Newsletters are back. And not just that. They have become the crown jewel for media outlets, companies, and journalists who manage their personal brand like real corporations do. There is no longer doubt in anybody’s mind that newsletters’ “momentum” (the word popularized by Isaac Newton) has arrived. And what a momentum it is …
What’s the context? Each passing day more and more readers feel that they are living in a whirlwind of information. They are continually being bombarded with reports, interviews, articles, social networks, photographs, book reviews, and a whole range of alerts that are very difficult to retain. It’s a constant “infoxication,” as experts call this information overload, which also prevents the reader from delving deeper into the issues. Given this context, newsletters are once again flourishing in their full splendor and have become the go-to lifeline of these times. As some say, this is the perfect equation for presenting stories and interests—with carefully crafted graphic content—along with unique pieces, in an always well-ordered and simplified format that saves busy readers’ precious time.
- Hyperpersonalized content and a certain sense of exclusivity make audiences willing to pay for more exclusive newsletters. These types of texts are usually submitted by renowned journalists, writers and columnists who, with a curated selection of topics and a refined pen, are able to create an intimate relationship with their readers.
- The latest global study on the state of online journalism, carried out in 2020 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, stated that newsletters have become a significant communication channel. According to the study, “In every country, approximately one person in six (16%) accesses news by e-mail weekly, and most of them (60%) receive a newsletter with general or political information, which is usually sent out in the morning.” (https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/digital-news-report-2020-resumen-ejecutivo-y-hallazgos-clave)
Why does it matter? By producing quality content about specific topics or areas, these articles become benchmarks and sources of relevant information within a given niche. It has also been the way for the world’s most important media outlets to build reader loyalty. Lastly, this is a business that is still in its infancy in the communications arena and has very good prospects ahead.
- The success of this formula has lent prestige to a format that seemed somewhat forgotten and has inspired various traditional media outlets to launch new newsletters. For example, the Financial Times has its First FT morning newsletter, a product devised for very busy readers who want a trusted brand with sound editorial judgment to succinctly and clearly present the day’s most relevant news and links.
- For its part, The New York Times, as part of its digital transformation plan begun in 2011, has made a strong commitment to this type of content. It currently has over 50 newsletters available with editorial content encompassing a broad range of topics.
- Forbes, considered one of the most prestigious business magazines in the world, announced in June 2021 that it will launch its own content platform for newsletters.
- And lastly, there are real empires being built on this business model. Such is the story of Daniella Pierson, who launched Newsette in 2015 when she was only a sophomore at Boston University. Pierson recognized that there was no newsletter in the world of culture focused on informing young and professional women. Business Insider reports that by September 2020 Newsette had more than 500,000 subscribers and had earned close to US$1 million.
The emergence of new entrants. A number of platforms have made the take-off and widespread growth of newsletters possible. The business has become so attractive that technology conglomerates like Twitter and Facebook have executed their own grandmaster moves, using 2021 as a veritable chessboard.
- Substack is a name to keep in mind come what may if you want to venture into the world of newsletters. In the market only since 2017, the vision of three Silicon Valley entrepreneurs—Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi—has led the platform to staggering growth. Substack specializes in the design, delivery and monetization of this type of newsletters, and has become a favorite of independent journalists seeking to make a name for themselves with their content. The company currently has over 250,000 subscribers worldwide and a range of coveted newsletters on offer.
- Another company with a strong presence in this industry is the Dutch company Revue. With services similar to Substack’s, the company vaulted into a whole new strata following its acquisition by Twitter. This was a key move for the little blue bird company, allowing it to develop longer form content while also venturing into the area of paid subscriptions.
- Facebook, in the meantime, announced its launch of Bulletin in March, with the clear intent of not lagging behind. The social network—owned by Mark Zuckerberg—will offer free and paid versions of newsletters focused on niche topics, starting with sports, fashion and environmental content. The company hopes to grow into its 2.7 billion person audience. “We want to do more to support independent journalists and experts who are building businesses and audiences online,” explained Campbell Brown, Facebook’s Vice President for Global News Partnerships.
A bit of history. The creator of the first newsletter was Claud Cockburn, considered the classic prototype of the English communist, educated at Oxford University no less. “He became a correspondent for The Times in Berlin and Washington, until he left the paper in 1932 because of ideological differences. Within a couple of months, he bought a mimeograph machine and launched The Week, a newspaper that he defined as “without a doubt, the most disgusting-looking thing that has ever crossed the breakfast table,” according to an article in the El País newspaper.
- In an interview he gave to the BBC in 1972—available in their digital archive—he tells the story of that adventure and how he managed to send out 2,000 copies of the first issue, with which he hoped to gain around 200 subscribers. But alas only seven people replied. In time The Week became an “influential fixture.” In fact, in June 1936, he wrote exclusively of a fascist military coup in Spain, which did in fact happen.
- The Week ceased publication in the midst of World War II in 1941, but by then it had reached the breakfast tables of thousands of readers, including Charles Chaplin and Edward VII, who were subscribers.