Facebook gave us all whiplash with its series of announcements about changes to the News Feed. Publishers—whether newspapers, magazines or digital—that relied on the platform for distributing their content and/or bringing readers back to their websites were warned that Facebook would prioritize posts from friends and family instead. Just how the algorithm changes will affect individual publishers remains to be seen, although Digiday reported that referral traffic to publishers from the platform continues to trend downward.
Publishers certainly should maintain activity on Facebook, but, as the social network keeps taking away, it’s time—past time, really—to take a look at the channel that keeps on giving: email.
Successful publishers of all kinds use email newsletters to engage readers, build their audiences and increase revenue. A recent survey by Publishing Executive found that email was the top driver of revenue in 2017.
Wise publishers are getting wiser about email. While it’s firmly committed to print, the New York Times has carefully nurtured its digital offerings, and email newsletters are a large portion of that strategy. By the middle of last year, it had 13 million subscribers to its 50-some newsletters.
In fact, we’re seeing the rise of email-native publishing. A case in point is The Hustle, the snarky publisher of business and tech news. Founded in 2015, it barely has a website: The home page holds nothing but an email signup form.
Those who sign up receive a daily email with brief, original articles written in The Hustle’s signature style—irreverent and slangy. While the news items themselves are nothing you couldn’t get by scanning the headlines, they’re curated to appeal to what the pub calls “trendsetting and influential professionals aged 21 to 34,” or “a younger, more tech savvy version of the Wall Street Journal audience.”
The Hustle uses its unique voice and authority to promote products and services via advertorials with tracking links. Such promotions come with a few paragraphs of copy in the publication’s style to make it seem like the item in question is part of the cool, startup lifestyle.
The privately held Hustle says its open rates are double the industry average, and ad bookings for the first part of 2018 were 43 times larger than the same period for 2017.
Email publishing offers what publishers crave: a one-to-one relationship with readers, or as we at Adestra call it, First-Person Marketing opportunities. This includes personalization; an avenue for upsells; and a variety of options for monetization.
Facebook can and will continue to change its algorithms and priorities to serve its own business interests. But publishers have total control of the email channel, unlike on Facebook, where exposure to the audience is determined by the platform’s algorithms. Also, with email delivery, publishers can maximize open rates in many ways including adjusting the cadence, and optimizing delivery dates and times, as just a couple of examples.
The benefits of email publishing begin with gaining the email address, which has become a universal, unique identifier. While publishers that distribute content via Facebook do not know who is in a Facebook Audience, the email can be the basis for a detailed, rich profile. As well, the email channel allows for combining third-party data with the publisher’s own CRM data, further enriching profiles.
This profile can be used to target every aspect of the email, including images, content, calls-to-action and delivery times. For publishers like the New York Times, with multiple emails, subscriptions, opens and clicks help to deepen the profile, enabling them to tailor emails more precisely.
While email newsletters have been around forever, publishers using them to distribute content directly to subscribers are finding they can be new sources of revenue. For one thing, subscribers to a publication’s free newsletter are more likely to become paid subscribers. The New York Times says that newsletter recipients are more than twice as likely to convert to paid subscriptions to the entire publication. And the Seattle Times told Editor & Publisher that visits referred by an email newsletter are 25 times more likely to convert.
The email newsletter can be used to merchandise other content on the website. The Times’ Cooking newsletter is a great example. While the foodie-oriented newsletter’s items stand alone, they hold many internal links to lure readers back to the main website, as well as the explicit call-to-action, “Go visit NYT Cooking to find other great recipes.” When readers click back to the main site, they can be monetized with onsite advertising.
In addition to driving paid subscriptions and website traffic, email newsletters provide a variety of direct revenue opportunities. Some publishers sell native advertising into their emails, and some programmatic platforms now enable this. Calls-to-action can promote paid events such as conferences, tours, webinars or classes, while product reviews, like those published by The Hustle can link directly to a purchase landing page
The right tool for the job
To maximize the benefits of email publishing, publishers need a highly functional, flexible email platform that can customize at scale. The more personalization that can be accomplished, the better the reader engagement and, ultimately, the return on investment.
In a world where social media is constantly in flux, publishers should view email as a reliable and high-performing channel in its own right for distributing their content to readers.