If I had a dollar for every time someone predicted the death of email, I could probably pay for a flight to Paris.

Peak season, first class.

It’s the misguided prognostication that keeps popping up like dandelions in your yard.

Ninety percent of people in the US use email.

No, it’s not dying with the younger generations. On the contrary: 91 percent of 15-24-year-olds use email, while 93.4 percent of those 25-44 do.

Moreover, if you use it, you check it daily (99 percent of email users do).

Savvy brand builders love email newsletters. For every $1 spent on email, marketers get $36 in return. Depending on your industry, the return can be as high as $45 (hello retail and ecommerce).

When I saw The New York Times chime in to say email newsletters had peaked, I pinged my newsletter guru Michael Katz to share a friendly “will they ever learn?”

Our email relay shifted to a conversation about paid newsletters.

Me: “As soon as you starting thinking monetization, it becomes more about you and your customer’s wallet and less about your customer.”

Michael: “That’s a newsletterworthy quote you just wrote there. I hope to see you [include it] in one of your future editions!”

Because of course a newsletter guru’s first thought is that’s newsletter fodder!

But as I researched said requested newsletter…I changed my mind.

I’m amending my statement.

If you use your newsletter to market, don’t charge. If your newsletter is a standalone product, you can consider monetizing it. But it is ALWAYS about the customer, your reader.

And don’t double dip.

Marketing Newsletter Readers Pay with Attention

“I’ll just give you my email address so you can pitch me endlessly,” said no newsletter recipient ever.

Marketers must earn permission to email newsletter readers.


The marketer sends something of value – something that interests, informs, or entertains the reader. Something the reader enjoys and looks forward to.

In return, subscribers give the sender their attention. With that attention, the sender can sprinkle in a little marketing.

Senders can offer and inform readers about their products, services, events or even their community contributions.

Newsletters make fabulous brand-building vehicles, because their regular appearance helps subscribers get to know, like, and trust the sender.

Trust is a prerequisite for most purchases and is harder than ever to gain.

Newsletters I look forward to receiving include:

  • Rohit Bhargava’s Non-Obvious Insights – for the breadth of news and marketing commentaries he offers and his unusual take on some of them (and I attended some of his speaking engagements)
  • Ann Handley’s Total Annarchy – for her kind, tell-it-like-it-is writing advice and awesome case studies (and I bought her book)
  • Michael Katz’s The Likeable Expert Gazette – for his marketing tips, served with a healthy dollop of humor (and I’ve been a coaching client, attended his webinars, and bought his DIY newsletter kit)

In each case, receiving the newsletter helped me gain confidence that buying what Rohit, Ann, and Michael were selling was a good investment.

My own Varsity Marketing Newsletter, which you are reading now, has helped me build wonderful relationships with my subscribers and prompted some to hire me, refer me, and buy my book. (Thank you!)

It’s worth repeating: your marketing newsletter readers pay you with their attention.

Paid Newsletter Subscribers Expect an Exclusive Product

In recent years, paid newsletters have become a way for experts, writers, artists, and other creative people to build a direct connection to their audience and an additional income stream.

Subscribers pay a monthly or annual fee and in return, they expect something exclusive.

Take Jane Friedman’s The Hot Sheet, for example. Jane has been in the publishing world for decades and keeps tabs on the industry.

Writers, editors, book designers, literary agents, and other publishing industry folk pay $59 per year for her expertise, insider insights, and case studies.

You can’t get her current take on the industry anywhere else. The Hot Sheet is a valued product on its own.

It’s like the subscription you pay to Netflix or Apple+: access to content (tv series, movies, sporting events) you can’t get anywhere else.

The paid version of Roxane Gay’s The Audacity newsletter includes:

  • subscriber-only posts
  • the ability to post comments and interact with her
  • live Zoom events with her Audacious Bookclub authors

Access to Roxane Gay and her work you can’t get anywhere else. If you value her writing, interacting with her community, and live book club events with her and her author connections, you are happy to pay the $60 per year.

Should You Charge for Your Newsletter?

Paid subscriptions provide a regular revenue stream that tempts many senders to charge for their newsletter.

But it’s your purpose that should drive the decision to charge, not the lure of the money.

Are you intending to build your audience to sell them your products, services, or events?

If you plan to pitch things, like an author selling books or IT consultant selling trouble-shooting services, make your newsletter free.

Remember: people will be paying you with their attention.

If you plan to offer something exclusive like community access, long-form essays, or video streams, consider charging for your newsletter.

Your offer is the product and if there is demand for it, you deserve to earn income from it.

Don’t Double Dip

Charging subscribers for a marketing newsletter is double-dipping: you are asking for payment in both money and attention.

No one wants to pay for the privilege of being pitched. This is why services like YouTube have a free version with advertising and a paid version without it.

Offering Both Free and Paid Newsletters

Like YouTube, many newsletter creators have both a free and a paid version.

Smart senders use the free version to build their audience and market their paid newsletter, among other offers.

They differentiate their paid newsletter substantially to ensure subscribers feel they are getting value for their money, and they don’t use it to market.

Roxane Gay’s free version of The Audacity consists only of public posts, and hides comments from non-paying subscribers.

Jane Friedman’s free newsletter, Electric Speed, focuses on writers, dispensing advice and offering Jane’s classes and webinars.

Note that offering both free and paid newsletters involves a huge amount of time and effort.

If you need further help with your newsletter strategy, contact me.

Meanwhile I’ll be expecting an email from Michael about this issue. Which will probably lead to another newsletter fodder comment!

P.S. What are your favorite newsletters?


Just for Fun

How can you mention double-dipping without thinking about this classic scene from Seinfeld? (1 minute, 34 seconds)

In my research I discovered that Anne Helen Peterson’s Culture Study is one of the most popular newsletters on Substack. Check out her thought-provoking essay “You’d Be Happier Living Closer to Friends, Why Don’t You?” (scroll down for the 9-minute read, though your mileage may vary)


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