What seems like a lifetime ago now, but was in fact 22 years, I read a book which convinced me that email was the future of business publishing and marketing. I set up a company which tried to persuade influential industrial manufacturers to set up general email newsletters for their market sector, and to use me to write them. I failed to get enough to come with me on the ride, but it made me launch my own, which was probably a better idea.
Many businesses now have, of course, regular emails for their own customers, but I’m talking here about true general newsletters about the whole industry, which just happen to be backed and produced by one company. That idea never took off. The software applications available for email newsletters began to focus on what their customers wanted, of course, and what their customers wanted was a marketing tool, rather than a publishing one. These are now very sophisticated, but I wouldn’t like to be a first-time user of something like Mailchimp today, if I just wanted to publish a newsletter. It’s mind-bogglingly complicated.
Are things changing though? Are we about to see the rise of the simple email newsletter, cutting through the online noise and quietly reaching an eager, specialist audience? The growth of online services aimed at making this easy suggests so.
Substack is the service making the headlines. It’s simple to use, works well, and makes it easy for writers to charge their audience too. Alternatives include Mailchimp’s TinyLetter, Medium’s Newsletters and Twitter’s Revue. In the same way that a lot of journalists have jumped on the podcast bandwagon in the last two years, many more are now getting involved with email newsletters, loving the way these bypass the social media noise. However, I can also see an opportunity for businesses to use these services to influence the narrative in a niche sector. It’s worth thinking about.