Cautious Optimism for Publishers

Leading product and marketing for an email technology company, I suppose I could be accused of bias when saying that email is part of the solution for many of the publishing industry’s current problems. However, the fact that publishers need to establish a direct relationship with their audience is something that I truly believe, and email just happens to be the best way of doing this. Getting an invitation to the inbox is extremely powerful.

Here’s my section from Columbia Journalism Review’s article, Publishers’ New Year’s resolution: more experimentation, cautious optimism.

Strengthen relationships with readers through email

With the death of the homepage, readers spend less time engaging with the full slate of any publisher’s content. To circumvent the algorithms Facebook and Google use to determine who sees what, connecting directly with consumers often requires getting to their inboxes.

“Email is the direct relationship with the audience,” says Keith Sibson, vice president of product and marketing of PostUp, which provides email marketing platforms to clients including NBC, Disney, and The Golf Channel. “Whereas a lot of the things going on in the digital publishing world are about people coming up against an intermediary in that relationship, Facebook being a really big part of that.”

For many publishers (including CJR), email newsletters are a way to share content they want to highlight with consumers who have signaled their willingness to engage. “When someone signs up on a publisher website, and provides their email address, what they’re essentially giving is an invitation,” Sibson said.

Getting that invitation is the first step towards deepening a relationship with consumers that exists outside the walled garden of social platforms. Once readers have engaged enough to sign on for a newsletter, publishers have the ability to tailor content for that user’s interests, from politics to cooking. Many outlets have already embraced this strategy; The Washington Post offers 65 separate newsletters that readers can choose from and The New York Times sends out 53, including seven that focus on ‘special offers’ that provide deals on products offered by premium advertisers.

Whether by partnering with advertisers to bring consumers specific products or simply drawing readers directly to an outlet’s website, email provides an end run around the dominance of Facebook and Google, and while they’re no silver bullet, the prevalence of newsletters shows that many publishers have already realized this. “Email is not going to change publishing businesses overnight,” Sibson says. “But it can become a very big part of their revenue streams.”

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