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A Year Later: Still More Confessions of an E-Newsletter Publisher

  |  July 24, 2002   |  Comments

An e-newsletter’s first birthday: growing pains, lessons learned, and the beginnings of some revenue flow.

Wearing a publisher’s hat is not easy.

Are you a writer? An editor, an ad salesperson, or a marketing promotions expert? A production and tech geek? A customer service rep? A stickler for details or a big picture strategist?

After 22 issues and more all-nighters than I care to admit to, I’ve played all the roles above as publisher of WordBiz Report. Some more successfully than others.

It’s hard to believe exactly one year has passed since "Anatomy of an E-Newsletter Launch." In that article, I laid out the steps I took to launch the first issue. These included creating a premium (Guide to Killer Online Copywriting), crafting a welcome message, developing landing pages for sign ups, and writing copy for text ads in other newsletters.

I offered another installment with "More Confessions of an E-Newsletter Publisher." You heard about the many decisions that go into an HTML template and the hassle of publishing in both HTML and text.

Here’s my year in review -- honest and unembellished, with some lessons learned.

Defining the Business Objective

WordBiz Report started out as a lead-generator for my consulting business. Somewhere along the way (after September 11 and after a significant birthday last December), it morphed into something else -- an information product in and of itself. I felt passionate about the newsletter, more so than about consulting. I realized publishing was a route to come full circle back to my roots as a journalist.

Products need business and marketing plans and a path to profitability. I’ve already begun to implement a plan that includes a paid subscription. (I can’t tell you yet whether it will succeed. Look for results early next year.)

Selling Advertising

The first step to making my newsletter a direct revenue producer was obvious: sell sponsorship advertising. Only one problem. I had no experience selling ads.

So I called email vendors I know, as well as other business colleagues, and asked if they wanted to purchase space. Lo and behold, several did. One in particular urged me on, saying she’d commit to the top spot for a couple of months.

What was the rate? I based it loosely on CPM but decided, arbitrarily, I didn’t want to sell the top position for less than $500.

I asked other e-newsletter publishers how they sell ads and quickly learned two tricks of the trade: No one pays the published rates. Always sell multiple insertions.

It works like this. Post your highest rates on a sponsor info page on your site or in a rate sheet. Base them on the size of your list, the responsiveness of your readers, and your competition. Then, negotiate each ad sell (two insertions minimum) at a 5 or 10 percent discount. Sponsors are more apt to buy if they feel they’re getting a deal.

Growing the List

No matter what your endgame with your e-newsletter (increased sales leads, traffic to your site, paying subscribers, ad sales), the bigger your subscriber list, the better. I don’t have a sizeable marketing budget, so I have to get creative.

I’ve used three no-cost or low-cost tactics. First, I often swap my number three ad with other newsletter publishers. This means all three slots are always filled. If I’m not getting direct revenue from ad sales, I’m getting new subscribers from a promotion in another newsletter.

Second, I’ve set up coregistration with several other publishers whose e-newsletters I highly regard. Their content complements mine. New subscribers to my list can sign up for their publications on my thank-you page, and vice versa.

Third, I’ve experimented with Google’s pay-per-click advertising. I’ve got several versions of a mini-text ad running. It comes up in search results for keywords such as "e-newsletters."

About 50 percent of the time, traffic to the sign-up landing page turns into a subscription. I’ve got cost per click down to well under $1.00.

And, my list is now over 9,000 names.

Refining the Content Formula

Just because I wrote about developing a content formula, doesn’t mean it’s easy to perfect the equation. In fact, I’ve found this to be the most difficult thing about publishing an e-newsletter.

What do I say? How do I say it? How do I keep saying it?

Case studies, interviews, best practices, tips, resources... what’s the best mix?

How long should the newsletter be? Should I use teaser intros or include the whole article? I’ve done both.

I’ve been waiting for the right moment to take a potshot at fellow columnist Martin Lindstrom. He recently wrote e-newsletters are a time and resource vacuum that can damage to your brand. Martin, here goes.

First, I agree many e-newsletters produced by marketing departments are a waste of time, both the publisher’s and the reader’s. That doesn’t mean we should pull the plug on email newsletters.

Would you rather get a barrage of email announcing new products and plugging old ones or a monthly missive with a nugget of something useful along with the promotional stuff? I vote for the latter.

You’re in control of your inbox, so why not unsubscribe from all but a dozen newsletters? Just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It comes down to execution. Yes, it’s hard -- really hard -- to publish a readable, informative, interesting newsletter issue after issue.

There’s burnout. It hit me a few months ago. I took a break and cut publication back to once a month.

I’m happy to report I’m fired up again. Stay tuned for a further installment in confessions of an e-newsletter publisher. Feel free to sign up if you haven’t already.

--Debbie


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Author and e-business expert Alexis Gutzman undertook the complex process of starting and publishing an email newsletter and details her experience in this briefing. "Publishing Your Own Newsletter" originated as a multipart series on internet.com. This briefing is a compilation of Gutzman’s essential writings about the email newsletter publishing process. Along with tips, tricks, and advice on what works best and what pitfalls to watch for, this ClickZ Guide includes product evaluations, code for capturing user information, and sound advice on user privacy concerns before implementing some of the tools discussed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Debbie Weil

Debbie Weil is publisher of WordBiz Report, which focuses on the business of words online. It was awarded The Newsletter on Newsletters' Gold Award for Online Subscription Newsletter. A former newspaper reporter with an MBA and corporate marketing experience, Debbie is an expert on B2B online content and marketing at both the strategic and creative levels. She was Web content marketing manager for Network Solutions (now part of Verisign) before launching WordBiz.com.

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