The Year in Review
Growth in 2023, top articles, and plans for the future
The Rational Walk grew rapidly again in 2023. Total subscribers increased by 74% from January 1 through December 16 which is nearly identical to the rate of growth posted in 2022. Readership is now over three times greater than it was two years ago. This has been achieved with only a small decline in engagement, as measured by the percentage of readers who regularly open emails. All of the growth has been “organic” in the sense that I have not run advertisements to attract new subscribers.
All writers are motivated by knowing that there are people who are actually reading their work. I would like to thank all of my subscribers for allocating their limited time to my writing. I would especially like to thank readers who have opted to pay for a subscription. There’s no greater vote of confidence in a very competitive market.
This update provides a brief recap of my work over the past year and an overview of my plans for The Rational Walk in 2024. Of course, this year is not over quite yet, so you can expect to see new articles in your inbox over the next two weeks as well.
The Year in Review
I published the following content during 2023:
30 Digests. Each issue of The Digest typically contains a brief editorial or essay followed by links to interesting articles and podcasts. I resumed publishing The Digest in July and there have been 180 issues published since January 2020.
101 Articles. I publish articles on a variety of subjects including business and investing, personal finance, book reviews, and philosophy. Of the 101 articles published this year, 70 are free and 31 are premium articles for paid subscribers. A few articles that were initially premium were later made available to all readers.
I avoid setting a fixed schedule for new material, despite knowing that a predictable schedule is a “best practice” in the newsletter business. I prefer to publish only when I have something useful to say. In 2023, I published far more articles than I anticipated because I had many topics to write about and the time to allocate toward writing.
At the end of this update, I provide a list of the top twenty articles of 2023 based on a combination of reader reactions and my subjective opinion. Since a large number of subscribers have joined in the second half of the year, I have tilted this list toward articles published during the first half that will be new to many of you.
Plans for 2024
The focus of The Rational Walk will remain unchanged next year. Business and investing has been my primary source of ideas for articles over the past fifteen years. I continue to find business fascinating and feel like I often have insights that could benefit readers. I plan to continue writing about Berkshire Hathaway each quarter and at other times since the company is of particular interest to a large percentage of my readers. I am likely to write about other companies as well. However, this is not a stock picking newsletter and should never be relied upon for investment decisions.
I spend a significant amount of time reading and plan to continue publishing book reviews as well as summaries of what I read every quarter. These articles have been among the most popular features of The Rational Walk. New readers might want to check out my archive of over a hundred book reviews published since 2009.
I do not restrict book reviews to business and investing topics. However, I am making a concerted effort to read more classics and this seems very far afield from my focus on The Rational Walk. For this reason, I launched the Great Books Journal last month to write about the great books of the western world. Since announcing this project, over four hundred readers have signed up. I plan to occasionally include links to my work on the Great Books Journal when I send out new issues of The Digest.
Readers can expect new issues of The Digest several times per month. The frequency and day of the week for new issues is variable based on the material I have to share. However, it will be rare to go more than a week without a new issue. I will prioritize my own original writing which could impact The Digest from time to time.
I plan to publish at least three articles every month. My focus is on quality rather than quantity. I wrote over a hundred original articles in 2023. However, I would rather under promise and overdeliver than disappoint anyone. My inclination is to work hard and I like writing, but I need ideas to work on. There are inevitable dry periods and I do not want to commit to a schedule that forces me to conjure up things to write about just to satisfy an aggressive commitment. I also plan to devote time to the Great Books Journal in 2024, a project I did not have for most of this year.
Free and Paid Content
I am making changes that will disappoint some readers. In the past, I have made most of my writing free. In fact, there have been times when I was inclined to make all of my work free. However, time is the most valuable resource any of us have. I believe in the “every tub must stand on its own bottom” philosophy and if I’m going to allocate my time toward a project, I would like it to be worthwhile financially.
The Digest. Each issue of The Digest includes a short editorial/essay followed by links to articles and podcasts. In the past, The Digest has been free. Going forward, the editorial/essay will remain free. I will add a new section highlighting the top article and podcast for the issue and this will also be free. However, the full list of all articles and podcasts will be restricted to paid subscribers.
Articles. Nearly all articles will be for paid subscribers. I plan to resume sending out article previews to free subscribers. I used to send previews but stopped doing so a few months ago because I did not want to be “promotional.” However, this approach does not work from a business standpoint. Although I have highlighted new articles in The Digest, paid subscriber growth has dramatically slowed since I stopped sending previews. I do not want to send out spam and promise to make all previews worthwhile even for those who choose not to jump over the paywall.
Comments Section. The comments section for all articles will be for paid subscribers to provide feedback, ask questions, and interact with others. Free or paid subscribers can also send feedback to me via email. While I cannot promise a response to all incoming emails, I do read every one that I receive.
I realize that only a small percentage of readers will pay for a subscription, and that is fine with me. I value all readers and I have no sense of entitlement. Hopefully this new approach will continue to provide value for free subscribers while providing even more value for those who decide to jump over the paywall.
I have set a price that I believe is appropriate compared to other newsletters covering similar topics. I have purposely set a price far below most newsletters that focus primarily on company write-ups and investment advice. The monthly subscription price for new subscribers is $12 and the annual price is $120. Those who are on the $10/month plan will not see a price increase in 2024 as long as the subscription does not lapse. A listing of all premium articles in the archive is available here.
Top Twenty Articles of 2023
This list is subjective but I have also considered reader feedback in terms of “likes” and comments. I limited my selection to free articles.
Earning Wisdom, January 17, 2023
Berkshire Hathaway as an Income Stock?, February 17, 2023
Fragile Capitalists, March 12, 2023
The Risks of Investing in Bonds, March 15, 2023
Berkshire Hathaway’s Fixed Maturity Portfolio, March 16, 2023
Enlightenment or Dystopia?, March 21, 2023
Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity, April 6, 2023
Moral Hazard in Banking, May 1, 2023
Debt Ceiling Drama, May 25, 2023
Death, Taxes, and Inflation, June 2, 2023
Warren Buffett’s Advice on Stocks vs. Bonds, June 3, 2023
The Use of Letters, July 9, 2023
Wealth vs. Income, July 25, 2023
A Very Strange Public Offering, August 11, 2023
Warren Buffett’s Canvas, August 30, 2023
The Power of Investment Journals, September 14, 2023
There’s Always a Reason, September 21, 2023
Three Lessons, September 30, 2023
Thoughts on Israel’s 9/11, October 12, 2023
Finding Your Life’s Work, November 14, 2023
Last week, I published a new article for paid subscribers about concentrated investments. The article includes a free preview. I focused on the special case of conglomerates. Do public companies like Berkshire Hathaway, which are involved in multiple industries, deserve a larger than normal allocation?
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