I currently have 15 e-mail newsletters coming to my inbox that I check on my commute. They keep me current on topics I’m interested in. A year or two ago, I was signed up to maybe one or two.
This explosion in e-mail newsletters — now delivered by everyone from the grocery store to news agencies — has been a boon for organisations like The Globe and Mail, which currently offers 28 newsletters. I spoke with our director of digital subscription product development, Scott Adams, about the role of newsletters for a media organisation.
Q: Why is there a renewed focus on e-mail newsletters?
A: Newsletters are the closest we get to sending the newspaper out digitally each day. Apart from our breaking news alerts, it’s also the best push method we have to connect with readers. They don’t have to come find us. We meet them.
A lot of people pan e-mail, but it’s a stable, ubiquitous communication method that’s been around for 30 years. With e-mail, we know people get our content directly, and they’ve made the choice to sign up. E-mail also gives us more control over the delivery; we’re not dependent on social media algorithms to have our content surfaced to readers.
Q: Are we seeing more interest in newsletters?
A: Absolutely. We continue to see significant growth in newsletter signups, and we send out hundreds of thousands of newsletters each month, with an average of 2.5 newsletters per person. Unsurprisingly, given our traditional strengths in business and news, our most popular newsletters are in those areas.
Q: How do we differentiate newsletters?
A: They have one of two goals: brand building or audience building. Brand-building newsletters are meant to be read within e-mail and will generally have lower click-through rates; they’re designed to showcase our journalism in the inbox and have more voice and editorial curation.
Audience-building newsletters are focused on our core content verticals. They give the headlines and encourage readers to click-through and engage. This is more of a traditional newsletter where we’re shipping a homepage or sub-homepage by e-mail. We also have newsletters that are a hybrid between the two.
That being said, each newsletter has its own goals. Some are very niche and serve specific audiences very well. Our Amplify newsletter, written by women at The Globe, has a smaller distribution but has the highest open rate of any newsletter. Others are designed for mass consumption.
Q: How do we decide how to launch a new newsletter?
A: There are a few factors. First, we ask if the newsletter will address a core content vertical that the newsroom will support. Is there enough content, an editor, and the resources? We make sure the content is strategically important to us.
We also have some newsletters that are more automated and require fewer newsroom resources. Our new Horoscopes newsletter uses standard, very popular content that is available for free on our Web site. Others use queries to pull top content and serve it in newsletter format.
Q: Do the newsletters generate revenue?
A: Newsletters drive revenue in several ways: advertising, subscriber conversion, and improved subscriber retention through higher engagement. We see significant conversion rates with free newsletter readers to paid subscribers, but it’s important to note that readers are not subscribing to get the newsletters. They’re paying for the journalism and the newsletter is a convenient gateway to the journalism.
The newsletters bring the content to the readers’ attention in a consistent, habit-forming way. Our data confirms that subscribers who receive newsletters retain at a much higher level because of their increased engagement.
Q: What changes have we seen in our newsletter strategy and what’s coming?
A: It’s been an evolution. We’re learning how to market our newsletter better onsite and offsite as subscription leads. We’ve tightened and improved our design and given the newsroom more ownership of the tools, strategy, and products. Our data analysis is constantly improving and bringing more value to the business.
We are also exploring paid newsletters. We launched Cannabis Professional last fall, which is a premium subscription product that provides a daily newsletter. We also only allow our paying subscribers to get the Politics newsletter now.
The future will be smarter and more segmented. We’re moving away from a one-size-fits-all strategy to more personalisation and are working closely with our data scientists to create the algorithms to create this. Even more decisions will be backed by data that comes from A/B and other testing.