I've seen a lot of stories about the financial ups and downs of traditional newsrooms recently. But the subset of publications that send all their news via email have succeeded in just about every metric that matters.
Consider The Hustle, which is currently doing $10M+ in ad revenue alone. Sam Parr, the newsletter's founder, came onto the IH podcast to discuss how his company, which began as a "blog about cool stories," happened upon the news + newsletter combo by, essentially, trial and error:
After a while we’re like, "Wait a minute… we’re getting away from our email roots. Let’s not even really have a website, only email." So we started doing that. And we’re like, "Well what content do our people love the most?" … Eventually we tried blogging about the news. And that started taking off.
By "taking off," he means they gained about 120,000 (!) subscribers in their very first year.
Other newsletter digests have been taking off, too. In 2019 alone, Morning Brew's revenue grew from $3M to $13M, while their subscribers ballooned from the tens of thousands to nearly two million. The growth story behind the millennial-focused newsletter theSkimm is similar: since gaining 100,000 subscribers in their first 12 months, they've added about a million new readers per year.
It's no accident these companies are seeing this kind of growth.
For one thing, virtually everyone's interested in the news for evolutionary reasons. Many psychologists believe human language evolved so we could gossip about what's happening in our communities. So it's practically in our DNA to read these newsletters and forward them on to other people.
Additionally, the impulse to consume news never goes away. People don't churn from wanting to know what's happening in the world, which makes for very retentive mailing lists with low unsubscribe rates.
Finally, news is a high-frequency problem. We want to know what's going on every day, sometimes more. So news companies can get away with sending emails daily, rather than weekly or monthly. This gives readers more opportunity to share, which leads to faster growth.
But something these crazy growth numbers don't fully account for is the relatively low technical overhead for newsletter businesses. Traditional news organizations like the New York Times have to invest a lot more time and money into building out websites and databases, while newsletter companies often forgo building an interactive website altogether.
This is great for indie hackers who don't necessarily have a lot of resources to start a business. Mailbrew, by @linuz90 and @frankdilo, is a great example. It's a customizable mailing list that puts subscribers in charge of selecting the news categories they want to see.
Mailbrew only launched a few months ago, but the early revenue numbers look promising:
It's not hard to imagine a world in which we get all our news from newsletters. Perhaps it's coming sooner than we think.