Murmurs of newsletter subscription fatigue

Wait. Shh. Do you hear that? There’s a buzz in the air and, no, it’s not just those cicadas emerging from their 17-year subterranean slumber.

It’s a mounting concern about newsletter subscription fatigue — the idea that consumers will get tired of email newsletters, their inboxes oversaturated with branded messaging.

Now, let’s be real. There are many legitimate reasons to be fatigued these days… like the pandemic, quarantine, and life being altered as we know it.

The good news is that we don’t have to add subscription fatigue to that list.

While murmurs may be spreading among publishers and advertisers, the email newsletter boom isn’t slowing down any time soon. In fact, readers are more engaged with email than ever. According to an Adobe survey, consumers spend roughly five hours a day on email. eMarketer has reported that email is people’s preferred channel for receiving communications from retailers. Now, with third-party cookies on the way out and first-party data taking priority, subscriptions are only set to see growth for years to come.

Here’s a closer look at why — and what you need to know to drown out those pesky murmurs.

The growth of email newsletters

Over the last couple of years, subscriptions have evolved to become a cornerstone of publishers’ strategies and an invaluable channel for driving engagement and revenue.

The pandemic alone drove a 200% surge in email marketing engagement. Even the travel industry, which essentially halted in the wake of COVID-19, saw an almost 50% increase in email engagement. The Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 also found that over 20% of American adults now pay for at least one digital news outlet, with most of those paying for an average of two subscriptions.

It’s no wonder major publishers are using newsletter subscriptions to retain and nurture those audiences and continue to monetize their content. The New York Times, for example, recently launched seven new opinion newsletters from columnists and niche opinion writers. The publisher also made one-third of its total collection of over 50 newsletters subscriber-only. This allows NYT to deliver personalized, relevant content and drive traffic back to its website and paywalled pieces. It also helps the publisher to compete with paid subscription offerings from self-published journalists who use platforms like Substack.

The Atlantic, whose subscriber base grew by nearly 50% from 2020 to 2021, is similarly recruiting established, paid newsletter writers to come under its umbrella and build its engaged audience. Meanwhile, Quartz grew its subscriber base by 71% year over year and found that 75% of its paying customers accessed most of the publisher’s content from their email inboxes.

“In the short-term: publishers and marketers want to make sure they provide content and products in a way that keeps up with this trend,” LiveIntent CMO, Kerel Cooper, told AdMonsters. “It’s sort of the next phase for these companies related to building engagement, interaction, and time spent with their brand. In the long-term: everyone understands that email will be the key to Identity in a first-party world. What these new entrants understand is the sheer superpower of the email address and they are developing strategies to be more dexterous with it.”

Even Twitter is getting in on the subscription action. The social media giant acquired newsletter platform Revue, making it easier for users to access and sign up for email content right from Twitter.

Why email newsletters will continue to flourish

Email newsletters don’t show any signs of slowing down in the future. Newsletters will continue to be a preferred channel for offering and receiving relevant content and cultivating direct, data-driven relationships for both publishers and readers.

Here’s how.

Readers enjoy personalized, one-to-one content

Consumers flock to newsletter subscriptions because they know they’re signing up for curated content that matches their interests and behaviors — delivered right to their inboxes.

Peter Chang, CRO of Likemind, said: “Email is an opt-in environment where the users choose to be a part of our user base. They can choose to subscribe to all of our brands, some of our brands, or even, within the brands, just the different types of communications or content experiences that they want. So they have full control.”

That’s why publishers like The New York Times, which has eight million subscriptions and 100 million email-registered readers, are expanding their newsletter offerings across specific verticals like business, tech, and culture.

“We have to make sure that we’re adding much more distinctive value to what it means to feel like you are a subscriber,” said Alex Hardiman, chief product officer of The New York Times. “So a lot of the work now is about making sure that every single time you experience The Times as a subscriber, you know it and you feel it.”

Publishers build first-party data and revenue

For publishers, email newsletters offer a wealth of first-party data — namely, email addresses — which will be invaluable given that third-party cookies are set to be disabled on Chrome browsers in 2023.

With first-party data, publishers can more effectively track and target audiences across the web. And since publishers can own and activate their first-party data, they won’t have to worry about losing it behind walled gardens like Facebook and Google.

Email is the largest identifier ever created by humans by far, and it can be used in adtech, martech, and madtech,” said Jason Oates, chief business officer at LiveIntent. “Having that asset and building up that first-party data is really helpful because you can start building a people graph of all of your customers […] Now you’ve got a pool of identifiers that you can actually leverage in different media.”

Publishers can also monetize their email newsletters with personalized ads to help diversify revenue streams and meet their bottom lines. For example, they can programmatically sell native ads, which fit seamlessly into the user experience and newsletter format.

“With native ads in email newsletters, publishers can transform their newsletters into a channel for first-party data collection,” Nick Bolt, senior product marketing manager of publisher solutions at LiveIntent, told AdMonsters. “With more premium options, publishers can attract a larger array of advertisers and acquire more data to continue growing their business and revenue.”

Driving the future of email newsletter subscriptions

Publishers can ride — and lead — this wave of email newsletter excitement by continuing to build and drive interest in their subscription offerings.

One of the best ways to do that is to use audience and behavioral insights to uncover exactly what subscribers want to see. That means gathering first-party data and using it to build audience segments for further retargeting and acquisition opportunities. From there, publishers can produce even more personalized newsletters and data-driven content.

Although services like Substack and Revue are growing in popularity today, they’ll likely dwindle in growth in the future — it’s unlikely that consumers will want to continue paying for several subscriptions at once. However, publisher newsletters from trusted and beloved sources will always reign supreme. In fact, their value and purpose in the digital marketing landscape are more significant than ever and are only expected to increase.

So, shake off those concerns swirling through your head, at least until those cicadas reemerge in another 17 years. Maybe we can reevaluate then — but we’ll probably do so by reaching you in your inbox