Post and Courier shares 4 lessons learned from newsletter strategy

By Samuel Hunter

The Post and Courier

Charleston (Now Statewide), South Carolina, United States


In July of 2021, The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, began working in conjunction with the Google News Initiative (GNI) to explore the efficacy of paid newsletters as a viable growth strategy for the news organisation. Could the media company create alternative revenue streams and increase its digital audience effectively with this new type of subscription model? And what would that entail?

The story behind the vision

It is worth noting that The Post and Courier made a conscious effort to move into the future. Where other traditional news organisations have shrunk, the company has done quite the opposite.

In 2021, The Post and Courier announced that its digital subscriber base had grown to more than 20,000. It is also rapidly expanding, giving the newspaper a truly statewide reach with locations now in Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Spartanburg, North Augusta, and Hilton Head. The newspaper also recently doubled down on its commitment to print, building an all-new state-of-the-art printing press. The opportunity with GNI presented a chance to expand the brand even further.

As any marketer worth their salt knows, our engagement with media is constantly evolving. Wherever you look you can see the effects — whether that’s in Tik Tok being the most visited Web site of 2022, the advent of the Metaverse, or our consumption of movies and the surprising decline of Netflix subscriptions. To keep up with the times, it is imperative to be flexible and willing to experiment.

An example of a subscription ad for The Tiger Take newsletter.
An example of a subscription ad for The Tiger Take newsletter.

What we learned from GNI

In the summer of 2021, The Post and Courier launched two newsletters built around collegiate athletics: The Tiger Take and Gamecocks Now. Both newsletters are subscription-based, meaning they require subscribers to pay. Gamecocks Now is written by David Cloninger, a 20-year veteran of the beat,  and The Tiger Take is written by Clemson newcomer but veteran sports journalist Jon Blau.

After seeing the success of the two sports newsletters, the newspaper launched the food newsletter, CHS Menu, (Charleston’s Menu) in late February of 2022. In partnership with GNI, The Post and Courier revealed a few of its findings.

The main learnings were:

  • Lead growth is essential to subscriber growth. Before launching the sports newsletters, there were a small number of leads. The Post and Courier had explored a free sports newsletter and used this niche audience to help grow its subscriber base. However, by placing more of an emphasis on growing the top of the funnel, in eight months the team was able to grow previous leads by 268%. These leads led to both subscriptions for the newspaper as well as subscriptions to the two paid newsletters.
  • Make ARPU a key metric. At the initial launch of  Gamecocks Now and The Tiger Take, existing PC subscribers were offered a highly discounted price point as a bundle offer. While this drove subscription numbers, it ended up drastically tanking ARPU. It also, due to the nature of the sale, led to a high percentage of churn. By increasing the price of the newsletter bundle and killing the previous offer, the sports newsletters were able to increase ARPU by over 8% while also combatting churn and increasing revenue.
  • Learn to estimate audience size. The most important learning from the partnership with GNI was helping approximate potential audience size. GNI had previously provided the target of subscription numbers to be 1.5% of the monthly audience on the newspaper’s Web site. By using these numbers, the sports newsletters were 63% to goal in only eight months. Using this data also helped assess a proper estimate for subscribers to the food newsletter as well as the newspaper itself.
  • Make open rates key. Before the Apple iOS update, the sports newsletters maintained well over 40% open rates. Especially for paid newsletters, this metric is crucial to success.
The Post and Courier enjoyed tremendous growth with its newsletters and even launched an additional newsletter as a result.
The Post and Courier enjoyed tremendous growth with its newsletters and even launched an additional newsletter as a result.

To learn more, you can read the case study here.

About Samuel Hunter

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