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Notes on newsletters

Following up my previous post on the membership business model for news, newsletters go hand-in-hand with successful audience acquisition & conversion into paid members.

Email plays a big role in audience engagement.

Email subscribers are 5-10x more likely to convert in a membership offering than non-email subscribers. Engagement goes hand-in-hand. The email address is one most valuable pieces of information you can have about a user.

For users seeking newsletters specifically…

Many sites have built newsletter landing page. Some examples…

Texas Tribune
Washington Post
New York Times

Proper lists and segmentation keep open rates high.

Out of the box WordPress could drive automated newsletters for categories and authors, but something like “breaking news alerts” would require a new meta value or taxonomy/term on the article. Other newsletters may not be automated but rather written or curated each time by an editor. While automated newsletters drive traffic, curated/written newsletters tend to be a common part of membership offerings. That said, for the automated newsletters, ad free subscriptions would give access to ad free emails as well.

The benefit to more lists is that you can target users during acquisition more easily. A secondary benefit is that during a potential unsubscription flow you can offer the user alternatives that might not have been presented to them previously. Segmentation may also be used to target deals or other offers to a sub audience – or to cull inactive/dead users to keep the open rate higher.

Signups are “top of the funnel” – keep ‘em coming!

Without new email subscriptions your list will trend towards zero over time.
A common and easy practice is exit intent modals that prompt the user to sign up. As well as widgets on landing pages and sidebars to promote newsletters. With multiple lists these widgets could be expanded or alternated to support selection of which newsletters and/or settings were desired for newsletter delivery.

Social media promotion and incorporating the newsletter into the core editorial flow are also key to associating the editorial product with the membership offering, as for many readers the newsletter voice will come to represent your brand – see Politico Playbook, Billy Penn, New Tropic, Charlotte Agenda, Texas Tribune, etc. One reason this may happen is that the newsletter is more likely to appear to be by the “outlet” vs a specific author or individual contributor.

Concentrating on a single newsletter is okay.

Simplicity sometimes does better than dividing resources among multiple editorially-touched newsletters. A number of the sites mentioned have a single daily (or weekly/weekly+weekend) newsletter written by the editor or another senior staff member.

These newsletters may feature the links that would be in an automated newsletter but typically with a different write-through than used in the post excerpt on the site.

There may also be additional writing at the top of the newsletter as well as other types of content like events, links, photos, etc.

Incorporating newsletters into editorial workflow.

“Use the sawdust” is a saying about the lumber industry, where there’s no such thing as waste. It’s about capturing value from your byproduct. In this case, newsrooms have a few:

  • Story planning and editorial meetings
  • What stories or events are known to be happening
  • Who will be covering the event and what the coverage will entail
  • Notes from the event (live tweets or otherwise)
  • Links or other content

Example: How Billy Penn shares editor’s notes…

How precisely do newsletters affect membership?

Newsletters are sometimes a main driver of audience. In these cases, like with Spirited Media’s sites, conversion rates end up being modeled as percentage of newsletter subscribers. The News Revenue Hub shared this data about their launch of membership offering this year. Spirited Media does not meter content so the membership program is primarily based on brand affiliation as well as some exclusive deal and event offers.

Capturing residual value of newsletter audience.

Not all your readers will pay for ad-free or a full membership. But even the “other” users are worth something, indeed they form the bulk of the eyeballs we’ll have on our content!

Programmatic units are available for newsletters, but higher margins will be found again in native or sponsored content, as well as direct sold ad units. Newsletters are especially good for brand and store launches as well as big brands that want to keep their logo in the public eye. Newsletter promotion can also be sold as an add-on to “website” clients.

Did you like this post? Want help with your own site? Contact me.

Philly Publishing – the technical partner for indy publishers

Read the other post in this series

Notes on the membership model for news

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