Hardly a week goes by without some major news publishing house or another announcing they are launching a new newsletter of some kind. Just in the past six or so months, we’ve seen new launches from The Guardian, the Financial Times, Le Monde and dozens of others. And we know from a short survey we conducted ahead of this report that most publishers are planning to launch new newsletters this year. Some 82 percent of our 50 respondents told us they plan to launch at least one newsletter in 2022, with 66 percent of them saying they planned to launch between one and five. Twelve percent said they planned to launch more than 10!

Clearly, newsletters are a hot topic right now. 

For example, during our recent World News Media Congress in Zaragoza, Nicholas Johnston, the publisher of Axios, told our audience why Axios was launched in 2016 specifically as a newsletter company: “Email is still, for being a 40-year-old piece of technology, very useful. A lot of people live their lives there. It gives a sense of completeness. And unlike the internet, I know there aren’t Russian agents or Nazis in my inbox. Spam filters are very good. And I can have a very strong control over the information that gets in. It’s one of the few safe spaces on the internet. So that’s where we launched, and we found additionally to that, especially with local, is that it really creates a sense of connection with the reader.”

While they aren’t a new platform, more and more news publishers are embracing newsletters for the seemingly endless opportunities they offer: to reach new and larger audiences, as well as smaller niche ones; build a different kind, or indeed kinds, of relationship with their readers on a more personal level that puts a human name and face with the delivery of their news. They also help provide you with real-time metrics that give great insights into how the newsletter is performing, what specific content is thriving or diving, what topics are truly trending and more.

And yet, there is a lot that’s really rather “old school” about newsletters too, making them much more like newspapers than even many of those publishing them might at first realise. In fact, it’s kind of amazing just how much like a news publisher’s print product they truly are, a bit more personal and freer in their tone, but well developed newsletters also have much in common with good print newspapers. Consider these connecting points, which we gleaned from the interviews and case studies that follow in this report.

1- The best ones are created and produced by real people (not algorithms), and these people care passionately about them. In fact, most of these folks would clearly love to have more time to work on them, improve them and grow them.

2- They do take time – time to create, time to train those involved, time to produce and time to grow. And there simply aren’t any shortcuts. Like good reputations, fine food or the best wines, some things just take time.

3- They require ongoing care, attention and commitment. Your print newspaper has never been a “one-and-done” product, and your newsletters aren’t going to be either. Rather, just like your print product, you are always starting over, maybe not entirely from scratch, after all, there’s usually a template, but there are a lot of new decisions to be made and space to be filled with every edition.

4- They have a lot of moving parts. Just like your print product or your website, newsletters have many different elements, and you pretty much have to care about all of them: an inviting subject line, well written intros, engaging content, opportunities for feedback and reader participation, a need for regular frequency and dependable delivery.

5- They form part of your permanent record. Unlike your website, which can be easily edited and updated, your newsletters, like your print product, are a permanent snapshot in time. Once published, they cannot be changed. They are out there, typos and all. And maybe those minor mistakes are not always so bad. As the Daily Maverick’s John Stupart told us, having the occasional correction reminds readers that there are people behind the newsletter, and making occasional mistakes is all too human.

6- They need financing. While newsletters might have relatively low overhead costs, there are still some: you need to pay for the journalism and time of the person or people who produce them somehow, be it ads, sponsorships, connected events and so on. 

All this is actually good news for news publishers because most already have decades of experience producing very similar products, but now you have new opportunities to recast your net and engage with readers across both tried and tested topics (news, business, politics and sport), as well as have a foundation for creating products for other, specific audiences or even to help you reposition yourself in the eyes of your readers. Take for example, what Canada’s Globe and Mail is doing to better address the concerns and interests of their female readers.

And while there are some similarities between your print product and your newsletters, there are also similarities among various publishers’ newsletters too, just as there are with their print products. Importantly, there are some subtle differences as well, and it’s these differences that can often help to shine a new light on the newsletters you are currently producing or ones you are considering launching and maybe make some adjustments here and there to improve your own newsletters by taking a closer look at what others are doing, the audiences they are pursuing and how they are trying to reach them.

The interviews and case studies from around the world in this report are intended to help you do just that.

The report is available free of charge to WAN-IFRA Members, who may download it through this link.

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