Newsletters: How to launch a successful one

Man Reading Newspaper, by Mike Prince, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

This is going to a very meta post because I’m writing about a post from another newsletter about newsletters from the writer of another newsletter.

A couple of days ago, I spotted this very good newsletter from Poytner about journalism tools, and today, Ren LaForme offers up praise for a morning newsletter that he gets from Buffalo, New York, a place where he hasn’t lived more than a decade ago.

It’s both informative and interesting. It’s packed with voice — from individual reporters on the top stories and freelancer Brian Meyer on the roundups, with the occasional edition from Max Kalnitz (a fellow Spectrum student newspaper alumnus) — without losing its institutional authority

In praise of the morning newsletter, by Ren LaForme, Poynter

It’s a great summary of what makes a great newsletter, and being a newsletter about journalism tools, he also links off to a brilliant post by solo businessman Paul Jarvis about newsletters, which are critical to his business. Reading Paul’s post makes me wonder if newsletters are the new blogs – a personal publishing vehicle that helps a person build a professional profile.

Paul has a lot of pithy advice about newsletters, and it’s really useful. He lists three styles of newsletters that are successful, although I’ve seen others list more. For Paul, most successful newsletters are either long-form writing, the roundup (which is my newsletter) or news.

To be successful, he says that you first need to remember that you have to write, and I’ll say that I started doing my newsletter more intentionally to get me back in the habit of writing. I was offering up too many excuses and letting my perfectionism get the best of me. I felt like I needed something weighty to say to write, and slowly over time, the barrier to what was substantial enough to write became greater. Writing a quick summary of my newsletter, lowered that barrier, and it got me back in the habit of writing. The momentum now feels self-sustaining.

I also like this formulation that Paul has about the magic of newsletters:

Newsletters are interesting because they’re the only form of communication where 1:1 and 1:many exist in the same place.

My newsletter approach, by Paul Jarvis

As he says, writing a newsletter needs a cadence. I’m quite surprised that I have been doing this thing almost daily now since last autumn. I have had to flex how I do this as my work schedule changes, but I’ve been able to commit to it more as I got into it more and got more subscribers.

Paul has a great list for how to start your own newsletter. I’ll highlight just point number two:

Where do those people who should be on your newsletter currently spend their time? Who do they currently read? Who has these people as part of their audience already?

All in all, if newsletters are part of your work or are on your agenda, then you’ll want to bookmark Paul’s write-up of his approach.

Right, I better get back to prepping for my newsletter launch at work next week. Thanks for reading, and if you have a story that you think should be in my international media and journalism business letter, please drop me a link on Twitter, @kevglobal.

Chartbeat’s 2019 lessons for publishers who want more subscribers

On target, by viZZZual.com, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Occasionally there is an article that really stands out from all of the other media business intelligence, and today, the top story in my media newsletter today is one to bookmark. Nancy Lee, a senior product manager with Chartbeat, summarises 400 hours of research the analytics company did on subscriptions.

There is so much in this post and so many times that I was agreeing violently, but I’ll just highlight some of the points that really stood out for me.

  • Publishers’ infrastructure is still focused on advertising-led businesses and have not kept pace with the shift to reader revenue.
  • Email is still a neglected and overlooked channel for many publishers. “The energy behind email’s return is that it remains the most cost efficient way to test conversion and retention strategies. There’s little risk and plenty of reward for readers to opt-in to newsletters and other distribution lists.”
  • The point that really leapt out at me was how editorial thinking and content strategy are now being married to product thinking. And they touch on the cultural issues that can arise in that shift in thinking. That’s an entire article on its own.

This post is a great conversation starter, and it’s so economical in its communication. I will definitely be using it when we have some of these conversations in my shop.

As always, if you’re not a subscriber to the newsletter yet, click on over to my Nuzzel profile page. And if you have a story that you think should be on the site, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.

Can free iPads help an Arkansas newspaper wean readers off of print?

