Beyond Print Toolkit: Newsletter revenue

Successful newsletter strategies attract new subscribers and deepen engagement with your current paying supporters

By Richard E. Brown

June 27, 2024

Accogliente Design / Shutterstock

In the pivot from print to digital, few tools hold the transformative power of the email newsletter. More than just an additional revenue stream, newsletters are an essential tool for building an engaged audience. Newsletters help attract new subscribers and deepen engagement with your current paying supporters while informing the community with concise, targeted updates and resources that help them navigate their day. 

Crafting and developing a solid newsletter requires research, planning, dedication, and an ongoing commitment to reassess, test, and evolve. Dedicated personnel are essential to enhancing the product and delivery platform, ensuring practical performance analysis and user experience. Newsletters provide the flexibility to explore various templates, content concepts, and engagement strategies.

In this section, we’ll explore newsletter growth and monetization strategies. As your organization transitions from print to digital, integrating newsletters into your product lineup is not merely advisable but essential for growing reader revenue. This section will equip you with the knowledge to tailor content, experiment with templates, and enhance interactivity, ensuring your newsletters attract and retain subscribers.

The essentials

Embracing newsletters’ power as a catalyst for digital transformation unlocks your organization’s full potential to flourish in the dynamic online landscape.

Defining your audience and goals

Before dedicating resources to newsletter development, assessing its potential impact is crucial. Newsletters succeed with consistent delivery, upkeep, and analysis – launching a newsletter that fizzles out due to insufficient demand or the inability to support the workflow needed to create the newsletter would be a costly misstep. While intuition and enthusiasm for newsletter development are valuable, your organization needs solid data-driven vetting through surveys, audience research, and other analytical tools to make informed decisions about whether developing a new or specific newsletter is the right move.

If the data supports it, the next step is establishing a clear and unshakeable goal for your newsletter and defining your target audience. This will inform every decision regarding content, format, engagement strategies, and monetization. 

Is your newsletter an extension of your daily headlines for a broad readership that is designed to get readers to click into articles on your website and hit your paywall? Here are some successful examples of newsletters designed to attract new readers: 

Or is it a more niche subscriber-only offering that’s designed to be read entirely in the inbox and curated for a specific loyal group? Here is a Medill Local News Initiative report on that approach.

Understanding your intended audience’s demographics, interests, and engagement preferences is paramount. Only then can you tailor your approach and build a newsletter that genuinely resonates and thrives.

This deliberate pre-development stage ensures your newsletter rests on a foundation of established demand and a clearly defined purpose. Treat the dedicated research time as an investment in your digital transition efforts’ long-term success and sustainability.

Selecting the right platform

Selecting the right email service provider — the platform used to design and deliver your email newsletter —  is pivotal in defining and outlining your procedures and workflow for creating and delivering your newsletter to the audience. Several critical decisions come into play, including how content is aggregated into the newsletter, whether data that helps identify readers, such as location and whether they’re a paying subscriber, is automatically pulled from various sources or manually inputted, template and layout considerations, user readability, and mobile readiness. 

The platform you choose should be secure and respect user privacy in accordance with your local laws. It’s also essential that your email service provider is able to connect with your customer relationship management system.

Newsletters are important for both attracting and retaining subscribers, so it’s critical that you’re able to understand how paying readers and potential customers are engaging with your content. Common email service providers include Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or Sailthru, among others. For more, check out the technology section

Establishing content & cadence

One of the most significant indicators of whether someone will subscribe to a publication, or keep their subscription, is frequency of use. Newsletters are important for creating a regular habit for readers and keeping them coming back. Establishing a consistent daily, weekly, or monthly rhythm cultivates audience expectations and enhances confidence in your newsletter product. You will want to ensure you choose a frequency that works both for your audience and for your staff.  Understanding your audience, demographics, and the newsletter’s mission is crucial in crafting content tailored to their interests and engagement levels. Consider the audience’s preferred content types, interaction patterns, and formatting preferences. This will help you deliver on your promise to the reader and attract or retain subscribers. 

Acquisition tactics

Effective subscriber acquisition and growing your newsletter demand careful planning and strategic execution. It’s an ongoing and exciting process that requires a well-thought-out plan for sustained success. Some acquisition strategies are straightforward, such as incorporating clear calls to action within your newsletter to encourage sharing and subscriptions. Leverage your existing audience by exploring cross-promotional opportunities with other digital platforms or forming content partnerships with outlets that share a similar mission, whether regionally, locally, or nationally. Collaborative partnerships can convert members from other content providers into dedicated subscribers.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of external digital platforms like social media, digital display advertising, podcasts, or traditional mediums is crucial. For example, consider running targeted ads on your site or a specifically targeted network; if applicable, consider joining specific groups or running call-to-action campaigns on social media platforms to promote exclusive content or giveaways to attract new subscribers. Exploring opportunities to leverage external email marketing is another avenue to reach fresh audiences interested in your newsletter. For instance, collaborate with influencers or partner with other organizations to promote your newsletter through their email lists.

Key indicators

It’s crucial to establish a dedicated strategy for leveraging data and analytics to inform your newsletter strategy to attract and retain subscriptions. Your team should choose e metrics and key performance indicators to focus on, which can be used to identify opportunities for optimizing user experience. Beyond growing your reader revenue, data-backed reporting is essential for advertising and sponsorship purposes as well. 

Discipline and focus in understanding metrics like click-through rate, open rate, and engagement rates are pivotal for optimal growth. You should regularly track key metrics and make adjustments based on the data to enhance the newsletter’s performance. 

