Trust in traditional media has declined to an all-time low and that’s a huge problem for publishers trying to recruit paying subscribers. In the fight to restore trust and rebuild loyalty, newsletter engagement has become an important weapon.
- Audience trust and loyalty matter; a website’s most committed audience members – those that visit regularly – consume a hugely disproportionate amount of content. While less that 4% of readers can be described as truly loyal, they will consume five times more content than occasional readers.
- The one-to-one engagement of email newsletters has made them an effective counter to the general ambivalence that threatens brand loyalty. “Newsletters are highly engaged media,” says Nick Dujnic, marketing platform LiveIntent. “Consumers opt-in to receive it, and they make a conscious decision to open and read it.”
- The regular rhythm of newsletter delivery helps build reading habits and motivates readers to subscribe to access paywalled content. “Newsletters are a great way to grow a subscription business,” says Adam Pasick, Editorial Director of Newsletters, The New York Times.
Behind the boom
Once seen as an old-school or outdated aspect of digital publishing, the newsletter sector is one of the media’s few true growth areas right now. Players from Facebook to Forbes are looking at how they can cash in on the boom.
- The headline grabber in the newsletter space has been Substack. A flurry of journalists joined the email service provider late in 2020 and its top ten newsletter writers collectively make more than $15 million a year from 500,000 paid subscribers.
- Eyeing the opportunity, both Twitter and Facebook have plans for newsletters. In January 2021, Twitter bought Revue, a Dutch newsletter company that originally wanted to make newsletters as easy as tweeting. Facebook hasn’t announced anything yet, but rumour has it that plans for newsletter tools are afoot.
- Business magazine Forbes has also announced a newsletter network. It is designed to encourage independent writers, or Journalist Entrepreneurs, to launch their own paid newsletters under the Forbes brand. The goal is a mix of revenue and ‘deeply engaged audiences’.
The future for the newsletter format looks secure as individual publishers, from legacy news organisations to pure-play startups, invest heavily in the future of their email newsletter businesses.
- The New York Times has over 70 newsletters. It’s flagship daily, The Morning, has clocked up over 1 billion unique opens since it was launched in May 2020. For the future, it plans to launch pop-up newsletters around significant news events – a briefing on COVID-19, created in just a few weeks, is one of the title’s top five newsletters.
- The Bustle Digital Group – a digital publisher focused on millennial women – has 2 million email subscribers across 14 newsletters. It is targeting 10 million email subscribers by the end of 2021 and plans to grow its newsletter business from seven figures to eight-figures year-on-year.
- Newsletter business Morning Brew continues to go from strength to strength. Five years from its dorm-room startup, the business is worth $20 million with 65 staff delivering business-focused newsletters to 2.5 million subscribers. Its founders don’t see their success in terms of scale, however. They’re looking for engagement.
- Morning Brew’s director of growth Jenny Rothernberg says: “While reaching subscriber count milestones is exciting, our primary focus internally is not on that metric. Our goal from the onset was to build, grow, and retain a hyper-engaged audience.”