Newsletters - why are they back and what’s their future?

Kyle Higginson
6 min readNov 8, 2020
Photo by Mathyas Kurmann on Unsplash

Newsletters and email are not a new found source of news and content, in fact email is older than web. But newsletters have been rediscovered with readers finding them to be a reliable and insightful form on content consumption. And with some digital media companies struggling to maintain levels of revenue from previously reliable streams, newsletters are proving to be a successful alternative stream of income.

Business Insider have bought a controlling stake in Morning Brew in a deal which values the 5 year old startup at a reported $75 million. With a daily newsletter being Morning Brew’s flagship product, this really shows how newsletters are back and are killing it in the media industry. But why are companies turning to newsletters, how long will the newsletter bubble last, and what’s the future for letters being delivered to your inbox?

Newsletters are back

Newsletters were previously considered as irritating and emails which go straight to the junk folder and last there until they are automatically deleted. Now companies such as Morning Brew, theSkimm, The Hustle and Quartz are embracing the new found life for newsletters. More and more readers are turning to newsletters for a trustworthy source of news and analysis.

Ad revenue has been declining for many big digital media companies, prompting companies to explore more sources of revenue such as merchandise and affiliate marketing. But digital marketing is facing more issues in the future with most browsers phasing out third party cookies by 2022 (personalised ads rely on third party cookies).

A lot of media companies are finding success in subscription based revenue, which is a more consistent and reliable form of income. Newsletters are often a core part of this subscription offering, with subscribers receiving great insights, analysis and news through a daily or weekly newsletter. Companies such as Quartz, The New York Times, Tech Crunch and The Financial Times are all adopting newsletters and are becoming an increasingly bigger part of their subscription offerings.

But Morning Brew are proving that paid subscription is not the only form of revenue to be made from newsletters. Their flagship product is a free daily newsletter, which makes money from ads, but in a very respectful and fun way for the reader.

But it’s not just for the media heavyweights

Substack, a company founded in 2018, makes it simple for a writer to start an email newsletter that earns revenue from subscriptions. Writers can offer a free and paid tier, where the paid subscribers will receive premium only content from the writer. Paid tier subscriptions usually range anywhere from $5-$15 a month. With the top 10 writers on the platform bringing in a combined $7 million in revenue over the past year, it’s clear that there is a market here for independent writers to make money from quality content.

It also explains why writers at some of the world’s top media companies are leaving their well paid jobs to go out on their own and start a newsletter. Alex Kantrowitz (formerly of Buzzfeed), Casey Newton (formerly of The Verge), Josh Constine (formerly of TechCrunch) have all made the jump recently.

What’s the appeal of the newsletter?

Let me list the reasons why I feel people are embracing newsletters:

  • Readers trust the writer of the newsletter. People know exactly who is writing the newsletter, and have built up a relationship with that writer.
  • They are focused on a niche product or audience. Readers know that the content of the newsletter is always going to be something they are interested in.
  • Newsletters often aggregate news into the important parts. Weekly newsletters condense the weeks news in a topic, saving the reader a lot of time, while also providing insightful analysis on the content.
  • Readers are in control of which newsletters they subscribe to.
  • Writers are ensuring that their content is of top quality. Better content = more subscribers = greater revenue.
  • The regular notification and anticipation of the newsletter. Newsletters usually come in at similar time each occurrence, and you almost mentally set time aside to read it.
  • Ads in newsletters are respectful to the reader. Morning Brew is a great example of this.
  • Writers are free to speak their mind. Independent newsletters are not reviewed before publishing and they have the full authority to speak their mind.

What’s the future of newsletters?

Newsletters are great, I’m a huge fan. I don’t have to go searching the internet for interesting articles, they come straight to my inbox on a regular occurrence.

My prediction is that newsletters are here to stay. But I would question whether this is through email. I could see a platform where newsletters are uploaded and read in one place, similar to how the likes of Spotify works for podcasts. A common newsletter platform would enhance the experience of both the reader and the writer, by solving most of the current issues and opportunities I will mention below.

I still think there is a place for larger media companies. But I believe they will need to shift to put the writers at the forefront of their content, and embrace the newer forms of content such as newsletters and podcasts.

Newsletters and platforms such as Substack are starting to disrupt blogging platforms such as Medium. I think Medium can still have a place for people to write one off pieces of content and share their thoughts, but I do see writers who write regular content of a similar topic moving to the newsletter format. It makes sense financially.

But we have to be careful

There are also problems with newsletters, and we have to be careful that newsletters don’t fall into the same trap as media in the past. Here are some considerations and my predictions of where newsletters could be improved, and where we need to be careful.

  • Writers are battling the problem of getting reliable and in depth analytics. Open rates are not always accurate and getting any analytics beyond open rate is difficult. Some analytics which could improve a writers content are popular clicked links, time spent reading, reliable open rates, among many more.
  • Email fatigue — newsletters being delivered to email inboxes meaning they have both newsletters, personal emails and work emails all in one place. Apps such as Stoop Inbox are fixing this issue, and are doing a great job of it.
  • Communication is one way — readers can’t converse back with writers or other readers. There is a massive opportunity with newsletters to create a community with people who have a passion in a similar topic, but email is preventing this from happening.
  • Deliverability — newsletters often end up in readers junk folder, this is a massive problem for writers.
  • We need to be careful with algorithms, where newsletters start getting recommended. Recommendation engines need to be incredibility accurate. A space in a readers inbox should be earned. Algorithms could result in newsletter fatigue where the reader loses control of their subscriptions. We have seen a similar problem with most popular social media platforms.
  • We need to make it easy to subscribe and unsubscribe. Making it hard to unsubscribe leaves readers annoyed and leaves writers with inaccurate analytics and insights. Why would a writer want to deliver content to someone who isn’t interested? Writers should respect a readers right to unsubscribe.

Consoom.app

I’m a big newsletter fan. There are so many opportunities within the space and I think newsletters are going to become an increasingly bigger part of media and how we consume content.

I have however noted some of the opportunities and challenges we have within the newsletter space. So I have decided to address some of these with Consoom. Check it out at consoom.app for more information, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’ll leave you with my favourites

Lenny’s Newsletter

A weekly newsletter with great insight into product and growth in the software world, as well as other great discussions about people and the workplace.

Emerging Tech Brew by Morning Brew

This newsletter comes to my inbox 3 times a week, and gives a great insight into how technology is shaping our lives, and what we can expect to see more of in terms of future technology.

Benedict Evan’s Newsletter

Benedict gives a great insight into various different technologies. Analysis can range from the future of retail and ecommerce, to the future of big tech companies.

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