Alexander Pope’s paid subscription model
And my thoughts about adopting one for this newsletter
Welcome to the latest issue of Subtle Maneuvers. For a while now, I’ve been debating whether to add a paid subscription option to this newsletter, and I’d be grateful for your feedback—more details below. But, first, a subscription writing model from 1713!
Alexander Pope (1688–1744)
Pope has been called “the first business man among English poets,” a distinction he earned thanks to a publishing scheme that he implemented in 1713, when he was 25 years old. This was one year after Pope’s mock epic The Rape of the Lock became an immediate sensation; however, in this era, bestselling publications did not make their authors wealthy. Authors typically sold their work to a publisher-bookseller for a one-time fee, which allowed this individual to print and sell the work in perpetuity. (Independent publishing houses were a later invention.) This meant that a runaway hit was very lucrative for the bookseller—and The Rape of the Lock sold three thousand copies in four days!—and did not pay the writer anything beyond the initial fee. In a letter to a friend, Pope neatly summed up the situation in a couplet:
What Authors lose, their Booksellers have won,
So Pimps grow rich, while Gallants are undone.
Recognizing the unfairness of this system, Pope went looking for an alternative model, and he saw the potential in subscriptions.