I write Now I Know, a free trivia/interesting facts email newsletter which goes to over 100,000 people a day. I have two books out and a fact-a-day calendar, too. AMA
I really like the one about where airline luggage ends up. But I don't really have a favorite. Every so often I'll write one and I'll really like it for a bit, but even those kind of fade after a while. I guess the downside of "fun facts" is that the surprise kind of wears off, you know?
As for how I come across them -- I have literally hundreds saved up at this point. My Instapaper is overflowing :-/
I dont see a fact about airline luggage yet
I'm curious to know about your Patreon experience. Are you happy with the results? Do you forsee ever doing Now I Know full time or just a profit-making hobby. Also, what platform do you use to insert ads in your emails? I also have a large email list and I'd like to sell ad space but don't know where to start.
This is a WONDERFUL QUESTION AND I REALLY WANTED TO ANSWER IT. So, thanks.
Patreon is great. I am working on a way for Patreon supporters to get an ad-free version of Now I Know. It's the dream scenario for me -- people get to read without ads, and I get to write without having to worry about whether it makes economic sense for me to do so.
I use LiveIntent for ads right now, although I've bounced around. They're good and have been consistent, and they sell the ads. It's a network-wide play so CPMs are kinda low, but that's the perils of being a one-man-band.
For today's Now I Know, how many times did you check your commas?
I didn't. I threw caution to the wind.
Perhaps this sounds brash, but I'm wondering, besides the satisfaction of making many of us go "I did not know that!" Johnny Carson-style, is there any financial gain for you?
ALSO, if you ever consider putting out an audio version and you need a narrator (through ACX) I would LOVE to narrate your stuff! What a blast this would be!
FINALLY, THANK YOU for your work. It's my "have a cup of coffee and start the day smarter" routine!
Yes, this makes me money. Not a lot of it, but there are ads, I have Patreon supporters, and I have books. I call it "vacation money" -- it's more than beer money, but not nearly full-time job money.
I'm working on an audio version and hope to announce it soon. :-)
Are you voicing the audio?
Probably not but I probably won't be involved in how that's chosen, either.
Is your voice not smooth enough?
Not even close.
Hey Dan! I have been reading Now I Know (website and book) for 3 years now and I can honestly say its my favorite part of my morning routine. My question is, have you ever had to scrap a Now I know because the explanation was getting too long? How do you decide on the length it should be? Thanks and keep up the great work!
Nah, I'll just truncate those. However, I did have to scrap a Now I Know twice: once because I had already written about a topic and had totally forgotten (that one really sucked) and once because the fact turned out to be untrue.
I ended up writing about how the untrue fact made its way around the web if you want to read about that.
The title really was cool on that untrue fact :(
Thanks. I really like my titles :(
Hi Dan! Big fan of your daily emails, I've been getting them for so long I forget when I started! :)
Do you think you'll ever run out of neat facts for the emails? Do you have a big backlog of things that you can go to? Especially with the two books you put out and the calendar. Maybe I'm just underestimating the amount of cool facts that exist out there XD
I don't think I'll ever run out. The way I see it is that there are 7 billion people in the world, so there are literally 7,000 one-in-a-million stories out there. I only (only?) write about 250 a year, so that's more than enough for my lifetime. And that doesn't include all the stories of people who are no longer alive.
And yes, I have a huge backlog. In fact, it's kind of unwieldy.
The one thing about the calendar, though: it doesn't have any new facts. It's all repurpose from the books. The publisher's take, basically, was that it's more of a gift than something you buy for yourself.
You only plan on living 28 more years? I thought you were younger than that.
I only plan on writing for 25 more years... I guess...
And how old do you think I am, while we're on the topic?
Hi Dan! I wanted to thank you for being part of my morning routine for ages now. Also thanks for adding the quizzes! Would you consider adding quizzes for older posts as they get linked in 'From the Archives'? It always feels like something is missing now.
How do you decide what to include in The Weekender? I really enjoy the variety.
Oh, I should do that more often. Typically, I don't go back and edit the Archives post unless there's a formatting error, but I'll see if I can get that into there.
Weekender is really the same process -- I have a folder of stuff and I just pick items out. I try and have a mix of serious and frivolous in there and I stay away from politics, but there are no other "rules" really.
Hey, Dan! Long time follower of NowIKnow...
What got you started doing this, and where do you get the information about these odd items? Is it primarily Internet? Books? Journals?
It's almost all Internet, but you never know where you'll find something interesting. Like, this story about how Kenneth Cole got its start -- I learned it from the side of a truck. I was in Manhattan and a Kenneth Cole vehicle was parked nearby and it had this huge block of text on it, so I walked across the street to read it. It had the start of that story.
Looks like AutoMod is at it again. Expect a redirect link soon?
What's that mean?
The post has a [removed] flag when following the direct link from /r/NowIKnow and the email link. So it won't be available directly from the IAmA subreddit. :(
What... that's ridiculous.
