Newsletters have been a powerful tool for publishers of all ages and sizes in recent years. Despite recent murmurings around reaching peak newsletter, they appear to be a central to publisher’s future plans.
Top newsletter outlets still going strong
Newsletters took off during the pandemic with a sway of prominent journalists moving to platforms like Substack. Now that time to create and consume has reduced, “people don’t have as much time” according to A Media Operator’s Jacob Cohen Donnelly. As a result, we have seen various moves suggesting a stagnation to subscribing. Substack have reduced their lucrative upfront payments and Facebook closed their newsletter service Bulletin.
But this doesn’t tell the full story and we have seen green shoots of success elsewhere. The Dispatch recently moved from Substack as they had outgrown the platform. Axios were purchased for $525 million by Cox Enterprises.
In a world where social platforms are shaking with the turbulent Twitter takeover and Meta’s cuts are continuing, newsletters offer a stable way to build direct connections with consumers. There is hope for newsletters and publishers share this optimism. Peak newsletter may be another red herring so we explain why.
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82% of publishers to launch extra newsletters
WAN-IFRA found that publishers plan to persevere. 50% currently publish between 1-5 newsletters and 82% plan to launch at least 1 newsletter in 2022. Of this cohort, 66% plan to release 1-5 new newsletters, with a bold 12% planning to launch more than 10. This can be dangerous without a good and streamlined newsletter strategy to back it up. In our JAMES work, we collaborated with one publisher offering over 50 newsletters which became overwhelming for readers.
For 62% of publishers engagement is the number 1 reason to invest in newsletters. More than 30% if publishers aim to use newsletters to grow their audience through conversion and retention.
Retention and churn reductions are important goals for publishers. From our work in building JAMES personalised newsletters with several publishers over the past 3 years, we saw 50% lower churn on cohorts exposed to personalised newsletters than control groups. Similarly, The New York Times found that readers who added a subscriber-only newsletter were 20% less likely to cancel their subscription.
Newsletter-based startups continue to see success
Newsletters continue to be the bedrock of success for many news start-ups. The Upshot is a British sports newsletter founded in 2022. Their weekly (or triweekly for premium members) newsletter leverages that Friday feeling and takes a lighthearted look at the alternative stories from the sporting world. Their entertaining content makes the newsletter saveable and shareable and the “Sport on TV” section bids to make the newsletter a partner in life, outlining the events taking place and the UK TV channels where they’re broadcasted.
To promote growth, each email encourages readers to “Share the Shot” with friends, incentivising them with a programme offering secret anecdotes, a month of the premium Upshot Gold and then a free mug. Each newsletter also features a preview to a locked premium story to push subscriptions for the premium product rather than featuring ads. The Upshot has quickly grown to 40,000 readers through word of mouth and their success will be fascinating to monitor.
In the US, 6AM City launched their first newsletter in Greenville South Carolina in 2016 to cover local news beyond politics and crime. Their newsletter rapidly expanded, providing updates on events and city guides for residents across the US. This content is designed to be saved and shared so that when people want to find something to do, they’ll head back to their newsletter. With over 1 million subscribers and an open rate of around 45%, their newsletters have gone from strength to strength and continue to expand throughout the US.
The intimate and personal nature of these newsletters are crucial to success and their ability to build community relationships make them a powerful hook. Direct reach to readers is a special thing and a limited opportunity, so it must be done correctly.
New experiments with LinkedIn newsletters
LinkedIn newsletters seem to be proliferating the “My network” page. What is interesting about LinkedIn newsletters is their growth potential and reach. Growth is made easy through being able to invite others to subscribe to a newsletter at the click of the button. This removes the middleman of sign-up forms and data entry and lets people subscribe at the click of a tick button.
LinkedIn newsletters are powerful with their reach. They appear in your personal notifications, feed and directly in your email inbox. The trustworthy nature of LinkedIn means that these emails tend to avoid spam filters and place themselves in main email feeds. LinkedIn newsletters come with a send time warning as they can easily be lost in a sea of other LinkedIn notifications.
Publishers like BBC, the FT and Forbes are already experimenting with LinkedIn newsletters, each boasting impressive numbers. Out of the BBC’s 8.2 million LinkedIn followers (November 2022), 1.7 million (21.4%) subscribe to their Worklife 101 newsletter. 20% of the FT’s 6.9 million followers subscribe to their ‘Editor’s Digest’ newsletter whilst 13% of Forbes’ 17.8 million followers subscribe to Forbes Edge.
L’Opinion’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief Marie-Catherine Beuth offers an interesting use of the newsletter function, using it to publish the daily headlines from the latest news edition. It’ll be intriguing to see which other publishers jump onboard and how.
It appears that there remains to be life in newsletters for now. If you’re interested in more content like this, subscribe to our weekly Future of News newsletter arriving in your inbox every Thursday.