Newsday marries newsletters, audience data to increase subscriptions, engagement

By Anthony Bottan


Long Island, New York, USA

At Newsday, we’ve driven subscriptions and increased user engagement through newsletters by using audience data to identify high-interest topics among users.

Local politics, in particular our political corruption coverage, is of high interest to our audience. In March 2018, a trial of one of the most powerful politicians on Long Island began. So we started Power on Trial, a narrative pop-up newsletter authored by political columnist Joye Brown that gave users her unique inside-the-courtroom analysis.

The Power on Trial newsletter started by being available to everyone but transitioned to being for subscribers only.
The Power on Trial newsletter started by being available to everyone but transitioned to being for subscribers only.

The results were impressive. More than 5,000 people signed up for the newsletter within 10 days. More than 1,100 of those e-mails were new to the system — a KPI in all newsletters we launch. The first newsletter had a 60% open rate — more than double the open rate of any other editorial newsletter. Over the three-month trial, the newsletter averaged a 50% open rate — the highest we’ve seen since we began tracking newsletter metrics.

We didn’t have a subscription offer in it and that was a missed opportunity. When the trial of another high-level politician started in early November, we brought Power on Trial back and made it subscriber-only. Since the bulk of those who initially signed up in 2018 were non-subscribers, we’ve been experimenting with a paywall within the newsletter to drive conversions.

Though narrative-form newsletters have successfully increased engagement when centered around a high-interest topic, we’ve also seen success packaging content spread across verticals into a curated newsletter experience.

For example, during the summer on Long Island, many people — including celebrities — head to the eastern end of the island known as The Hamptons. Audience data showed a high user interest in Hamptons content, in particular lifestyle and entertainment content highlighting the eastern end of Long Island.

Leading up to the Fourth of July, we created Points East, a once-a-week summer newsletter dedicated to everything Hamptons, which included everything from celebrity sightings to recommendations on where to shop, dine, and vacation. It was mainly driven by strong art and headlines — unlike Power on Trial, which was mostly strong writing and analysis — but the results were similar.

Points East is a weekly summer newsletter for subscribers only.
Points East is a weekly summer newsletter for subscribers only.

We finished the 12-week campaign with an average 40% open rate and 7% click-through rate, which were among the highest we’ve ever seen. Without a dedicated subscription offer, it drove three total conversions, which reinforced what we learned with Power on Trial: Every newsletter needs a subscription.

We also wanted to find a way to highlight our most impactful journalism to non-subscribers and subscribers with declining engagement who may be at risk of cancelling. We created two editions of In Case You Missed It, a data-driven, weekly curated newsletter that we populate with the stories that have high engagement scores and the most paths to conversion over the past week.

In the first two months after launch, the non-subscriber edition averaged a 25% open rate and has led to more than 30 conversions. For our subscribers with declining engagement, the engagement levels have increased from 5% to 7%.

About Anthony Bottan

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