eyes to the terrible diabetes epidemic.
Book reviews and quarterly “What I’ve Been Reading” recaps will remain free. The exception will be if I cover a book that is closely related to a business profile or other premium content, or is unusually specialized or detailed in nature.
The following types of content will be restricted to paid subscribers in 2023:
Business Profiles require a significant time commitment and will be restricted to paid subscribers with the exception of occasional free samples. Free subscribers will receive introductions for profiles and have access to Twitter threads, such as this one on Progressive, where I provide introductory material. I am targeting at least ten profiles for 2023, which allows for the freedom to consider one or two profiles that might require research that cannot be completed in a single month. However, my goal remains to publish one profile per month unless I can really justify that taking more time will deliver commensurate value to subscribers.
Articles other than those targeting educational content or book reviews will be paywalled. This will be especially true for any kind of article related to companies that I’ve discussed in the past in business profiles.
I will paywall content on Berkshire Hathaway. I am reluctant to take this step, but as specialized content that takes considerable time to create, I feel that paywalling such material is justified. All of the Berkshire articles that appear in this year’s top twenty free listing above are the type that will be paywalled in 2023.
Discussions using the Substack comment feature will be restricted to paid subscribers for all paid content. In addition, if there is interest, I could open up threaded discussions or chats with paid subscribers during webcasted events such as the Berkshire and Daily Journal annual meetings. I often receive emails from subscribers and while I cannot commit to in-depth discussions on a one-on-one basis, some type of community discussion forum is possible if there is interest.
Whether to pay for a subscription or not is a personal decision and hopefully the information above will help you decide. Purchasing a paid subscription provides access to additional material but also helps to support development of all free content. Of course, if a paid subscription is not for you, please stay on as a free subscriber and refer your friends and colleagues as well!
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Thanks for reading!
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