A pivotal indicator is your newsletter’s audience growth. A consistently positive trajectory, where acquisitions consistently surpass churn or unsubscribes, signifies strong engagement and compelling attraction of new subscribers. While minor fluctuations may occur, maintaining an overall positive trajectory indicates sustained growth and ongoing audience relevance.

Similarly, prioritizing conversion metrics is essential, particularly considering various revenue models. Use UTM codes to track the newsletter’s effectiveness in bringing newsletter readers to your website to subscribeThis conversion contributes to profitability and fosters reader engagement, supporting retention efforts for long-term sustainable growth.

In addition to tracking metrics within the newsletter itself, monitor content sharing indicators, such as forwards and social media shares, to gauge the content’s efficacy and appeal — this means subscribers find it compelling enough to share.


Running tests to optimize your newsletters and how effectively they are acquiring and retaining subscribers should be part of your regular workflow and are the foundation for making quick adjustments and strategic pivots based on results. For instance, if initial research suggests that 8 a.m. is the optimal time to send your newsletter, but subsequent data indicates lower open rates, testing a different time, such as 9 a.m., could be beneficial. Testing performance on call-to-actions, excerpts, imagery, phrasing, subject lines, or links can trigger different behaviors. 

The Daily Press, a paper serving the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area in Virginia, increased unique clicks by 36% by testing a more visual newsletter format, according to a University of North Carolina Center for Sustainability in Local Media study. While focusing on singular attributes is ideal, decisions about testing multiple elements should consider sample size and audience considerations. Mailchimp recommends sending A/B tests to at least 5,000 subscribers in both test groups to get a statistically significant result, but sending to smaller groups can still yield valuable insights. 

The following testing methodology aims to succinctly outline key testing principles, assess your newsletter’s results, and provide actionable tactics for a successful launch and continued growth with a pragmatic approach.

You can apply this framework in multiple scenarios that are relevant for growing digital subscriptions through newsletters — from deciding whether to launch a subscriber-only offering to how to test subscription CTAs in the newsletter. 

Grouping: Segmenting your audience

Segmentation is a crucial starting point when testing a new newsletter. Begin by categorizing your audience based on demographics, interests, or engagement levels. By identifying different types of subscribers, such as super users or new sign-ups, you can run tests to see how engaged they are with your newsletters. For instance, if frequent users tend to engage more, it might guide your newsletter strategy to focus on them. Similarly, if you notice certain interests like sports or politics, you can test which groups are more engaged. Essentially, it’s about using data to tailor your newsletter strategy and communication to what resonates most with your audience.

 Conduct A/B tests to continually learn and adapt as you deploy the newsletter. Remember, every test should yield valuable insights.

Engagement: Assessing key metrics and variables

Traditional engagement metrics are essential for understanding the effectiveness of your newsletter. Focus on one variable at a time, depending on your goal and what you’re trying to learn. For example, if you’re looking to optimize the subscription potential of an existing newsletter you might want to start with elements like subject lines, timing, or placement of subscription CTAs. Monitor open rates, click-through rates, and time spent on pages. Experiment and iterate, tweaking content to drive more engaging behavior.

Retention: Performance analysis

Once the testing period has been completed, it’s important to analyze the results to understand their impact on your overall goal for attracting and retaining subscribers. You should create a continuous feedback loop for improvement. The lessons from this test should continue to inform future experiments. 

You don’t need to have a huge research team or budget to leverage newsletters for audience research. Here are some tips from ONA for “quick and scrappy audience research.” 


Once you’ve completed audience research and testing to gain an understanding of what types of email newsletters are most likely to attract and retain subscribers for your organizations, you must create workflows and design email products that facilitate reader revenue growth. 

Practicing a well-defined workflow and adhering to data security protocols are necessary to overcome this challenge. You’ll need to consider who on your team is writing the newsletter, who is editing the newsletter, and who is responsible for production of the newsletter. These can be time consuming steps, so you’ll need to build enough time into your editorial calendar. It’s important also to ensure that editorial staff understands how their newsletter plays into the reader revenue process and that they include ample CTAs to either attract new subscribers or thank current subscribers for supporting their work. 

For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer will often include special subscription offers in the intro to its newsletters. 

Effective promotion across all available outlets, including both print and online formats, can help grow and engage your audience. In print, use teaser ads with catchy blurbs about what the newsletter offers, and online, create a dedicated landing page highlighting its benefits. Consistently promote it on social media with a clear value proposition and use email marketing to reach existing subscribers before launch. After launch, promote with frequency to establish brand perception and enhancement, and consider collaborating with local businesses or other newsletters in your industry. Utilizing various channels ensures a broad reach within the community and among target audiences.

Looking toward long-term success, seamlessly integrate your newsletter into your organization’s overall growth strategy. Establish specific KPIs and growth metrics to guide a focused effort toward sustained success. This approach ensures that your newsletter becomes an integral and influential part of your organization’s ongoing strategy, serving the community and audience.

Additional resources: 

• Inbox Collective has dozens of resources for news organizations looking to grow their email newsletter strategy.

• The Knight Center at the University of Texas has a free course: Newsletter strategies for journalists: How to create, grow & monetize newsletters.

• In 2018, The Lenfest Institute and its partners created The Newsletter Guide, a toolkit to help news publishers grow their email strategy. It still includes many relevant resources. 

• The American Press Institute published “Newsletter strategies to build retention, trust and revenue.”

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