The collapse of the email newsletter is coming, long live the newsletter.
Email newsletters have been the darling of the digital media world over the past 3–4 years, but I’m increasingly concerned the industry has dramatically over-invested in the space.
The excitement about email newsletters came on the heels of a collapse in traffic from social, mainly Facebook, and the failure of the dreaded “pivot to video” movement. Publishers, twice burned by platforms, were on the hunt for a new digital play in a space they could own. To many, emails appeared to be the obvious next play, but this enthusiasm is misguided, here is why…
Newsletters are largely not indexed by search, and search makes up nearly ~30% of all publisher traffic. When publishers focus their newsroom talent around the production of a newsletter, they are already placing the content at a significant discoverability disadvantage.
Despite significant investment in the medium, consumers are getting their news from email LESS AND LESS. Every year the Oxford Digital News Report comes out and I immediately flip to this chart below, anxious to see if there has been a sudden spike in email newsletter usage. But alas, every year usage is either flat or declining. In the past eight years, the medium has seen a 21% decline in overall usage as it relates to news.
Apple’s mail app is the world’s most popular email client, and Apple’s push toward privacy has presented significant challenges…
1. Analytics associated w/ open rates, etc are highly disrupted as iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS, block pixel tracking by default.
2. Apple introduced Hide My Email, which encourages users to provide publishers with a unique and disguised email address, making reconciliation with existing user data nearly impossible.
Gmail, which is the world’s second most popular email service has started to present its own challenges. Gmail now aggressively sorts emails for many users into five categories automatically (Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates, Forums).
This optimizes the email experience away from newsletters.
Our Inbox Is Hell
On a very practical level, nobody likes their email inbox. It is a mish-mashed collection of spam, notes, important information, and ephemeral communication.
Dumping the products of some of your most resource-intensive newsroom efforts into the wasteland of email inboxes is an outright silly thing to do.
So What Should We Be Doing?
We must divorce the message and the medium. Untethering the great content of newsletters from the crumby medium in which we’ve deployed them in. Doing this will be critical to making the newsletter format work.
If your newsroom is staffing up newsletters, put the damn newsletters on the front page of your site. Take an article template and format it appropriately for the newsletter content written for email — give it the benefit of SEO/social/internal tailwind.
Build newsletters into your apps! Instead of hitting send on email to compete with every other horrid thing making its way to your reader’s inbox, hit send on the push notification to readers to the experience. Substack is doing this wonderfully with their new app.
Lastly, if you are building a newsletter around a personality, promote access to the personality — not the thing they write, because they likely produce, and monetize, content in a spectrum of mediums.
As with all my medium posts, they’ve not been proofed or edited, please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors.