If you have an email newsletter, chances are you’re looking to make money from it.
As a publisher, your relationship with a reader’s inbox is one that you own. Facebook isn’t charging you to reach it. Apple doesn’t have to approve you. Google isn’t deciding if you’re cool enough to rank (so long as you stay on the right side of the Gmail Spam filter).
You’ve built a relationship with a reader one-on-one, and now you can decide what is the best way to nurture and profit from that relationship.So, what are your options?
The great thing about newsletters is that there are lots of ways to monetize. Some you’ve probably thought of; some, perhaps, you haven’t.
Here are some ideas for you, in rough order from easiest to execute to hardest.
1) Use it for relationship-building and networking
This is an easy one for me to talk about… because this is the category Newspackr falls into.
I considered a few models when I wanted to start writing about media growth and monetization, and the simplest path for me was to try to provide people with actionable insights and advice — and figure various opportunities would arise from it.
Bingo! That’s been a great model for me. People with content and growth and monetization challenges have gotten in touch and become clients of my consulting practice, Montague Street Media.(Get in touch!)
My tips for pursuing this type of model are pretty simple: provide value, make it clear what you do (consulting, creating, speaking, etc.), make sure your welcome email asks people what their challenges are… and then listen!
2) Use it as a direct push to another product
Are you selling a course? A group membership? A subscription to another product?
Then you can use your email as marketing — subtly or not — for a direct revenue stream.
Major publishers do this all the time.
Make sure you’re tracking conversions, and A/B test different pitches and offers.
3) Ask for donations
If you’re writing for passion, or you’re hoping to generate money a bit more directly than the ‘relationship’ route above, you can work on a donation model.
There are some big donor-supported newsletters. Most famously, Maria Popova’s widely read Brain Pickings is supported by donations from readers.
4) Sell a subscription or membership
If you’re creating a newsletter that provides real value to an identifiable group of people, you should think seriously about taking the big, bold step of… charging for it!
You’re probably familiar with Substack, the paid newsletter platform that has led to a mini-boom of people launching paid newsletters.
But they’re hardly the only game in town (and they take a pretty hefty bite of your profits).With an email service provider (like MailChimp) and a payment platform like Memberful or Pico, you can quickly and easily build your own paid newsletter — with full ownership of your audience (and the letter’s look and feel).
You can make your newsletter fully paid, or you can offer some content free and some paid (maybe weekdays are free, for example, and a more in-depth weekend piece is for paid members).
You could also leave all of your newsletters free and then charge for access to a special group or Slack.The possible variations are infinite, and the start-up costs are low.
5) Generate affiliate revenue
With affiliate revenue, you recommend products — in an email or in a web article you link to from your email — and you get a cut of the profit when one of your readers buys.
You typically have to apply to be an affiliate; it helps to have a big and engaged audience.
The cut can be small or big, ranging from roughly 3% to 50%.
You get a code to track when users come from your media property.
And you’re off to the races!(You can get an overview of affiliate marketing here.)
6) Offer classified ads and event listings
If you want to dip your toes into advertising — or supplement an existing advertising program — you could start offering classified ads for things like job listings and events.
Presuming your newsletter addresses a specific audience or niche, there’s probably a natural community of people with similar interests or in the same industry.
Depending on the size of your audience, this could be worth in the hundreds per week or in the thousands.
7) Run programmatic email ads
If you have a big enough email list with a lot of opens (typically you’ll need to be in the millions of email opens per month), you can run programmatic advertising in your emails.
This is basically the equivalent of the website banner ad — but in email.
You’re not going to get a great rate on these ads. But they can help fill unused email inventory if you’re running a big email operation and have not been able to sell enough of your stock directly.
Which brings us to…
8) Sell newsletter sponsorships
If you’re selling advertising, the best business to be in is selling to sponsors. You’ve got a nice, valuable email list; your sponsor wants to reach your audience…Bam!
A newsletter sponsorship typically looks like this, with the sponsor’s logo under your own:
Usually this type of ad is paired with a native ad unit in the body of the email. That is, something that looks like the content of the newsletter, but set off with a label making clear that it’s sponsored.
This type of email advertising is a huge business right now — and is much more profitable than programmatic email advertising.
You can sell newsletter sponsorships directly with an internal sales team or with an outside team. (If you don’t have anyone to sell ads currently, drop me a line here.)
9) Sell dedicated emails
When it comes to selling advertising to sponsors on email, this is the big-ticket item.
A dedicated email, or sponsored email, is when an advertiser programs the entirety of the email you send to your list.
Here’s an example from the Pocket Hits newsletter (from the Pocket app):
Here, The Wall Street Journal takes over the email and runs their content instead of Pocket’s.
These types of takeovers can be content-based, as in this example, or they can be purely commercial — such as using the space to pitch a credit card offer (or anything else).
You have to be judicious here. Your audience signed up for content (usually). But with a daily newsletter, it’s possible to do 2-4 of these a month with minimal disruption — especially when the voice, tone, and content of the offers feels organic to your brand.
Content vs. Commerce
Ultimately, you’ll always be balancing content and commerce. But, when you do it well, these things should enhance each other.
If you build a valuable subscription product, the revenue that makes it sustainable is ultimately what allows the content to exist — and to improve and grow.
If you build a valuable advertising business, you’ve created an audience — a group of people — with common interests. And you’ve connected them to the companies that want to reach them.
When it comes to content and commerce, the growth of one fuels the growth of the other.Go out there and grow.
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