Newsletters Are Immortal
And so is news of their death and rebirth
I’ve been writing newsletters for the past couple decades. Which means I’ve seen them die and come back about eight times. And each time, their supposed death comes as just as much of a shock to everyone as it did the time before. They never died. They’re the best communication tool you have. And they are built upon the one internet platform that, unlike all the rest, never lets you down.
Facebook surrendered to the Russians. Email beat spam.
So I’m going to explain why, aside from cockroaches and Maroon 5’s catalog, newsletters will be the only thing to survive (what seems like a more and more impending) nuclear catastrophe. And I’ll throw in a few useful tips — because that’s what someone does when someone wants to give back to the internet community and is also smart as fuck. Plus, it’s good for SEO.
The 6 Ps of Newsletters
Personal: Email is a personal way to publish. You’re not just one of a 26 open tabs. Your newsletter is sharing a sacred inbox. You’re side-by- side with mom, dad, and Netflix’ latest show that they think you’d enjoy. Being in there with the personal stuff is your advantage. Use it. Be personal. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to customize <username fields> in your template. If I see my name in the first line of an email (Hey Dave, Hi Dave, Dave), I‘m sure it’s from someone I don’t know. What I mean is that you’ve got to get personal about yourself. It can come here and there, and it shouldn’t dominate your content. But every now and then, remind them you’re a person. Email is one of the few mediums that allows you to do that.
Persistent: People don’t need to be notified that they have a new email. The email itself is that notification. (Yeah, that seems obvious. But I’m the one who wrote it down.) And unlike other things that pass by on the internet, an email isn’t moving. Twitter, Facebook, and Slack conversations never stop. What you were looking at a few minutes before can move up or down the timeline and be lost forever. Email is always right where you left it.
Personalized: We complain a lot about the quality of our social media feeds. In fact, aside from United Airlines and that Solo movie, we probably complain about them more than anything else. The feeds themselves are bad, and to make matters worse, everyone wants a piece of your bad feed: The advertisers, the person you barely know who always comments on your family photos, Putin. Left in the hands of an algorithm (that is at once a technical marvel, and a complete asshole) the feeds are always unsatisfactory. Your email inbox feed is controlled by a human (and even better, that human is you). Your email inbox is the one feed over which you have absolute control.
Permanent: A person’s email address is their most permanent identity on the internet. When you sign up at a new site, they ask you for your email address. As a newsletter publisher, you’ve got it. And the subscriber isn’t trading that email address for a product or service other than your newsletter. Take that seriously.
Performance: People are more focused in their inbox. And people know that. That’s why they often email notes to themselves. They know that’s where they’re going to be later. Email is a great place to write and a great place to read. It has almost none of the distractions of other internet apps. No one watches porn in their inbox. Compare that to Twitter where I’d say about half the active users at any given time are also jerking off. (I hear All Caps are a dead giveaway.)
Perpetual: Email has always been the best. And everyone knows it will remain the best. Think about it: When that newfangled social media startup wants to get you back on their site, what do they do? They send you an email. Even people building the next, supposedly better way for you and others to keep in contact are admitting up-front that the best way keep in contact is via email. (Can a sentence win a Pulitzer?) Ask politicians and ecommerce sites how huge that email address is. For that matter, ask publishers of web content. A large majority of the people who read this post will come here via a link in my newsletter. (And does @Ev ever thank me?)
Even with all these clear and often entertaining points, you will inevitably leave newsletters for dead again — and then be deepy surprised at their reincarnation. And I’ll probably write another version of this post when you do. Like all newsletter writers, I need the reads.