How many people reply to your emails every day?
Depends on the day. Sometimes only about a dozen. If I say "millions" and mean "billions" though, watch out; it's like the whole world wants to let me know.
Your emails are the best - they make me look forward to my morning subway commute. Have you ever thought about branching out to create more specialized blasts? Ones focusing on history, or tech trivia?
As emails, no, but maybe in other contexts.
In a society that now revolves around the Internet, there are too many news sites, pseudo-news sites, and content generating sites like Buzzfeed. And even Reddit repeats itself all the time.
I haven't clicked on a Buzzfeed link on purpose in a year.
But I read your email article every day. Thank you for doing what you do.
My question: Do you ever plan on writing a NextDraft-type newsletter as well? Thanks!
My answer: Maybe. It'd be one story a day, every afternoon, and not necessarily a recent one. Something to read during your 3 PM coffee break. Interested?
Well, I think why your articles are good (other than the writing itself) is because you have a great sense of what is both interesting and unknown to most people.
I think that idea is worth a shot, because I would read it. I usually read your article in the morning before getting ready for the day. So I could definitely see people reading your secondary newsletter in some moment of downtime in the afternoon.
Maybe put a message at the top of your email and say you're going to try it for a week?
That's basically the plan, if I do it.
What is your "day job" and how much time do you spend a day or week on research and writing?
Thanks much! Keep it up!
I don't talk about my day job here, but it's easy to figure out. :)
I spent about 1-2 hours on each Now I Know at this point. Some are much shorter -- I nailed one in 20 minutes last week -- but that's rare.
Hey Dan! Big fan of Now I Know, thanks for making us all a little smarter each day, been subscribed for years now. Since y poo u amazingly research all of these yourself, do you remember them all? Is it time to test your knowledge on Jeopardy? Also, how do you go about finding new interesting tidbits and researching bizarre and unusual facts? Thanks for all the bonus facts too and links to interesting further readings! Keep up the great work.
I remember the general concepts but not the details, so I'd be bad at Jeopardy. :)
Thanks for doing this AMA, Dan! Would you mind sharing something from your law experience, from school or your career? Like do you have any interesting anecdotes in regards to it, like something really cool or crazy that happened in the courtroom?
And thanks a bunch for Now I Know! More often than not, it's the best thing I find in email everyday. Keep on keeping on, friend!
My legal career lasted about two years and I ended up in a courtroom only a handful of times, and only once as an attorney at the attorney table. Junior lawyers don't do anything you think of when you think of what lawyers do. It's pretty boring.
When I practiced, I was one of the more technologically-versed attorneys at my firm. I had one case where the other side had found some email tracking service -- it basically dropped a 1x1 pixel in your emails so you could see who opened it (by IP address). There were some very senior lawyers on the case and they were FREAKING OUT about being hacked and all that other stuff that people who do not understand technology freak out about. I spent the better part of a week explaining it to them.
Wait, wait, I learned about this from a CGP Grey video. They had you working on..uh..discovery, right?
To a layperson, it still sounds pretty interesting, especially in the perspective of being technologically-savvy vice "my-Internets-are-being-hacked!"
Thanks for the answer, though; fascinating, as always!
Yes, discovery mostly. Also digesting depositions and, thankfully, drafting some pleadings and motions, which was nice.
Hi Dan. How did Now I Know start? Was it initially just a written collection of your late night random google searches that couldn't be contained? Did you do it for the money?
It started on a whim. I had gone to a couple of conferences and learned some random trivia at both, and I put those facts together as a "top ten things I learned this week" on a blog which is now dead. I put that on twitter and people were engaging with it, even though I had like 400 followers at the time. I had wanted to start an email newsletter anyway, so I went with fun facts. Had 20 subscribers to the first one and 100 in about a month.
I didn't monetize at all for a year or so, and then only added Amazon affiliate links because the hobby was costing me like $200 a month, and that's nuts.
Where do you get your facts from?
A lot from just my normal course of reading. There was something I read a few weeks ago where the author made a passing reference to something he felt was minor but I thought was weird, so I googled it, and it turned into a future story, for example.
Some are ideas sent from readers. A lot more are things I've stored up on Instapaper or in various Google docs that I've just come across along the way. I probably have a few dozen things saved on reddit, too.
Dan, I have to participate in my employer's "Secret Santa" and I have no idea what to buy my coworker. Any suggestions?
Hah, thanks for teeing this one up for me.
Try my website of Secret Santa gift ideas! http://awesomeclaus.com
(I love my readers.)
How do you decide what makes the cut for a Weekender? I have to admit, many times those take up a good chunk of my Fridays; it's probably a good thing they don't run every week!
Whatever strikes my fancy at the time. It's the nice thing about the project -- I write or highlight things on a whim, and no one seems to mind :)
it's more than beer money, but not nearly full-time job money.
What is your full time job?
Google it. Not going to talk about it here, sorry.