Apple iPad, by John Karakatsanis, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello new subscribers and long-time readers! I’m back after my long bank holiday weekend.

Lots of interesting news over the long weekend, but a story out of the US state of Arkansas caught my eye for my media newsletter today. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which goes out to the entire state, is promising readers that their subscription price will stay the same, $36, but it won’t be coming to them daily in print. The paper will still be printed and delivered on Sunday, but other days, they will have to read it digitally. And to sweeten the offer, the newspaper is offering a free iPad to read the ‘paper’ digitally.

As Rick Edmonds at the Poynter Institute pointed out in the AP story, this has been tried before. It hasn’t been a roaring success.

I think that this might be worth watching because the publisher is going out to civic clubs to make the pitch in person, and the newspaper isn’t just offering a free iPad but also training on how to use the digital edition. Will the personal touch be enough to win over subscribers and return the paper to profit by 2020? It’s one to watch.

If you’d like this story and others daily, you can subscribe to my international media newsletter on my Nuzzel profile page. And please, send along media business stories to me on Twitter, @kevglobal.

How the Seattle Times earned $400,000 from its morning newsletter

H&R Block, from Giphy

Talking about newsletters in my newsletter today. How meta.

But seriously, newsletters are one of the hot topics in media right now because we have so much data on how they are the first step to converting a user to a subscriber. Or, put another way, newsletters are the “zero subscription” as a Google product manager said at the Google News Initiative Summit that I attended in March.

Poytner has a great interview with Kris Higginson, the editor and lead writer for the Seattle Times’ Morning Brief newsletter. Higginson will be leading a seminar on 25 May about developing a successful newsletter at Poynter.

One thing to note: They use Salesforce Marketing Cloud to produce their newsletter. They had been using Mailchimp, which is what a lot of companies, including mine use. Despite the issues always involved in transitioning to a new platform, Salesforce is important to their strategy because:

Marketing Cloud is part of a bigger suite of programs. It lets the business side have more insight into audience behavior. We can see what content drives conversion. We can offer related content based on individual user habits. These abilities underscore our goal of increasing digital subscriptions.

Behind the success of The Seattle Times’ Morning Brief newsletter, by Mel Grau, Poynter

Hello to even more new subscribers. Wahay! And being new here, if you are new here, I want to extend an invitation to pass along interesting reads to me on Twitter, @kevglobal And if you aren’t a subscriber yet, get the full round of interesting in your inbox every weekday by signing up at my Nuzzel profile.

How Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter slashed churn and other paid content lessons


 Every morning Dagens Nyheter, by Elgar Hollard, from Wikimedia Commons

Hello and welcome to even more new subscribers! New subscribers mean that this is useful to you and keeps me excited to continue doing this.

Today’s newsletter is like Chinese takeout, a bit of sweet and sour. First, the sweet: Digiday has a great piece looking at how Dagens Nyheter has halved churn over the last couple of years. Digital subscribers overtook print ones in May of this year. They are converting 2000 subscribers a week, and digital subscriber revenue has overtaken advertising as their largest digital revenue stream.

From a conversion standpoint, they have developed a hybrid three-layer paid content system: Metered, premium and dynamic. The dynamic layer puts content that attracts a significant amount of traffic in three to four hours behind the paywall.

In terms of conversion, they have found that the first four to six months are critical in reducing churn, which is why they have focused on things like newsletters and push notifications to build habits with newly converted subscribers.

That’s the sweet and now the sour from today. I got my start in journalism at a small local newspaper in western Kansas. My editor at the Hays Daily News Mike Corn used to joke, “It’s not the middle of nowhere, but you can see it from here.”

The Hays Daily News was part of a family-owned regional group, Harris Enterprises, and it pained me to read this deep dive into the decline of the papers that used to be part of the group and other papers across Kansas.

