How valuable is email?

4 minute read

Upland Admin

For all the gripes about email, the vows to fix email, and the startups built to destroy email, email remains an irreplaceable part of our lives. In fact, a recent episode of NPR’s The Indicator podcast seemed to indicate just how much we value email.

The episode highlighted the work of three economists who asked people how much money they would have to receive in order to give up access to certain important digital goods. The research covered 6 services: search, maps, social media, video streaming, email, and e-commerce. Email placed second in terms of importance, finishing only behind online search and far ahead of social media, which came in last.

Coming in second to “the ability to instantly access all the world’s knowledge?” Not bad, email.

Then again, people rely on email for access to knowledge as well, more so than ever. Email continues to grow in popularity as a means of keeping up with news and viewing publisher content. So while email is valuable for audiences, email is equally valuable for the publishers trying to connect with those audiences.

That’s good news for publishers, provided they take advantage of it. First, a few numbers.

How valuable is email for your audience?

According to the just-released 2018 Reuters Digital News Report, email is gaining in popularity as a means of accessing and reading news. For many people, it’s their main way of keeping up with the news. The report brings attention to what it calls “the rebirth of email, which is being used as an effective tactic to bring consumers back to news websites directly…”

In the survey, 6% of respondents worldwide report that email is “their main gateway to news.” This number jumps to 10% for Americans surveyed.

The country with the most people who turn to email for news? Belgium, with 24%. That’s higher than the percentage of worldwide respondents who use social as their main source for news (23%).

Speaking of, where does social fall in all of this? See for yourself.


While the percentage of Facebook users has remained virtually flat since 2016 (65%), Facebook’s usage for news has fallen to 36%, down 6 percentage points from its peak at 42%. It’s important to note that most of the Reuters survey polling was conducted before Facebook’s early 2018 algorithm changes, which means that this number may be even lower now.

Of course, that’s not to say Facebook doesn’t play a role for publishers. From a June 2018 Tow Center for Digital Journalism report:

“We are moving to a place where platforms become, essentially, marketing platforms that allow for the audience to brush up against the brand. Then [publishers] need to figure out how to get them and keep them.”

So how can publishers keep their audience once they’ve “brushed up against the brand?” Email is a good place to start.

How valuable is email for publishers?

If you’re a publisher, you don’t have to move to Belgium to benefit from the value of email.

Whether you drive revenue from ads, paid subscriptions, or both, having a direct audience is critical to your business model. Email gives you a direct link to your audience, making it an invaluable way to turn your fleeting search and social traffic into repeat visitors and potentially even paid subscribers. After all, it seems to work pretty well for the New York Times: visitors are twice as likely to subscribe if they already receive one of the paper’s newsletters.

Once you have a direct way to communicate with individuals in your audience, you can use that connection to deliver content, bring people back to your site, and nurture the relationship. Publishers can typically count on their email list to be the most engaged sector of their audience: visitors from email tend to view twice as many pages per session and many more pages over the life of the email relationship.

Still, growing your email audience is just the first part. When it comes to publisher newsletters, email is only as valuable as the quality of the email you send. Need help driving more value from your email program? Here are some resources for building email relationships, sending better email, and monetizing it more effectively:

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