This year, for the first time in its 10-year history, The Digital News Report (DNR) from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism features a full chapter exploring the opportunities in email newsletters. Setting out the reasons for devoting an entire section of the report to news consumption by email, lead author Nic Newman said it was about understanding the ways this ‘low-tech and often unfashionable medium’ can support sustainable journalism.
DNR 2022 devoted a full chapter to understanding email newsletters, from revenue opportunities to the role it plays in engagement.
- Email is not the main access point for most international news audiences; in the UK just 9% of users surveyed use newsletters or email alerts. But that percentage rises dramatically to 22% in the US, with almost half of that group saying it is their main way of accessing digital news.
- Email audiences are also older, better off and well educated. One in seven survey respondents over the age of 55 in the US said that email was their main way of accessing news. The vast majority (80%) of people who use email to read news are over the age of 35.
- Across 10 of the countries covered in the email chapter for DNR 2022, an average of 65% of those surveyed said they value email newsletters because of their convenience. This includes the opt-in control offered by email as well as the time-saving aspects in curated formats. One survey respondent said:
I enjoy receiving headlines in emails. I can read the article, or skip it, and use keywords for more research on the topic.
Writing for Media Voices, Esther Kezia Thorpe lists several key insights into email opportunities highlighted by the DNR 2022 research.
Potential for growth
Rather than reaching ‘peak newsletter’, the DNR 2022 spotlights the possibilities for publishers in expanding their email output. In the country with the highest rate of email news readers – Austria – just 24% of respondents regularly read news on email. The average across all markets is less than 20%. With almost everyone having an email address, the potential for growth is obvious.
Publishers still dominate
The rise of Substack has seen the number of high-profile journalists leaving major publishers to set up their own email newsletters rise exponentially. With all the hype that has accompanied each resignation, it would be easy to conclude solo operators dominate the newsletter space. However, DNR 2022 spotlights the continued dominance of mainstream publishers. Across ten selected countries, over half (53%) of those who get news emails get them from mainstream media organisations.
Despite the strong position held by mainstream publishers, the report found a significant overlap between people reading emails from mainstream media organisations and individual journalists. Nic Newman said:
This suggests that alternative and journalist-led emails, which often speak to smaller and more specialist audiences, are often used as a supplement to general news emails – rather than a replacement.
Payments are slow to take off
Paid newsletters are still not a major revenue driver for publishers. Instead the format has been used primarily to foster loyalty among audiences and drive traffic to subscriber offers or ad-funded web pages. Where publishers do offer paid email products they are generally part of a wider subscription proposition. The DNR found that 7% of those paying for online news in the US, the best developed newsletter market, subscribe to an email-led news product from an individual journalist.