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Newsletters: the market is booming!
Newsletters are making a strong comeback to help "Passion Economy" creators get their final breakthrough in today’s highly competitive world.
Tools like Substack, Ghost and Revue can be considered a major driving force behind this trend. A lucrative hobby? Intimate social network? Either way, newsletters have the potential to become the media of the future.
Read on and you’ll know what exactly I’m talking about.
A growing ecosystem
When people think about newsletters, they think about the content and the platform... and the thinking often stops there. This is wrong.
The colossal Passion Economy ecosystem is consolidating right before our eyes. This has a rather unusual impact on the world of media, communication, and marketing. This ecosystem is so vast that it deserves its own map: I embarked on a mission to create one and my “map” is still a work-in-progress (you're welcome to make your contributions!). Here is the link to the collaborative word google doc where you can suggest add-ons.
At the heart of this ecosystem, the platforms that allow newsletters to be published, especially those that offer specific solutions to creators. Below are some examples:
The emergence of blogletters (Yup I just made up the term... it's mine! ;) : Substack offers newsletters associated with a site and not the other way around. In other words, you create a newsletter and when you send it to your audience, the article is also published online. This technique hits two birds with one stone: the audience enjoy the newsletter and the website nudges the interested audience to subscribe because of the call-to-actions (CTAs) embedded into it. Everything is done to ensure that the visitor subscribes. Another special feature of Substack is the "question-answer" format which generates conversational articles to reinforce the connection with its readers.
An embodied medium: We subscribe to a person because we want a direct link with people's brains: a connection that generates a personal relationship, trust, a unique sense of loyalty. This explains the exploding opening rates of this technique. With classic emailing, we reach (very painfully) 20-30% of opening rate on a qualified list and with a blogletter, we double this number. This percentage of 60-70% is enough to make any self-respecting email marketer drool!
Free vs. Paying: Although Substack and Ghost allow you to monetize these newsletters, not all tools give you this option. There are other platforms Memberful or Patreon that add bring a monetization brick (I didn't include them on this mapping because they don’t specialize in newsletters). Also, not everyone chooses to monetize. According to some experts on the subject, we should only consider monetizing after 1000 subscribers and a minimum 50% opening rate. Still, only 10% of these would lead to payment.
The nerve of the war? Community-building!
Another essential element of the blogletter is the existence of a "Knowledge Base." I refer to tools that encourage taking notes, structuring ideas, and building arguments: an anteroom for intellect and a space for expression which is designed as creators’ second brain. We often refer to "digital gardening."
This brings us to another feature of these new generation newsletters: they are now more frequently associated with groups, chats, or community platforms. Creating content for and with your audience is exciting and crucial, especially when you realize that the community builder is the creator too! I am convinced that ALL brands that create content will have to integrate this community approach into their future communication strategies.
This revolution has already started. Be careful though! You can't build a community without first building trust and credibility. David Spinks, expert on the subject, is adamant on this point: "Companies fail in their community when they treat it as a tactic instead of making it an essential part of their business philosophy.” Communities are not just extensions of your marketing teams and building a community is not an effective short-term strategy.
Email client? RSS feed? Apps? Stop the overflow!
There's always a risk of newsletter overflow and this has to be avoided. It's time to get organized. Should we use our mailbox or create a dedicated one? What about sub-folders? Believe me, this is a real subject. Having subscribed to more than thirty newsletters (most of them weekly), I had to classify them all. It's vital to do so. If there is no organization, you are likely to get lost in an ocean of jumbled information.
A little anecdote to prove my point: Yesterday, I received a surprising subscription notification to my newsletter. The subscriber’s email address was my newsletter’s name, followed by the extension of an unknown domain name (under construction). Curious by nature, I wrote to this mysterious contact to find out what it really was.
This contact, whom we will call JK, answered me very kindly. He said that he uses a newsletter address, with all these addresses collected at one location. If his email is "shared" by a publisher, he identifies which one and unsubscribes. If this doesn't work, he redirects the address’s emails to a trash can. This is how he separates the newsletters from the other mail (so as not to overflow his personal inbox and easily navigate when he reads the newsletters). He added that this system is available for the modest price of a domain name (less than €10/year). This is simply genius and I love it! Although the process seems complex, it’s not so much in the end.
There are some even simpler solutions:
Most RSS feeds now acknowledge this integration of newsletters (Innoreader has already done it and Feedly has indicated on Twitter that it's in progress). If not, there's a very clever tool called “Kill the Newsletter” that allows you to turn any newsletter into an RSS feed.
Some "newsletter apps" allow you to centralize all your subscriptions at a single point. These services generate a dedicated email that you can use for your subscriptions. For example, firstname.lastname@example.org. Other services like Supscrib allow you to subscribe or unsubscribe to newsletters anonymously. These apps also make browsing and discovering popular new newsletters possible.
We are also seeing the arrival of new mail clients. Currently in beta version, “Hey” is already making a lot of noise on social media by dusting off our inboxes, or more precisely, our “imboxes”—the m stands for "iMportant". Hey also offers the necessary dedicated newsletter feed, long content options via “the feed” and much more. This revolutionary platform should stimulate the historical players and inspire new ones, causing major changes in the market a certainty.
Finally, tools like Leave Me Alone and Cleanfox allow you to clean your inbox from overflow, spam and mediocrity. This is another vast subject and guarantees an interesting discussion for another time.
Newsletter discovery: a business on the move?
This is the million-dollar question: how and where to find good newsletters? This problem relates to another one: when you're a creator starting from scratch, you don't have an audience. This can be very discouraging and taking the time to write for a small community is frustrating. Many people throw in the towel before they have had the chance to attract large audiences. This is a pity.
There is a strong interest in emerging informative content that offers different points of view on the world. Sadly, new creators are not able to take advantage of this interest. Consider the following:
Thus, Newsletter Stack is built around a community of newsletter curators.
LetterDrop (not yet officially launched) sees itself as the "product hunt" for newsletters, with a system of audience voting that ultimately allows the best publications to be promoted! The motto of LetterDrop is "to bring out insanely great newsletters."
In my opinion, Letterlist is the most interesting example. It's about bringing out the best newsletters in a very selective and editorialized way, where each creator is interviewed to ensure quality. The crème de la crème... and comes with monetization at the end!
It's all in the air now. Managing both the look of a newsletter and its marketing aspects is essential... I wouldn't be surprised to see these practices evolve. Who knows? One day someone might even introduce specific training and online courses that offer skills in newsletter marketing. In a fast-moving year, there is no doubt that communities are multiplying: I am a part of the Superstackers (a Whatsapp community), AirParty (a club for community builders) and many more.
I have a lot of convictions about this trend:
the future of these creators and the business that will come out of it. The industry had already started to gain speed. Matt Sherman, our community M&A specialist, explains his Substack newsletter acquisition strategy. Yes, he ACTUALLY revealed it! And you can read it here.
monetization models that will go far beyond sponsorship or subscription.
And finally the threats and opportunities of this shift for brands that still believe in outdated marketing strategies such as branded stickers to reach consumers in dark social media channels.
One thing for sure, the ecosystem around newsletters is just getting started
Marie Dollé - Follow me on Twitter