Monday, February 06, 2006

Trouble for email newsletters

A little more than a month ago I wrote a piece saying I feared for the future of the email newsletter.
Now comes more bad news for publishers of those electronic products. AOL and Yahoo will begin charging a small fee to bulk emailers. Folks who pay will get preferential treatment. Folks that don't, won't.
Now let me be clear. I'm not suggesting that it's time for B2B publishers to abandon email newsletters. There is too much revenue attached to these things to walk away just yet. And I don't want to suggest that the AOL/Yahoo move is some sort of unmitigated horror (it's too early to tell.) But it should be clear by now to everyone that email newsletters are doomed. RSS is a vastly superior delivery system. And although it may take some time before your readers are ready to make the switch, you can be sure that they will make the switch.
So what am I suggesting?
Two things:
1) Make the only decision that you'll need to make about RSS -- full or partial feed -- and then offer RSS for all your content.
2) If any money in your budget is earmarked for doing anything with email newsletters, change your budget. Take the cash and use it for something else.

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  1. At the b2b publisher where I work, we're making the switch as well, de-emphasizing e-mail alerts and focusing on RSS. It's interesting what a difference a year makes -- e-mail was seen as one of the MOST effective ways to drive traffic; now, it seems dated.

    Do you have a prediction as to when readers may turn away from e-mail newsletters?

  2. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I'm not sure when the email newsletter will be pronounced dead. But I am quite certain that it won't be long.
    RSS is a much, much better product for users. It cuts down on my spam. It updates constantly. It saves me time. It's more convenient. It's more flexible. I don't have to worry about unsubscribing hassles.
    And it seems to me that once you try RSS, it's impossible to go back. So I'd guess that the majority of B2B readers will have no interest at all in email newsletters in maybe ... a year? two?
    The other thing worth noting about RSS is that it likely puts a publisher in a good position for whatever comes next -- increased use of mobile platforms, some sort of "ipod of reading," whatever.

  3. Hi Paul,
    Thank you for responding to my comment. You're preaching to the converted to me, however. I've abandoned e-mail newsletters (which once were a mainstay). Now, to stay informed about the industry I cover, I set up a bunch of RSS feeds. Unlike e-mail newsletters, which replicate many of the pitfalls of print, RSS updates all day long and is current, dynamic. I love it! And I love that my publication, not known usually for its innovation, is embracing them as well.

    You hinted that there may be other products coming down the pike that RSS puts us in good stead for. Can you elaborate?

  4. Hi Anonymous,
    Congratulations on making the switch to RSS. I'm sure your readers are glad that your publication has become an innovator.
    As for "other products coming down the pike," I don't mean to suggest that anything in particular is coming. However, I do suspect that a fundamental shift is coming. I like to think about the possibility of an iPod-style device for reading. It doesn't have to come from Apple, It could come from anyone. And just like the iPod, it would use RSS to move files.
    I suspect that the limits of the Web browser mean that something else must be coming...but I'm not sure that we can say what it will be:
    I also suspect that the war over P2P systems is over. I think publishers and video producers will soon be using BitTorrent and related software. That's going to expand the world of multimedia content. Suddenly there will be a surge in demand for video content and other memory-intensive material.
    I also like the idea of mash-ups, which I think will grow more popular. And RSS is central to that idea as well.

  5. Hi Paul,

    there are still lots of people not ready to switch from eMail Newsletter to subscribing to feeds. In a study last year in US (Yahoo RSS Study 10/2005) only 12 % say the know about RSS and 4 % said that the use (knowingly) RSS – but also from this study 27 % did use RSS via My Yahoo, My MSN and others.

    My readers still like / request the newsletter (additional to my blog feeds) and my readers question is getting louder, whether I could deliver them the blogs feeds more regular by eMail – and there are solutions on the market to do so.

    In short: I do not believe that people will switch in big numbers, but they might be willing to use a better, trouble free service (even, if it means to receive them via feeds on your
    Browser, Feedreader, Outlook or alike).


  6. Hi Hugo,
    Thanks for the comment.
    And thanks for the info on the Yahoo RSS study. I agree that buy-in is still very low for RSS. But I'm convinced that this is changing. RSS is a superior product for users. The bottom line is that RSS is a better product for users. And that will force us to adjust.