Email Newsletter Trends in 2017

If the email newsletter entered its renaissance several years ago, it’s certainly in the modern era now. No matter how many thinkpieces declare its death, email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

So what does the inbox look like in 2017? See for yourself by stepping into the Museum of Contemporary Inbox Art and looking at a few recent email newsletter trends.

Everybody Has a Newsletter

Email isn’t just for Renaissance publishers. Everyone is sending newsletters. Your company, your neighbor, your dog (don’t worry, Fido isn’t mad you haven’t subscribed yet).

Not only is email not dead, it’s everywhere. The email newsletter is one of the go-to tools for people of all ages looking to curate content for their audiences. Even millennials. There are newsletters for millennials, email newsletters aboutmillennials, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, email newsletters about ridiculous media coverage about millennials,

97% of digital-native publishers have an email newsletter, and many of those publishers have more than one. Like, waaay more than one. It’s pretty clear that Sending Tons of Mail is becoming a trend of its own.

Expanded Offerings

The New York Times sends 50 email newsletters. Washington Post reaches their readers with an arsenal of 70 email newsletters. Why are publishers sending so many newsletters? Because they get results.

For premium publishers, newsletters can provide additional value to a paid subscription. The Financial Times offers several premium newsletters that keep readers engaged and retain subscribers. Newsletters can even convert email subscribers into paid subscribers themselves. New York Times readers who receive a newsletter read twice as many articles as other readers; they’re also twice as likely to become paying customers.

Publishers with a wide variety of content offerings, like Rare and theCHIVE, separate their email content into vertical-based sends. That way, they can target readers with only the content they want. The more email a reader signs up to receive, the more chances you have to engage your readers.

Even if you don’t have the editorial staff to craft dozens of emails each day, email newsletter automation allows publishers to maintain their prolific output with ease. Why not try it out?

Experimentation in the Inbox

News companies have long used their election coverage as a place to try out new technology. It’s why the second-biggest story of Election Night is always about magic screens or holograms of Black Eyed Peas members. Last year, news publishers used the 2016 election to try out new methods of covering the race through email, including personal emails.

But publisher experiments don’t end with the election. Email newsletters work, and publishers are constantly searching for ways to make them work even better.

As data-driven newsletters become the norm, publishers are learning that the inbox makes a pretty reliable testing ground for new content. Email audiences typically rank among a publisher’s most engaged audiences, which makes them the perfect guinea pigs to test out your new content about, say, guinea pigs.

Or any other subject you like, no matter how obscure.

Subject Deep-Dives

Did you know France had vending machines that dispensed wine and beer…in 1891?!

If you read the Quartz Obsession newsletter on October 30, you’re probably nodding yes to both. That, or you’re taking to the streets with a pitchfork, demanding unfettered access to these magical machines.

Each Obsession email explores a single topic with Quartz’s trademark engaging, interactive approach. Introduced in September, the last two months have included fascinating deep-dives into everything from drum machines to dead presidents. And if those exciting subjects don’t sound like your thing, the twice-a-week Tedium newsletter provides an equally engaging look at more mundane subjects like copyright law and corduroy.

These deep-dive email newsletters allow publishers a dedicated space to explore things (however trivial) that wouldn’t fit in their normal coverage, like really sweet vending machines.

Pop-up Newsletters

Publishers have also experimented with using temporary newsletters to cover a single topic over a series of sends, such as seasonal events or television shows. Email series: they’re kind of like a podcast, only you don’t have to rewind it every time you zone out.

What kind of pop-up newsletters are publishers sending? The Washington Post sends a weekly fantasy football newsletter. The New York Times has seen success with multiple pop-up newsletters, including a Game of Thrones newsletter that regularly boasted an open rate above 100%. Can you think of any other pop-ups that get that kind of glowing reception?

Politico is also using pop-up newsletters to cover European politics and gauge their ability to expand coverage into the area. It’s another trend that points to just how useful email newsletters are for not only delivering publisher content but also shaping its direction.

Daily Info Dumps for Insiders

Some of the other newsletters that Politico is testing out include European versions of their popular Playbook newsletter for Brussels and London. Over the last 10 years, the Politico Playbook has established itself as the definitive source of information for political insiders, a morning must-read for policy wonks, and an example for publishers who want to meet their audiences with a whole lot of information fast.

The Washington Post has taken a similar approach with their Daily 202, and publishers in non-political verticals are taking note of the followings they attract. It’s not just publishers who have fallen in love with email again; readers like it too. The daily inbox info-dump is convenient for professionals who need to stay informed but don’t have the time to scour the web searching for the latest news.

Different Newsletters for Different Times

As if publishers haven’t been busy enough in the inbox, they’re also testing out different versions of their newsletters for different times of the day. They realize that an audience’s need for information changes throughout the day. That info dump might work in the morning, but some people may want more concise recaps in the afternoon. They might even prefer that info dump at the end of the day.

Each morning, Axios sends a long political newsletter, while the PM version is shorter. Earlier this year, Politico debuted an afternoon Power Playbook version to provide updates on the morning’s top stories. Whenever readers prefer to curl up with a good newsletter, publishers want to make sure they have the most current information possible.

The Post-Renaissance

Email might be an old technology, but publishers are modernizing the inbox with their commitment to constantly tweaking their newsletter offerings. What does the future hold for email newsletter trends? Fingers crossed for email hoverboards!

Melanie Angel
Editor, PostUp PlayBook

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