The appeal of newsletters: ownership and intimacy

A couple of interesting thoughts from Craig Mod about the underlying reasons behind the shift to newsletters.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Craig Mod on the appeal of newsletters:

Ownership is the critical point here. Ownership in email in the same way we own a paperback: We recognize that we (largely) control the email subscriber lists, they are portable, they are not governed by unknowable algorithmic timelines.3 And this isn’t ownership yoked to a company or piece of software operating on quarterly horizon, or even multi-year horizon, but rather to a half-century horizon. Email is a (the only?) networked publishing technology with both widespread, near universal adoption,4and history. It is, as they say, proven.

This is an infinitely more eloquent expression of what I was exploring when I talked of email being the cockroach of the internet. (Mod's writing is consistently measured and beautiful that it makes me want to crawl away and run a B&B or something…)

Mod has some insightful points about the tone of newsletters, too:

This intimacy — both from my side and that of the recipients — seems to engender a kind of vulnerability that I haven’t found elsewhere online. But the intimacy is not surprising: the conversation is one-to-one even though the distribution is one-to-many.

Newsletters work best with a strong sense of a human writing for a human. A message arrives, direct to your inbox, even in thousands are also receiving it. A voice that you become familiar with emerges — in a similar way to the best podcasts.

As with blogging, those who are most successful in this medium will be those who can explore and find the right tone of voice, rather than ramming a standard journalistic voice into a different medium. This vulnerable, connective tone is something many journalists struggle with — it's very much not how we're trained to write — but it's critical to creating engaging work online.

One thought: does the very fact that it's challenging to make a newsletter go viral — there's no easy way of sharing it on to a mass of people — encourage both more vulnerability in the author, and more reflection in the reader?

newslettersaudience engagement

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.