Is there a more effective way to deliver news?

ciaran's avatar
Premium digital newsletter subscriptions

News has been delivered in the same format for more than a century. But are premium digital newsletters about to change that?

More people are now turning away from print news to keep up with current affairs digitally. But outlets are struggling with finding the right funding model to support quality journalism.

Alex Kantrowitz, founder and executive-in-charge of the Big Technology Podcast, has a unique perspective on the future of news content. He sees the traditional publication as being just one way to disseminate information to your readership.

At Web Summit 2021, Alex described how he left a role at BuzzFeed News to trial using online newsletter platform Substack as a means of reporting on stories he was interested in.

He now offers advertising space in his sendouts, and syndicates his newsletter for further income. Alex receives around US$1,250 per month from advertising alone.

Financial Times CEO John Ridding, speaking at our sister event Collision in 2021, said premium newsletters have become very successful in recent years. So why don’t more journalists see them as a legitimate way to publish?

The editorial-financial split

Alex said that restrictive thinking around monetising content is partly down to a traditional dissociation between journalists and business people within major publications.

“With working reporters, for a long time, there was a divorce between the editorial and the business side. Journalists didn’t want to know about how money was being made inside the publications. Then we faced a decade of terrible lay-offs and now we care about it – a lot.”

Alex noted that this monetised model gave him the opportunity to improve the quality of his writing and the stories he picks: “Working through email actually disincentivises you to write too much, because nobody has ever said ‘we want more email’. If your newsletter isn’t high quality, people will just hit spam.”

He also claimed that a high-growth model based on a subscription list is an outdated metric for assessing success. He said “we have an unhealthy obsession with growth. A lot of the time companies put growth above everything … I want to be doing this for 10, 20, 30 years, so I want to build a healthy community of readers sustainably”.

Instead, he saw an active weekly open rate as more offering more insight into the state of your publication.

Alex also stated that people unsubscribing from his newsletter wasn’t negative, and was instead a way to whittle down his audience to the truly engaged.

“Every unsubscribe,” he said, “brings you closer to your tribe.”

Main image: Rawpixel/Shutterstock

Marketing and media

‘Social’ media is anything but – and AI will make it worse

The word “community” is often thrown around in the marketing and social media world, with little regard ...

October 30
An image of a hand holding a stopwatch. The thumb is placed over the stopwatch button.
Marketing and media

What makes for a successful product launch?

Creative thinking alone doesn’t guarantee success according to A...

September 20