Paid-for newsletters can be more powerful than most publishers realise.
Although it can be tricky to find the right mix of what is new and what is exclusive, when you get the formula right, the audience is happy to subscribe and pay.
"More than 90 per cent of stuff published is not exclusive and it’s not breaking news," said Pit Gottschalk, publisher of football newsletter Fever Pit’ch, speaking at the INMA Media Innovation Week (23 September 2019).
Unlike media startups, legacy newsrooms traditionally keep editorial stories separated into categories, such as current affairs, business or sport. As a consequence, news teams do not have access to important data that could inform the editorial strategy.
"I think that the editors, the journalists, must not just be part of the data management, but at the centre of it," said Gottschalk.
To illustrate just how important data is for devising a successful editorial strategy, he gave the example of My Little Paris, a newsletter created by Fany Péchiodat. This entrepreneur started simply by sending some insider tips from the French capital to a handful of her friends and, over the years, she built up a following of 1.8 million subscribers.
Péchiodat's clever use of authentic voice, combined with exclusive and practical information, allowed her to launch a marketing service that sends her subscribers a selection of beauty products they may like for €18 a month.
Around 80,000 readers have subscribed to this service, helping her build a €10 million business.
Péchiodat achieved this by publishing only one story a day. She got the right balance of authentic voice and useful information, two essential components of the intimate relationship with her audience.
"We often have the mindset of 'What can we sell to readers?'" said Gottschalk, adding that the question we should be asking instead is 'How do readers want to be approached?'.
He added that we cannot underestimate the intimate relationship our audience builds with the newsletter. Readers usually open their emails in the privacy of their living room after a long day, looking for entertainment or information. Sending a newsletter is akin to be invited into someone's living room, Gottschalk said.
When launching a new business based on a paid-for newsletter model, building a strong community around a common interest is paramount. In his case, this was football.
Gottschalk sends his newsletter out around 6 am to make sure his subscribers are informed about the most important football news of the day. He then syndicates the content, with each story generating up to half a million views every day.
Starting by building a community on Facebook, his newsletter Fever Pit'ch now has more than 11,000 subscribers with a 30 to 50 per cent open rate.
Sending out an email is not enough, though. Gottschalk constantly interacts with his audience, for example, challenging them to a football quiz where they can test their knowledge against his, or by betting on sports results and comparing wins.
You need to take a look at the data to understand what your readers value and where you are wasting the resources to spot opportunities, said Gottschalk.
By combining data analytics, efforts to build his community and mixing new and exclusive content, he says the newsletter now breaks even.
"By creating engagement and value, I am closer and closer to small payments and membership," he concluded.
Free daily newsletter
- BBC director-general: "We are activists for impartiality"
- Tip: Five ways to maximise audience engagement on Twitter
- How to finance public interest news in the misinformation world
- How South China Morning Post reached one billion YouTube views
- After threatening its very existence, covid-19 gave local sports reporting a whole new meaning