In the last few years, the emergence of paid newsletter platforms, such as Substack, Revue, and Bulletin, have opened up new opportunities for individuals and small publishers to distribute and monetise content. A number of high-profile columnists have left big news organisations to run newsletter-based businesses, with a few of the most successful earning salaries in the high six figures.1 At the same time, digital-born brands such as Politico and Axios have found that smart, journalist-curated emails have been a key driver of growth for businesses that cover a range of niches from politics to health, technology, sports, and local.2
Meanwhile, mainstream news organisations have been shifting resources into email production as they try to attract new subscribers, build loyalty with existing users, and introduce more personalization into their digital products (Jack 2016; Newman et al. 2020). The New York Times, for example, now produces 50 different emails read by 15 million people a week.3
Much of this recent free and paid newsletter activity has been focused on the United States, but we were keen to know if this had extended elsewhere. More widely, we wanted to understand more about the appeal of newsletters in general. In what ways can this low-tech and often unfashionable medium help build or support sustainable journalism?
Our Digital News Report data show that email newsletters remain an important channel across countries, with an average of 17% using them weekly. In the United States, 22% use newsletters or email alerts, with almost half of them (10%) saying it is their main way of accessing digital news. Austria (24%), Belgium (23%), and Portugal (22%) also have surprisingly high email usage, but Norway (11%) and the UK (9%) have some of the lowest levels. This may be because their stronger brand connections – with users more likely to go directly to websites and apps – mean that publishers feel there is less need to push content to audiences.
Image Courtesy: thedrum.com