Email is back! This isn’t a secret, and the laziest of searches will turn up half a dozen think pieces on the resurgence of the newsletter, dominated by the MailChimp-powered site TinyLetter.
Last November, The New York Times weighed in on a trend that had already been visible for nearly three full years, explaining the TinyLetter as a style of writing akin to blogging for a self-selected audience, “a small-batch brew tailored to the creative class, particularly those seeking to hone their prose skills in a semipublic forum.”
This May, Jia Tolentino mentioned TinyLetter when hunting for reasons for the demise of the xoJane-style clickbait personal essay. As one possible explanation, she quoted Awl alum Carrie Frye, saying, “writers — particularly female writers — [said], ‘Okay, I’m going to make an internet on which my essays go out in pneumatic tubes to just who I want them to go to, and no one else.’”
TinyLetter is a great platform (I use it!) for these reasons and for the fact that it demands so little from users. It’s free; readers don’t need to make an account to subscribe to your work. But alongside the resurgence of emails another cultural shift s happening on the internet: creative people who are good at making things that other people enjoy don’t want to do it for free anymore. That’s why the last few years have seen the rise of Patreon (and its use for everything from podcasts to video games to nude photos to memes) and the slow demise of sites like Vine and SoundCloud, which never found a substantive way to help their users turn a profit. A new platform, with an appealing ‘90s aesthetic and free website hosting, may be the perfect marriage between the two trends — if anyone can find their way there.
Double Bounce, founded and operated solely by 30-year-old former Chartbeat product designer Alex Carusillo, is a tiny mimic of Patreon where artists and writers can choose to give out work for free or hold it behind a subscription-based paywall. Either way, your work only goes out to people who’ve signed up to receive it. It’s currently the fifth Google Search result for “double bounce,” following two YouTube tutorials for better trampoline-ing. There’s also no discovery section on the site at all, so you can only find and subscribe to creators if you know them, or if they advertise their work on other social media platforms. (Disclosure: This is how I found the site. I subscribed to Claire Carusillo’s TinyLetter before she switched over to Double Bounce, her brother’s platform, earlier this year.) It feels almost alien in our current moment of influencers and viral stars. Regardless, Carusillo says he has a few thousand users on Double Bounce, most of them teenagers or early 20-somethings, and they already feel like a tight-knit community with crystal-clear ideas of what the internet can and should be for them. And most of them make at least some money, without getting millions or even hundreds of views.
Curious about how sustainable a seemingly magical little world like Double Bounce is, I spoke to Carusillo recently about money, the internet, making money on the internet, and the potential for a big, weird, email-first online community.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How did you come up with the idea for Double Bounce?
I love the internet. Everything I ever liked came from the internet. So many people who I talk to who are interesting sort of get washed away by the tide of angry people. The idea of Double Bounce was “how do we refocus away from these massive distribution sites that sell everything to advertising companies and how do we focus on smaller, more tight-knit communities?”
So, how is Double Bounce different than TinyLetter?
I love TinyLetter, and have taken a bunch of inspiration from it. When I started it was just about “how can I foster these communities?” but what I found out when I started talking to people was that they would say “hey, I got to get paid for what I do on the internet.” And that’s kind of what advertisers take advantage of. That’s the biggest difference between Double Bounce and TinyLetter. At the core of this, I want to make it so that if you have an interesting idea and a small fandom, you can build that and get support and if someone says “Oh, I like what you’re doing,” you can make some money and do it better.
Double Bounce supports multimedia and you get a website, there’s a chat room, blah blah blah, those are other differences. But really, it’s like “how do you make this a bedrock for people to build these communities in a way that’s more stable than just a bunch of follows.”
The idea of getting paid for online creativity sounds is something people are coming around to just in general, particularly with Patreon. People saying “I don’t need to do the stuff that I’m good at for free.”
It is my hope. The fall of Vine really brought it into focus for, at least a lot of my users, and the people I use as a sounding board. Everything felt good, it felt like the good times were never going to stop, and then they did and they stopped real quick. A lot of my users are younger — late teenagers, early 20s — for a lot of them there was this moment of like… It snapped into focus that these things can disappear. And while it’s one of my favorite websites, we’re seeing it again with Tumblr. That’s another thing that people have built meaningful work on. It might just disappear into nothingness, and it sucks. I don’t know that I have a solution to it, but there is something healthy and useful I think in moving away from “I have to have a billion people watch this for this to work.” You can do smaller, weirder stuff, I hope without people yelling at you.
What kind of…