Are there any email newsletters that you subscribe to? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Start there with Hacker Newsletter and NextDraft. The Quartz Daily Briefing is good too. Brainpickings has a good weekly, Ken Jennings sends out a Tuesday Trivia one too. Wanna Google for the links for me? I'll add more after?
Was just reading though so I though't I'd list those website for you.
http://www.hackernewsletter.com/ http://nextdraft.com/ http://qz.com/daily-brief/ https://www.brainpickings.org/ http://ken-jennings.com/blog/archives/4552
I was always a fan of http://www.todayifoundout.com/ too.
Although, as I am posting this on an AMA I'm being told I have to ask a question or risk being banned.
So Dan, what's in the pipe line for Now I Know?
Haven't decided yet. I rarely am more than one or two ideas ahead, and I almost always write the day before. I may have time today to bang one out though!
What is the furthest you've gone to research a fact?
This is a really good question and I may have to come back to this one because I really don't remember. I've interviewed a couple subjects before, but that's mostly because I knew them already. Not much else though. I may have bought a book here or there but I can't really think of any. The Internet has a lot of information.
Hey thanks for doing the AMA. My girlfriend introduced me to your email newsletter and I have been enjoying it. Just curious, what made you start sending those out? Or how did you get this thing started? Did you just start sharing stuff with a few people and it grew or is what you are doing now the plan from the start?
Here's the story:
When the economy died in 2008, I was laid off from the startup I was working at. My job was focused on audience development (marketing, basically) and I'm really good at that, so I bounced around looking for a new startup to work at. I found one which was trying to build an email newsletter, and that was my job. I didn't run the editorial (mistake number one) and I didn't realize how hard it was to get people to truly opt into receiving emails (mistakes number two through 1,000). In short, I failed.
And it pissed me off.
A few months later, I had some success in sharing some random trivia on Twitter. I had the idea on June 21, 2010 to turn it into a daily email newsletter. I sent out the first one the day later and haven't stopped since.
I'm curious about costs & revenues. If you don't mind me asking -- based on 100k+ subscribers, what do you pay a month for hosting and email? I see you monetize with ads, Amazon referrals, donations, and books. Do you net a decent profit? Which of those (or others) tends to be the most effective at generating revenue?
My total monthly hosting cost -- Mailchimp plus my server -- is about $600-700. That's only because Mailchimp is the best company ever and cut me a steep discount. I'm sure they make money off me still, but they're great.
None of the monetization avenues work well alone, but they all work nicely in tandem. I make enough money to take a nice vacation, if I only had the time. This isn't anywhere near a full-time job.
Have you ever come across a fact or story that, although interesting, just seemed too depressing or dangerous to share?
I try and stay away from sexual assault stories although that's not a blanket rule.
The only thing I've explicitly passed on writing about is Koro, or "penis panic" -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koro_(medicine) -- because the spam filters would likely not allow that one to hit readers' inboxes.
What's your favorite "too crazy to be true" fact? Just something that was so out there and you had to go way out of your way to try and corroborate it, but ended up actually being true.
None, really. At this point, I don't think anything is too crazy to be true. I mean, there's an island in Canada where feet keep washing up on shore. If that's possible, anything is.
Hi Dan. I enjoy the emails from you every weekday! Knowing you're a baseball fan, I'll ask some baseball-related questions:
- What are your thoughts on the Mets season this year?
- Did you get to go to any of the World Series games in NY?
- Do you have a favorite team that you follow in the AL?
- Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?
Feel free to take this opportunity to talk about anything else baseball-related you might want to.
LOVED the Mets season. Wished it turned out differently in the end, of course, but this year was special. I didn't make it to any playoff games but that's OK, as I probably wouldn't have survived -- I get very nervous while watching.
I don't have a favorite AL team. Mets or nothing. :)
Growing up it was all Doc Gooden and Keith Hernandez.
On Twitter you were talking about starting up a second newsletter; did that happen?
Not yet. I'm still on the fence.
It'd be a hand-picked article to read each afternoon. I'd not be the author, just the guy who suggested it.
Judging by the Now I Know content you are regularly consuming interesting content, so, yes I'd be interested. Might be less work for you if you just started a third Twitter handle though. But I guess the question would then become how to monetize what quickly becomes a time consuming hobby? Another patreon campaign?
It'd be an ad-supported newsletter.
Here's a preview if you want to take a look. Would appreciate feedback.
You, sir, have a dream job.
My Q: After reading a TIL or ELI5 on reddit, do you sometimes say "DUH!" like I do, because you're amazed the redditor was not aware of it?
Nah. There's a xkcd for that.
That's basically how I feel.
What fact scared you the most?
None of them, yet. The only thing that really scares me to an irrational degree is very narrow tunnels with poor lighting. There's an episode of Star Trek Voyager ("The Chute," I think) which I can't watch because of it.
What is your favorite interesting fact?
Also, how do you come across these facts? Are you simply responding to curious questions that people send you or?
View HistoryShare Link