Newsletters are a unique form of communication, and one publishers should never overlook. Whether print or digital, newsletters function just like a magazine or newspaper; they have a circulation audience, seek to inform, and are delivered in timely intervals. In a way, it is a natural extension of a publisher’s strategy to incorporate newsletters, and it comes with several perks. A perfect case study proving this is The Economist.
In the last year, The Economist has doubled the normal amount of web traffic it sees from newsletters through updates in design and content strategies. This has led to increased profit margins, better numbers on the website, and additional subscribers to the publication itself. It is through actions and campaigns like their updated newsletters that The Economist manages to make more off subscription sales than advertising (a huge rarity in today’s age).
According to their 2019 annual report, The Economist netted $333 million this past year, of which 59% came from subscriptions and circulation to their 1.7 million subscribers (print and digital). Only 17% of that $333 million came from advertising, and that is a 3% drop from the previous year.
Now we know newsletters are a part of their success, but this is The Economist, who has a massive following, staff, and budget. Is this translatable to niche publishers or regional publishers, who have much smaller pools of resources and spending? YES. The Economist’s newsletters are not an asset and profit generator because they are backed by the robust power wielded by the publication, but because the process and approach are effective, and that approach can be replicated and borrowed by any publisher.
The Economist’s newsletter editor, Sunnie Huang, was quoted last year saying “Almost every week there are some sort of experiments going on. They could be as small as testing different image sizes or as drastic as overhauling the format of the newsletter. Every week we learn something new about our audience and grow as a team.”
Huang’s words are just a glimpse into the overall strategy behind The Economist’s newsletters, but this little glimpse says a ton. First and foremost, the newsletter has an editor, someone who manages its content in the same way there are editors for newspapers and magazines. The newsletter, to them, is a standalone piece that serves the needs of the reader, not just a reiteration of another publication’s content. Second, it is clear that they treat newsletters as a way to engage and deepen the relationship with the reader, not just a way to increase reach.
During the same interview where Huang gave the previous quote, she also delved much deeper into the nuances of how they approached the creation of the newsletter, and how they deliver it. They implemented UX (user experience) design to create the newsletter to fit their audience, not just look branded or clean. They also developed test campaigns to measure pain points for readers, how to resolve them, and even address the specific content requests and preferences that their audience had for newsletters (and they were different from The Economist’s magazine preferences). Even headlines are calculated to match the most frequently-used platforms of consumption.
The results of the stated efforts and the many others that are not stated: an entirely new pool of readers that receive the content that is perfect for them, and that pool of readers is 1.4x more likely to subscribe to The Economist’s full magazine than the average, interested reader who is not a newsletter subscriber. It also provides another touchpoint for those that are already subscribed, providing unique content and approaches that differ from the main publication. This means more engagement with your audience, and that increases the likelihood or re-subscription.
The Economist’s efforts in newsletters, along with efforts in other digital and print venues, can all be summed up with a simple quote from their Head of Produce, Denise Law: The idea is to bring a new culture of becoming a subscriber-first publication … We’re not just making money from eyeballs, but growing reader revenue.”
To learn more about The Economist’s newsletter process and related interviews, click here. To see The Economist’s annual report, click here. For more information on the benefits of newsletters for publishers, click here.
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