When I was there, things were lean, and I got my job just before a hiring freeze was instituted. In terms of newspapers, even though my career started in the mid-1990s, I never knew the golden age of the industry that some journalists hearken back to. The piece referred to those times and the fat margins papers had then as they enjoyed local monopolies:

For a while, though, newspapers were easy money: In most communities, the newspaper faced little competition and could charge high rates to advertisers. The result, as Lehigh University professor Jeremy Littau noted in a widely shared Twitter thread in January, is that in the 1990s, companies like Knight Ridder – which owned the Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star before selling to current owner McClatchy – had profit margins of 30 percent or more.


As newspapers dwindle, residents in Hutchinson and elsewhere notice what’s missing , by Joel Mathis, The Journal

Harris Enterprises sold to Gatehouse in 2016. Gatehouse has a reputation for pretty deep cuts and centralised production out of a central hub in Austin Texas. The cuts have been deep, and the piece explains what those cuts mean to communities civically and otherwise.

But I’ll end on this somewhat optimistic note:

If there’s hope for strengthening the connection between news organizations and the communities they serve, then it might come first in those places where news gatherers have to form the closest of ties. There are still plenty of places in Kansas where locally owned papers are persevering.

Thanks again to the new subscribers. If you don’t get this in your inbox, sign up on my Nuzzel profile page, and send along any stories you might spot to me on Twitter @kevglobal.

Wired’s EIC Nick Thompson talks one year of the paywall with Media Voices podcast

Paywall, by Giovanni Saccone, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello, more new subscribers! It’s great to have you.

In my international media newsletter today, the top story is the latest podcast by my friends at the Media Voices podcast and their interview with Wired Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Thompson.

I am a big fan of him and his work, and I have been following what he has done since he was the digital editor at The New Yorker. One of my favourite quotes from him in a Digiday podcast is that they don’t try to do everything that is possible in digital at The New Yorker but every digital thing that they do is The New Yorker.

Thompson now is the top editor at Wired. He was asked: Why print? “There are wonderful things about a print magazine,” Thompson said, but he said that that as a group, they are mostly focused on digital and started making that transition 15 years ago.

He reprised his recent look back at one year behind a paywall at Wired, which we highlighted here on the newsletter. One thing he noted is that advertising still delivers the vast majority of revenue at Wired.

And he talked about his surprise at the stories that drove the most subscriptions. The long-meaty features drove a lot of subscriptions, but he was surprised that the 65th most read feature about a genius neuroscientist that is driving AI. It didn’t deliver a lot of traffic by their standards, but it was the second most driver of subs last year. But good listicles also drove subs as well.

“In almost every category of content, the best stuff we did drove subscriptions,” he said. “It was a little surprising but also heartening.”

That’s a great insight. It’s not necessarily the format but the execution.

Again, welcome to the new subscribers, and I would love to borrow some of your attention. Drop me an email (there is an address easily findable on this site) or send it via Twitter to @kevglobal If you still haven’t subscribed, you can easily do so on my profile page on Nuzzel.

How to get onto Instagram’s Explore tab

Exploring, by Tom Bullock, from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Hello new newsletter subscribers! My how your numbers have grown.

Topping today’s international media newsletter is a great summary from TechCrunch on the signals that Instagram uses to put content on the new Explore tab.

At the public media group where I work, we’re seeing some early indications that Insta is helping us reach parts of our community that we want to serve but we currently aren’t connecting with. For instance, we recently ran a series about African-American women who had suffered trauma in their lives and how they received support. Our posts on Instagram took off, while they didn’t get much traction on Facebook, which is the opposite of what we normally see.

TechCrunch says that Explore will match content with topics and accounts similar to what an Insta user already follows. Videos and highly visual stories without much text will also have a higher chance of getting on the Explore tab. It’s a great post to bookmark.

Other topics include:

And that’s a wrap for this week. I’ll see you on Monday. If you don’t already subscribe to the newsletter, you can on my Nuzzel profile page. And please, please send me stories, @kevglobal on Twitter, especially outside of the US. Kevglobal really is global.

