Most publishers recognise the critical importance of using e-mail newsletters to build a sustainable reader revenue strategy. We sometimes think the best way to do that effectively is with a top-to-bottom handwritten e-mail newsletter, with a fresh narrative, sent diligently each morning to our audience to be digested and read. And, it’s true: Some of our most popular and valuable newsletters are built just like that.
But many publishers don’t have the bandwidth and resources to spend a few hours each morning curating, writing, and building such a product. Even when factoring in a more efficient authoring system, writing it still takes time.
The alternative is the oft-derided list-driven newsletter. This is filled with a compact index of, for example, 10 headlines, with photos and teasers each day, and it is valuable when used in the right context and at the right time.
Executing these effectively is key. Shoveling an RSS feed, ordered with the last published article first and the oldest article last, won’t be effective. But with a feed of stories curated in a specific order, these newsletters can help engage and build audiences.
Six of MediaNews Group’s top 10 newsletters by referrals are newsletters with lists of headlines, many of them nearly automated. To create the main morning newsletter for the group’s 11 newspapers, digital producers tag stories in WordPress VIP, our content management system, for the newsletter. These are then ordered in a homegrown tool and sent out each morning.
Once per week, the e-mail is specially curated with an introduction from an editor that highlights the most important journalism produced each week. The Orange County (California) edition is our most popular — and among our fastest growing.
Evening newsletters show promise
Two of our other most successful newsletters (at The Denver Post and the St. Paul Pioneer Press) pull the top 10 stories — in order — from the home page and send them out in the early evening to lists we’ve spent the last year growing through a mixture of on-site prompts, a new registration wall, and some paid marketing through Facebook.
The key is taking the work of editors who curate the home page, where we find our most engaged readers, and then repurposing that work in the form of a newsletter.
“The Evening Post” at The Post and “Evening Dispatch” at the Pioneer Press — names that pay homage to earlier editions of their respective newspapers — have grown considerably. Last year, The Evening Post was the 13th most-popular newsletter across MediaNews Group’s more than 270 newsletter through the first eight months of 2020.
This year, it’s the seventh most popular and has grown nearly 300% in pageview referrals while growing 725% in total list size. Its click-to-open rate is around 17% — a measure of the percentage of people who opened the e-mail and then clicked on a story within the newsletter (and unfortunately a metric that’s likely to become inaccurate with the release of iOS 15).
We’re in the process of scaling out evening newsletters to many of our markets using the same basic framework. We’re also planning to launch some tests to see whether adding a short introduction improves engagement and performance.
It’s important for us to launch tests in single markets, take our learnings, refine the product, test again, and, once we reach a viable product, launch across dozens of publications.
Newsletters don’t necessarily need hours of work to be successful. To be sure, newsrooms that create personable newsletters are creating a product that readers feel connected to. But some readers just want to read a curated list of great stories and headlines. Knowing when and where to deploy both — given the resources you have — is key.