Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Return of Email Newsletters! (?!)

As of about two months ago, one of my daily reading routines has become “The Hustle,” a West Coast based group that writes a daily email about technology, media, finance, and entrepreneurship. It’s timely (noon on the dot every day – lunchtime for East Coasters, coffee read for West Coast), it’s relevant, and it’s written in a conversational voice that is enjoyable to engage with on my lunch break, and simple to parlay into water cooler chat.

The Hustle boasts of its rapidly growing base, and recent round of funding. NYT Cooking, an email written by NYT Food Editors 3-4x a week, has been a bright light in an otherwise lukewarm roll-out of its Cooking platform. These two examples are surprising based on the position held by many that email is dying, based on clutter and a poor user experience for messaging, project management, and media consumption. Companies like “Slack” are trying to pick up where email falls short, touting different “Channels” for different topics, meant to displace the long, cumbersome email threads endured by teams at the office.

But for me, ironically, The Hustle represents an opportunity for me to consume the exact content that I want, without diving into the clutter of Twitter, or learning/clunking through the interface of a native app for The WSJ, Economist, NYT or the like. I don’t have to do the legwork to discover content and what I need to know for the day in my particular areas of interest. And I know the tone of the article will provide me an upbeat way to spend the 15 minutes I take for lunch.

Despite this stance, there still enters the question of monetization, and The Hustle making enough money to support an editorial staff. So far so good. They natively weave in advertorials about a great new mattress, or easy new online payments system. And they’ve left out standard “medium rectangle” network boxes that usually house debt refinancing ads. But email is in its infancy for housing video creative, where money is flowing in outsized proportions, and it won’t be easy for The Hustle to scale up native ads, with each integration seemingly done by hand. I believe a select few email newsletters, that truly carve out a niche with their content (and by association, advertisers), will thrive, but the return of a heyday of email newsletters likely won’t happen any time soon.

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