New framework helps publishers manage portfolio of e-mail newsletters

By Greg Piechota


Oxford, United Kingdom


News publishers are right to expect one subscriber per 10 registered readers, a new INMA study shows. We advise also to plan e-mails to those registered and subscribed based on a map of your subscription funnel.

At the INMA Media Subscription Summit, Chris Taylor of The Telegraph in the U.K. shared the company’s North Star goal of having 10 million people registered and 1 million subscribed to the site by 2023.

We verified the relationship between the two numbers by studying the share of known and subscribed users at 50 national and regional news brands across the world. They are the participants of the INMA Subscription Benchmarking Service.

Indeed, we found brands that have more registered users also enjoy more subscribers. On average, 13% of the registered users were also subscribed. The median proportion was 8%.

This means The Telegraph’s rule of thumb is about right for news brands. Correlation though doesn’t mean causation. 

The Telegraph has 42 newsletters aimed at engaging the registered and the subscribed. What’s their impact? How should they manage such a portfolio?

The power of e-mail

Publishers love e-mail. It’s a relatively inexpensive channel — direct, mobile, social — and allows personalisation even without expensive technology, as readers self-select to e-mails of their interest.

The Telegraph’s Head of Newsletters Michelle Brister said at the INMA Subscriber Acquisition master class: “Newsletters are high engagement products, which produce best quality registrants and subscriber prospects, and the most engaged subscribers for the Telegraph.”

She quoted the results of internal studies:

  • Readers who register by signing up to a newsletter are more likely to convert to a subscriber than those registered at other touchpoints.

  • Those who sign up for multiple newsletters have significantly higher rates of conversion within their first 30 days since the registration and are more engaged on the site.

  • Registrants entering the site via newsletters are three times more likely to convert to a subscriber than those coming to the site via other referrals.

  • Subscribers derived from newsletters have 30% higher retention after three months and over 50% higher retention after 12 months than the average.

This proves that e-mail newsletters are indeed a great tool for acquisition and retention.

Managing a newsletter portfolio

The Telegraph sees three major goals for its 42 newsletters: driving traffic back to the site, engaging registrants in the inboxes, and engaging the subscribers with premium newsletters. 

Other publishers develop their own portfolio frameworks. For example, Sarah Ebner of The Financial Times told INMA members the company’s newsletters aim at increasing site visits, lead to conversion, help demonstrate value, and retain existing subscribers.

Inspired by Brister and Ebner, I developed a framework for the e-mail portfolio management based on the hypothesis that e-mails help move readers in their journeys, and this should determine the goals and metrics for each e-mail.

Start by mapping a subscriber journey. Visualise it as two engagement loops: before and after the purchase.

  • You want visitors: to register and be introduced to the news product, engage with content and form a habit, and view offers and convert to subscribers.

  • You want subscribers: to feel welcome and understand benefits, use content and features, and then retain or upgrade to add-on products.

A new e-mail framework

When your engagement model is mapped and you see what the next best actions for each stage are, you can then plan or review how newsletters fit:

  • For example, the goal of daily briefings and breaking news alerts is mostly to engage readers before and after subscribing. They should then perhaps remain free.

  • You need onboarding sequences not only for subscribers but also for registrants. It’s not obvious: In a 2020 study, I saw one-third of the top 50 news subscription brands did not offer any onboarding for the registered users. Instead of educating readers about the product’s content and features, they spammed prospects with subscription offers.

  • You should plan promotions and value-nurturing campaigns not only to registrants but also to existing subscribers, e.g., to have them see the value of subscribing and reasons to upgrade.

  • Subscriber-exclusive newsletters have a role, too: They demonstrate the value of the subscription but also drive usage — and hopefully retention.

When the goal of each e-mail is clear, it’s easy to set metrics:

  • Popularity metrics include: the list size, list’s growth rate, opt-ins, deliveries, leads for new e-mail subscribers, and cost per lead.

  • Activity metrics are: opens and open rate, click and click-through rate, opens and clicks per opt-in, clicks to opens, replies and reply rate, sessions, time and pageviews referred by e-mails, conversions to subscribers and conversion rate, cost per subscriber acquisition.

  • Loyalty metrics may be: number of different e-mails per user, proportion of subscribers signed up to any or selected e-mails, proportion of subscribers who opened or clicked any or selected e-mails, customer lifetime value of newsletter subscribers, satisfaction and advocacy scores, such as NPS.


E-mail is a proven subscription workhorse but still under-developed at many news media brands. My 2018 study of 698 newsletters of 128 nationwide news outlets in 33 countries found most had 10 newsletters or fewer. Map your subscription journey, and plan goals and metrics for each e-mail newsletter or sequence.

Click here to learn more and apply to the INMA Subscription Benchmarking Service.

Greg’s Readers First newsletter is a public face of a revenue and media subscriptions initiative by INMA, outlined here. Subscribe here. 

About Greg Piechota

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