What if the future of email newsletters is that newsletters no longer live within email themselves?
The problem with email exists on both sides of the marketplace:
Publishers: Publishers are consistently battling deliverability, native content restrictions and accurate analytics that help drive key decisions.
Subscribers: Subscribers fall victim to email fatigue, overburdened by personal, work, eCommerce, spam and content emails all flowing into one space. To make matters worse, they lack the ability to interact directly with the communities they’re likely most aligned with (the other subscribers to the niche-topic newsletters they subscribe to).
Don’t get me wrong; email is a core communication tool that’s here to stay. But, as a subscriber, do you need to read your favorite newsletters within your inbox? While you’re pondering this idea think about why you like email newsletters as your medium of choice to begin with. For most people, it comes down to:
- Smart Brevity (what you need to know with little to no-filler) — a term coined by Axios
- Tone (written informally, as if the message came from a friend)
- More if you want it, but less if you don’t. (i.e. outbound links to longer-form content)
For today, most of you enjoy getting newsletters delivered straight to your inbox because:
A) It’s a place you regularly check
and B) You spend a lot of time there.
These are both great reasons for keeping email newsletters in the inbox… But how could we make this experience better?
Why email will not be the future home of newsletters:
Ultimately, this comes down to email’s turtle pace to innovation. As a subscriber, imagine having the following capabilities within email newsletters natively:
- Guaranteed Deliverability: If you’re a subscriber, how often have you had to dig through your spam or promotions folder for a new newsletter you signed up for? Imagine subscribing to a podcast, but the most recent episode was left out of your feed because Apple podcasts decided they didn’t like the information covered.
- Interactivity: Think about everything a website or app allows you to do in one single space. Commenting, video/audio streaming, surveys, quizzes, etc. Now imagine having the ability to comment and discuss the topics of your favorite newsletters with other subscribers within the newsletter itself. Or maybe your favorite newsletter publisher also has a podcast you enjoy… You could listen and read all in one place.
- Email Consolidation: In the future, a single platform could consolidate, aggregate and deliver one email with all of the latest editions of your newsletters. Lowering the number of emails flooding your inbox, while allowing you the ability to read some immediately and mark others for later. Something Unroll.me has been fairly successful with thus far. There’s a thread for new solutions to this on Indie Hackers right now; you can check it out here.
On the publishers' side of things, two problems remain constant:
- Interactivity: As publishers, it’s hard to ignore the interactive elements a website or app allows us within a single space; such as commenting, video/audio streaming, surveys, quizzes, etc. For publishers who rely on email newsletters as their medium of choice, implementing all of these interactive elements requires asking their subscribers to leave their inbox.
- Guaranteed Deliverability: If you’re a publisher, it might haunt you to think about how many subscribers miss your email because it landed in the spam or promotions folder. There are definitely steps you can take to limit this from happening, but Gmail and other email providers own their platforms and control what makes it to the primary inbox.
And even more possibilities linger…
- Trustworthy data: Did you know that ESP’s (Email Service Providers) use image pixels to trigger an “open” for your subscribers? This means that an image (likely found at the bottom of your email) must fully load to trigger an “open” for each individual. So any of your subscribers who choose to not “show/download/turn-on images” via the prompt in Google/Outlook/Yahoo are not being calculated in your open rate. Not to mention the subscribers who sign up through a work email with even stricter inbound email policies.
- Read time: This is an awesome statistic offered on all websites via tools such as Google Analytics, but one that becomes difficult to track in email. Companies such as Email on Acid as well as Litmus do have this built into their product, but can be pretty expensive tools to implement. If you know that your newsletter should take about 5 minutes to read, wouldn’t it be great to know what percentage of your subscribers took the time to read it all the way through?
- Forwards: Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool for your newsletter. Wouldn’t it be cool to know how many people clicked the “forward” button in their native email provider? Wouldn’t it also be valuable to know how many people read your email because of a forward? For anyone thinking that Mailchimp and others already offer this capability… candidly speaking, it’s a terrible user experience. Sure, referral programs were built to remedy this problem, but the simple idea of forwarding is a much better experience than sending your friends to a referral landing page.
Gmail is trying to do better with their AMP for email product, but all they care about right now is making Google products work better between each other and there are tons of people subscribing via non-Gmail addresses.
Creation, distribution, engagement, analytics -> all in one platform.
Your inbox will continue to be a place for business, family, one-to-one communication but will change into a platform that your favorite newsletter writers use to remind you (external trigger) that you have new editions available to read.
The publisher and subscriber world will collide within a single service that allows publishers to create and deliver their newsletters while subscribers will have the ability to interact and manage their subscriptions within a single platform just like they do with music and podcasts currently.
Some of you may already be thinking of the newsletter subscription management platform, Stoop (for subscribers) as well as email creation and distribution platforms Substack or Revue (for publishers). But what if these platforms combined forces?
One platform for reading, writing, distributing, and analyzing their performance. Similar to what Anchor was able to accomplish for podcasters.
ICYMI… “newsletters” are already starting to abandon the inbox
Example A: Dan Oshinsky, the former Director of Newsletters at The New Yorker delivers his newsletter (Not a Newsletter) in Google Docs. He still uses email to send out reminders monthly when a new edition is available, but publishing within a Google Doc helps to differentiate his product and manage his running list of resources in a more efficient manner.
Example B: LinkedIn has recently started slow-rolling hosted newsletters on their platform for select publishers. Specifically, I’ve noticed Morning Brew taking advantage of Linkedin’s new [beta] newsletter program to help promote their podcast.
Although I’m not certain the market is as bullish on newsletters as they are on podcasts currently (think about the current Spotify acquisitions of Gimlet and The Ringer as compared to the lack-there-of in newsletter products), I do believe that email newsletters have a strong subscriber base and are equally deserving of the innovation and technology to push them forward.
How do you see the future of email newsletters unfolding?
– Logan Brown