Washington Post amps up Arc with subscription tools

The Washington Post is supercharging its platform Arc, with a big marketing and development push. Photo: 1941 Willys Americar 441 Coupe Hotrod, by Sicnag, from Flickr

Hello new subscribers! Welcome from Suchandrika Chakrabarti‘s great post on newsletters that freelancers should subscribe to.

Topping today’s newsletter is a story about new subscription features that the Washington Post is building into its CMS, Arc. As I highlighted in a recent newsletter, the Washington Post sees Arc as business that can grow to $100m as it sells the CMS to other publishers. This feels like a major push for Arc.

Also in the newsletter:

If you are just seeing this and haven’t subscribed to the newsletter, sign up here. And please, if you spot a good story – especially a good media story outside of the US – let me know on Twitter @kevglobal.

Swedish publisher built a “time wall” and increased conversion 20%


Clock shop, Siliguri, West Bengal, by Christopher J. Flynn, Wikimedia Commons

One of my next features for What’s New in Publishing will be about different paid content models that tap into motivations beyond metered paywalls. My motivation is that metered paywalls work well for high-volume sites, but I’ve managed local sites for the last several years of my career. And a metered paywall isn’t necessarily the right solution for lower-volume local sites.

That’s why I featured this story from Digiday about MittMedia in Sweden and their “time wall” in my international media newsletter today. The 20 per cent increase in conversions definitely caught my eye. Basically, the idea is that a story is available for free for a limited amount of time.

I also know that paid content services such as LaterPay and Agate, both run by FoK (Friends of Kevin), have other time-based concepts including day-passes, month-passes or all you can eat after you have read a set number of articles on an Agate-enabled site. It’s a great way to get people into the conversion funnel.

A hearty thank you to another FoK, Suchandrika Chakrabarti, who mentioned the newsletter today on Muck Rack, 18 newsletters every freelance journalist needs to subscribe to. It’s always nice to be mentioned in the same article as Nieman Lab and Journalism.co.uk.

And as always, there is plenty more in the newsletter – usually another seven to nine articles. If you want to subscribe, there is a sign up form on Nuzzel profile, and feel free to send along story ideas on Twitter to @kevglobal, especially ones outside of the US.

The Economist: Shifting from “gut feel” to a data-driven paywall strategy

Data driven, by John Spencer, from Flickr

I’m back from a much-needed mini-break so Tuesday is the new Monday, well at least for me this week. Up first today in today’s media newsletter is a review of a talk by Adam Davison, the Head of Insight and Data Science at The Economist. The great write-up by Esther Kezia Thorpe looks at the evolution of The Economist’s paid content strategy over the last 20 years. This really builds on the post I highlighted last week that pointed out that businesses that get better are businesses that get smarter. They are constantly working and refining their model.

The killer quote by Davison was this one in which the business was trying to evaluate the trade-offs to certain business decisions whether that was advertising versus reader revenue or the number of articles that a reader had access to before hitting the paywall. Davison said:

Historically, we’ve not been very data-driven when evaluating these trade-offs basically. It’s been very much sort of…business strategy gut feel, maybe a little bit of data here and there, but probably not used anything like as effectively as it could have been. So I think with this latest transition, I really wanted to try to do this the right way, use data to be as informed as possible when we made this decision.


Inside the Economist’s data-driven paywall evolution, Esther Kezia Thorpe, What’s New in Publishing

Read the whole piece, but the other thing that really stood out was how their data strategy has changed. The Economist has had to break down data silos in their business. They had data and talented analysts across the business, but they worked in isolation.

I have seen this in the work that I do. Editorial teams have data, usually quantitative, but marketing teams often have more information about the habits and preferences of audiences. Both pools of data can be useful to the other team.

Thanks to everyone who has subscribed to the newsletter, and if you haven’t already, you can get the full list of stories in your inbox. Subscribe here, and if there is a story that you think should be included, let me know on Twitter, @kevglobal.