Why a newsletter?
- What is it good for?
- Doing it wrong
- Simple tech
- Readership contact
- Resilience and sustainability
So I'm launching a newsletter. The sign-up is at the bottom of the page, it won't pop up here, so read on in peace.
What is it good for?
Every tech blogger has a newsletter these days. How come? Because it works. Because it is bed-rock old-web stuff. It is relationship building, it is building a network, an audience and connections. Its good business, potentially fun and can be used in many ways.
A lot of people have had good outcomes based on creating and running a newsletter. For some, that means turning a sliver of their readership into paid newsletter subscribers. Others have courses or other products to sell. Having the ability to reach out directly to your readership on a regular basis is very powerful. And rather than cold advertising on the internet it seems much more effective. Since it is heavily opt-in and easy to unsubscribe or filter out it keeps the author more honest. Your subscribers can just leave.
I read a few newsletters. Changelog Weekly, Plataformatecs Elixir Radar, Elixir Weekly are some tech ones. Those are extremely pragmatic and generally very light on the personal touch. I also follow some random authors (Warren Ellis - Orbital Operations and Allison Wright - I don't hate it) and have some Patreon pledges that include a newsletter. Some of it helps me keep up to date and can be skimmed. Some of it is like a tasty morsel of something I already like that I reserve a moment to read without interruption. Newsletters come in many flavors.
Doing it wrong
I am so frustrated about all these newsletters, or rather their marketing approach. Impossibly heavy-handed marketing that gets all up in everyone's face with popovers, slide-unders, side-winders or whatever the pop-up of the day is called. "Oh, you've spent 10 seconds on this article and don't know who I am, buy my course and sign up for my newsletter! " Damnit, what is the No button called this time. "Sorry, I don't like knowledge" perhaps? This throws a shadow over all newsletters, tainting the whole practice with the feel of aggressive marketing.
If you are new here, take this article for what it is, a brief primer on why people keep making newsletters as well as an announcement about me starting one. But if you don't particularly enjoy the read or know that my writing is relevant to you, don't sign up. I won't hassle you to. Also, there is an RSS feed for the blog if that's all you want. I'm trying to do things correctly here. Keeping things sane.
Simple tech, no gods, no masters
With newsletters we are still very much in the realm of what the Internet has always done. Things are simple. We need a web form for signup and email for delivery. Even if you use a platform for convenience it is still basically a list of email addresses that you send to. The sign-up form tends to use a bit of JS these days and it might not end up going to a cgi-bin. But the basic principles are the same. No one can disrupt email too much without pissing off entirely too many business people apparently. Even Google is sitting fairly still in the Gmail boat. The Newsletter platform providers all try to stay somewhat diligent to avoid getting spam-flagged.
There is no app silo, no large controlling company, the platforms (your Campaign Monitors, ConvertKits and Drips) are optional and largely equivalent. It is not a walled garden as long as I can take my list and go. In my case I had to beat the Campaign Monitor signup a bit to make the form explicitly opt whoever signs up out of being activity tracked. But it should be well-behaved enough now.
Newsletters of this kind are explicitly opt-in. "Yes, I will allow you to push information to me, here's my email address." And it has a strong common practice for opting out by unsubscribing. The email you deliver can be managed however the recipient feels like, maybe your newsletter is filed into a folder for later reading, maybe they are eagerly awaiting it. Reader's choice.
And if my writing doesn't meet your standard for what is relevant or worthwhile to you, you just leave. There are rules preventing me from following you and I don't want to.
Keeping in touch with readers on the web is suprisingly hard.
Comments are often a shitshow. I have chosen not to have them as I don't want to check my site constantly. But I do want a way to reach my viewership beyond my site. If I launch a project that someone is interested in following they might not have an RSS reader (of course I offer RSS, I'm not an animal) or they might want me to actively push them the update. Maybe providing some context.
And if I'm brave, which I try to be, I'll just leave my email there for you to respond to. Seems fair up to a certain scale.
Writing to an audience that know what you are about can also be quite different to writing for the entire internet. You can get into the more interesting weeds, you can solicit more specific types of feedback.
And if you want to do something new, start a YouTube channel, Twitch stream, Patreon or whatever. The newsletter is your best bet for getting in touch with people that might be interested. For many creators and business owners you can't just rely on people ending up on your site naturally to see the new thing you did. So if interested people can sign up to follow you, that can be a good thing.
Resilience & sustainability
A newsletter, correctly managed, should provide resilience for a free-lancer that publishes themselves. YouTuber CGP Gray set up a newsletter/mailing list thing for his fans as a measure against the increasing risk of the YouTube platform. The platform is in no danger of going away. But there is a rising concern that the algorithm does not necessarily surface videos to a creator's actual subscribers. As one in the sea of mid-size YouTubers he has no voice and no say in the platform and he realizes this.
An email list allows him to go elsewhere if he wants or needs, he can kickstart things in a new environment using that list. And the people who signed up are of course people who do not want to lose track of him. He maintains a central core of fans for any new venture he might embark on.
So I'm launching a newsletter. And if I live up to my end of the bargain and deliver some interesting email every now and then you just might stay subscribed to it and be part of sustaining my life as a freelancer. I'd appreciate that.
My plan for the contents right now is to gather up what I've been reading recently (mostly online) along with a podcast recommendation and give my thoughts on it all. This means the newsletter has different contents than the site. Its all new to me, so I'm sure some polish will happen along the way.
The sign-up if you want it is down below.