[Editor’s note: The relevance of newsletters for news publishers has been growing in recent years,many using them as a very efficient subscriber funnel. We are refreshing this article, initially published in late 2020]
Here are 7 tips and suggestions from ex-The New Yorker and BuzzFeed Director of Newsletters Dan Oshinsky that can take your regular email send-out from dud to delight – and even a driver of revenues.
Read the full interview over here.
1) With newsletters, there is no algorithm god
Facebook, Google, Twitter and other channels are powered by algorithms that control the audience. You can have 10 million Facebook fans, but you won’t necessarily be able to reach them tomorrow.
Facebook could decide they don’t want your fans to see your content anymore, or that you should pay for them to see it. So you might be able to reach them, but there will be a toll to get your content in front of them.
Email will work today, tomorrow, a year from now… If you do a really good job with your newsletter, if you build a relationship with your audience, readers will stay.
2) Email is a universal tool
Email does a little bit of everything.
It builds a relationship with readers. It’s great at selling readers and converting them to new paying supporters. You can get people to attend events or online campaigns.
It’s amazing at driving traffic and starting conversations – the tool of choice for running surveys and getting feedback from your audience – and it benefits everyone within the organization. Virtually every media that has invested in email has seen successful results.
To top it off – it’s also a channel you own.
3) Newsletter industry benchmarks
Nobody opens every email they receive. Most people open only a few.
If you can get 30% of your readers to open your newsletter – a.k.a. a 30% open rate – that is very good.
Clicks are even trickier: a 25% click-to-open, meaning that 25% of readers who open a newsletter click on something, that’s really, really good.
The best newsrooms convert about 10% of unique visitors to newsletter subscribers. So if you have a million unique visitors, you should have about one hundred thousand email subscribers.
4) Even big newsletters start small
Smaller, local newsrooms should start with a daily newsletter. Start with the local news and figure out what your best version of a daily newsletter is.
It doesn’t have to be incredibly complicated to start. A really good daily newsletter could be an introduction at the start from an editor and then highlighting a few specific stories.
It doesn’t need to be particularly long. A good newsletter can be 350-400 words, with a structure and a couple of stories linked. It can be as little as 30-45 minutes of work for your team.
More from The Fix: 7 email marketing services for your newsletter campaign
5) Combine newsletters and podcasts to build loyalty
The podcast audience tends to be loyal and there’s a relationship there, too. They already commit time to you, so you can easily ask them to follow your newsletter because you might want to ask questions, engage, or share additional things related to the podcast.
A lot of organizations, not just the podcasts and newsletters, are thinking about this. If I have a subscriber, how can I get them to do one more thing that strengthens the relationship?
How to get them to do that one more thing? Bring them closer (e.g., by subscribing to a newsletter, or using it to drive an action). So that when you ask for the next step – to support you or become a member or donate – will they really care about you and have a good relationship across a few different platforms.
Those are the kind of readers – the ones with deep relationships across several platforms – are the most likely to convert into paying ones.
6) On paid newsletters and using newsletters to earn
Three years from now the number of individuals with paid newsletters will probably be pretty small. Because building your own paid newsletter means you have to have a big audience to start with. It might work, but it’s pretty hard to do.
But that doesn’t mean you cannot use a newsletter to make money. Not a Newsletter is actually a really good example, Oshinsky examples. It’s free and open to everyone, but the number one way Oshinsky gets new clients for Inbox Collective is via Not a Newsletter.
It drives revenue, clients, the talks that he gives – all comes from Not a Newsletter.
A lot of reporters, writers, creators are able to make money off of a newsletter because they have events, because they sell products like books or classes, because they can combine memberships and advertising…
There are a lot of different ways for people to earn revenue from a newsletter – building a loyal audience opens up a lot of possibilities to do really interesting things.
7) Resources for newsletter editors
There’s a newsletter guide that came out a few years ago that’s been really useful for a lot of folks. The Membership Puzzle Project has helped with a number of guides and resources, although more is needed.
Here are some useful links from Dan’s Resources for Editors + Designers:
- Newsletter Strategy Positioning Brief — a helpful doc for anyone who might want to launch a newsletter
- 25 Ways to Sign Someone Up For Your Newsletter — a guide to ways you can grow your email lists using strategies both on and off your site
- The Coronavirus Newsletter Playbook — how to build an email strategy for this crisis