Editor’s note: This article is sponsored by BeyondWords, a company that offers text-to-speech publishing services for newsrooms and other businesses. In his partner column, co-founder and COO James MacLeod looks at how audio newsletters can provide value for publishers and how BeyondWords can help them unlock it. 

As publishers place increased emphasis on subscription revenue, newsletters undergo a reinvention. Lists of headlines designed to generate clicks make way for personalised, standalone content that delivers value directly to the recipient’s inbox, keeping them engaged.

This trend is exemplified by the success of Substack, the editorial newsletter platform that poached prominent journalists and reached 1 million paid subscribers last year. 

In the modern media landscape, there’s a logical next step for the format to take. And that’s into audio. After all, the factors that make editorial newsletters successful are where audio excels too. 

Catering to changing media habits

Many news consumers are tired of never-ending news feeds. So much so, it’s driving them to cancel their subscriptions. According to NiemanLab research, 13% of news cancellations result from subscribers having too much to read in too little time. At The Economist, so-called “unread guilt factor” was the number-one cause of subscription churn.

Editorial newsletters provide an antidote to this problem, giving subscribers access to finite news experiences. Audio versions take practicality even further by allowing users to multitask. Subscribers can’t read your newsletter while they’re driving, doing chores, or working out – but they can listen to it. As a result, they’re better able to form habits and justify a subscription with your outlet.

Audio newsletter push notification

Convenience and prominence are other core factors in newsletter success. Readers don’t need to go to your site or app to get the news: they can get it right from their inbox, where they’re already spending time and where push notifications trigger engagement.

Audio newsletters unlock access to another key channel: podcast platforms. By distributing via podcast feed, you can make newsletter engagement more convenient for the millions of users on apps like Spotify and Apple Podcasts. At the start of the year, Reuters Institute found that 34% of people across 20 markets had listened to a podcast in the past month.

Listeners can subscribe to your show so that they receive the latest episodes automatically — and get notified accordingly. You can even make the feeds available exclusively to paying customers, providing another incentive to subscribe. 

Newsletters as editorial products

More generally, for newsletters to continue thriving as editorial products, publishers must cater to changing media habits. And as people with listening needs and preferences have secured better access to audio hardware, software, and content, the format has exploded. This, combined with the increased ease and affordability of audio production, has placed audio firmly in publishers’ sights. 

Audio articles are typically the first port of call. As David Tvrdon wrote: “Text-to-speech technology got more accessible than you think, and you should include an audio version of your articles. There are no excuses anymore.”

But there’s perhaps as much audio opportunity in the newsletter format, where consumers are actively seeking flexible news experiences. Combining the two formats could play a key role in building engagement habits that drive subscriptions and reduce churn. Plus, with a more comprehensive audio offering, publishers can better serve listeners and strengthen their sonic brand.

Delivering an audio experience

Larger teams may have the resource to record newsletters themselves, but in most cases it’s voice AI that makes the strategy effective. With the Text-to-Speech Editor on BeyondWords, it’s just a case of pasting the desired text in, selecting voices, and inserting any sound files. There’s a library of lifelike voices to choose from, but publishers may prefer to invest in a custom AI voice modelled after a chosen voice actor or journalist, to give their audio a distinctive sound and better engage their audience.

Most email clients don’t support audio, so it’s not possible to embed a player into a newsletter in the same way you can on a web page. Instead, like Substack, you can insert a player preview or button that links through to a web version of the newsletter. This can be an effective way to drive traffic to your site. 

Or, you can link directly to a web player. BeyondWords offers a customisable player, and every audio has a unique URL. If you distribute via podcast platforms, you can include links to those too, so that users can easily listen on their favourite app or save the episode for later.

You can also distribute audio newsletters on your site via embeddable players and playlists, or on social media platforms and elsewhere using shareable links. This is a great way to expand your newsletter’s reach and attract more sign-ups.

When it comes to driving listeners to your subscriptions page (or elsewhere), incorporating audio calls to action is the simplest method. If you’re using the BeyondWords player, you also have the option to insert clickable CTAs embedded in the player, accompanied by a pre-roll, mid-roll, or post-roll audio ad. These can play a valuable role in driving conversions, and analytics are built in to enable straightforward reporting.

  • If you’re interested in making your next newsletter listenable or launching an audio-exclusive newsletter, contact the BeyondWords team on hello@beyondwords.io. We can build a plan to accommodate your unique needs and wider audio strategy.