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Updated: March 27th, 2020
This is the second in a series of 3 articles about e-mail newsletters. To learn more about how and why you should start one, check out part 1. To learn more about how to grow your list, check out part 3.
There’s something quietly, subversively cool about email newsletters these days. The more our information consumption options are mediated by platforms, timelines and algorithms, the more personal and essential email feels. Perhaps email newsletters are the zines of today. In the midst of a developing web monoculture constantly in pursuit of the almighty click — email is just a bit more authentic and real.
I’m not talking about the sales-y junk that email software fails to recognize as spam. I’m talking about the thoughtfully assembled newsletters that have been proliferating from the more interesting corners of the web.
Who would have guessed that email would have lasted this long in the first place? Technology has a way of overwriting the past. Maybe the reason that email persists is because, along with phone numbers, it’s proven to be the best way to reach an individual. That reach isn’t just useful for work or social chit chat. It’s a one-to-one connection with you.
Starting your own email newsletter could be a way for you to form a more personal connection with your customers or audience. The cool thing is that it doesn’t really matter whether the curator is a person, a brand or some other entity. All that matters is the quality of the information being shared.
Running an email newsletter is sort of like being a magazine editor, but infinitely better. You have access to the best writers on the planet, can feature content on any range of subjects that interest you, and your operating budget is close to zero.
A good email newsletter tends to reflect the vision of a singular editor-curator. All of the content shared will be linked by an identifiable curatorial thread and voice. My favorite newsletters are generally compilations of links assembled within some kind of loosely-organized editorial context. There’s email newsletters catering to a limitless diversity of audiences and topics.
The information that I learn from the best email newsletters has a tendency to influence the thoughts I’ll have that day and the content of the conversations I’ll have with colleagues.
The 4 email newsletters listed below get newsletters exactly right. Consider the way they treat their topic and how they have created a world for their audience to share. Learn from these examples and create one of your own:
Media Redef was among the earliest breakout success stories of the current email newsletter trend. Jason Hirschhorn’s daily newsletter began as a set of links sent out to friends in media and technology circles. Eventually it became a daily must-read for every executive at a media, culture, marketing or technology business. Now, it’s a company delivering what it calls Interest Remixes each morning. The flagship Media newsletter focuses on a perfect balance of culture, business, and technology that concisely captures some of the most interesting things happening in each of those spheres.
Maria Popova’s highly-regarded Brain Pickings is the product of omnivorous curiosity. In her own words, Popova describes Brain Pickings as “a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more.” The cross-disciplinary, combinatorial approach of the newsletter is meant to generate interesting connections, unexpected inspiration, and a deep well of surprise and learning.
Real Future is writer Alexis Madrigal’s chronicle of our rapidly transforming world. Madrigal covers a diverse array of topics from science and politics to media and economics as well as more personal stories, but the unifying characteristic about each of the stories he features is that they all seem as though they could have been ripped out of tomorrow’s headlines. It’s an uncanny valley effect, watching the world unfold slice by slice of real life sci-fi.
The Ann Friedman Weekly covers anything and everything that former GOOD magazine editor Ann Friedman finds interesting each week, and yet somehow it all fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. Her collection of links tends toward current events, but might include an old article about an esoteric topic, a bit of gender theory, advice for freelancers, or whatever else she might deem fit to print in her universally lauded newsletter. It also features video recommendations, a weekly gif, a calendar of her personal appearances and more.
If you’re looking for ideas on how to grow your newsletter list, check out part 3 of this article.
Samantha Novick is a senior editor at Funding Circle, specializing in small business financing. She has a bachelor's degree from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. Prior to Funding Circle, Samantha was a community manager at Marcus by Goldman Sachs. Her work has been featured in a number of top small business resource sites and publications.