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In Praise of Email Newsletters

By Sree Sreenivasan | April 28, 2011 5:06pm
A screenshot from a paid email newsletter service run by journalism Conor Friedersdorf, using Letter.ly
A screenshot from a paid email newsletter service run by journalism Conor Friedersdorf, using Letter.ly
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By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

In a tech world filled with hype about social media, I want to take a moment to praise email newsletters. I know what you’re thinking: What’s next — a column praising faxes?

I believe that as our lives get increasingly cluttered and we drown in information overload, email newsletters can help us keep up with important news and information. The best ones are filled with relevant, timely, useful information in a digestible form. They point us to good content and can be saved for later use.

Here are the email newsletters I read every day, according to their rough arrival times (would love to hear your suggestions for more I should get):

• Around 8 am: DNAinfo Manhattan Newsletter, from DNAinfo, of course, a list of NYC news, information and, yes, the weather. [subscription info]

• Around 8 am: 10 Things in Tech You Need To Know, from BusinessInsider.com [subscription info]. BusinessInsider also offers another useful morning one called 10 Things to Know Before the Opening Bell.

• Just before noon: Romenesko Latest, a collection of posts from Poynter.org’s media blogger, Jim Romenesko. [subscription info]

• Around 6 pm: SAI Chart of the Day, a single chart that shows tech data from BusinessInsider’s Silicon Allery Insider. Recent examples: What people care about when buying a smartphone and The iPhone is now half of Apple’s business. [subscription info]

Together, these form a steady flow that keeps me informed about my various interests and, even when I am not near a computer, they allow me, via Blackberry, to have a sense of being connected.

These are all free newsletters, designed to drive eyeballs to websites. But I recently stumbled upon a new kind of email newsletter — one for which readers pay for a subscription. There have, for years, been paid electronic newsletters (here’s a 1997 New York Times article I wrote "Newsletters find haven online") but they are usually legacy publications using a new distribution model. But what I’m talking about is the ability for just about anyone to create a for-pay subscription email newsletter, using a service called Letterly (http://letter.ly).

Letterly explains their service is "a simple way to publish premium content. Readers sign up for monthly subscriptions, and your content is delivered via email. Subscriptions and payments are handled via Amazon payments."

I learned about Letterly when I came across Best of Journalism, the only paid email newsletter I get. It’s a set of pointers to compelling nonfiction around the web, curated by Conor Friedersdorf, who works at The Atlantic, and costs $1.99. I asked him to tell me more about it:

I've been thrilled with Letter.ly so far. I'd long pondered doing some sort of subscription only newsletter.


Beyond being an enjoyable diversion, The Best of Journalism is a small income stream that doesn't depend on the health of the industry or the ad revenues at my publication or anything really save that my subscribers are enjoying the product that I put out.

Thus far, they seem to be.

One more observation. I'm fortunate to have a platform at The Atlantic where I benefit from tremendously smart readers and all the connections that are possible when you're writing is online to be linked and emailed around and shared on Facebook and engaged by dozens of bloggers with interesting reactions. I'd hate it if the wide open Web that does so much to enable an inclusive public discourse were to give way to a bunch of people writing behind pay walls.

That's one reason why I chose as the subject of my newsletter something that doesn't suffer from going out to a limited readership segregated off from the rest of the Internet.

Smart guy with a really thoughtful take on the journalism landscape (you can follow him at @conor64). I can picture many people doing similar projects in niche areas. Letterly’s frontpage says they have 2,864 newsletters running now. I’ll keep an eye on this to see what progress they make.

Would you pay $1.99 a month to get Conor’s curated newsletter? What other thoughts do you have on the state of newsletters? Post your comments below using your Facebook account or on Twitter @sree.

Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia journalism professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.