How Offering Niche Newsletters Doubled NYT E-Mail List to 13 Million in Just a Few Years

In three years the New York Times has doubled their list of newsletter subscribers accumulating to an impressive 13 million, according to an internal memo. Part of their success is due to their strategic approach to e-mail which includes a range of niche newsletters such as local news as well as more frequent publications.

Two years ago the New York Times was sending out 33 regular newsletter and today it sends out more than 50 different editorial e-mails on a weekly basis. On top of that they have seven marketing focused newsletters that depends on flows. The number of subscribers on each newsletter ranges from tens of thousands to several millions.

They have highly focused niche publications such as local news (NYT Australia and California Today), service focused e-mails (Cooking and Smarter Living) and history focused (Vietnam ‘67). These are all just a few examples of the different types of e-mails they send out on a regular basis.

Newsletter Subscribers are Twice as Likely to Become Paying Subscribers

The internal memo sent out by the Times reveals that newsletter subscribers are twice as likely as regular NYT readers to become subscribers, and read twice as many stories per month compared to the average Times reader. As this is a primary area of focus, it is not just fancy numbers but also an important business objective.

Director of Editorial Products, Nicole Breskin, told Digiday that their success can’t be traced down to just one single event but rather a range of different efforts. She points to the contribution of the entire newsroom for topics and ideas. Editor of Newsroom Newsletters, Elisabeth Goodridge, work together with different audiences and agencies to get new ideas for the newspaper’s different niches.

One-Size No Longer Fits-All

The New York Times used to base their newsletters on their newspaper sections but realized that people don’t necessarily consume e-mail the same way they do newspapers. That’s why they moved from focusing on existing sections to focusing on different lifestyles and themes while narrowing their approach to their audience.

This has resulted in not only the impressive e-mail list, but they’ve also managed to engage their subscribers with open rates of more than 80% in one of their most niche newsletter (Vietnam ‘67 that launched in May). Their average gross open rate is reported at at least 50%.

Niche based newsletters also make room for variations in form and format. Some are conversational while others are interactive and some are service oriented. This works because the New York Times are giving their users what they want. These users read twice as many stories per month compared to the average Times reader.

The Times target each e-mail to their coherent niche specifically, but all e-mails have one thing in common according to Goodridge – the finality of a newspaper, which is appealing in digital media.

E-mail Embraced Indystrywide

NYT are not the only ones experiencing the benefits of embracing e-mail. When the industry tried to regain control of their readers from platforms such as Facebook, they began experimenting with older tactics to drive engagement and community. Newsletters and e-mail may be less modern but its ability to engage the users is impossible to ignore.

Since the rise of display, the competition has gone up along with the efficiency and accessibility. This gives large networks, such as Google or Facebook, a bigger slice while prices rise for the advertisers and earnings fall for publishers. Especially since large advertisers often pay a cut to highly specialised agencies that handle the ads for them too.

While e-mail may have been forgotten in the rise of Google and social media, it’s making its way back now that publishers want to regain control and ownership.

Opting People to Sign Up

On top of sending more relevant e-mails, the Times has started to opt people to sign up with a widget for one of its most popular newsletters (Morning Headlines) on their homepage.

They have also started embedding a newsletter signup widget in the Interpreter columns. The offer changes based on the user’s’ current engagement level. If the reader hasn’t subscribed to the Interpreter, the widget offers that newsletter. If they’re already subscribed to the Interpreter, they’re offered a different newsletter with a similar topic. If the user has already subscribed to more than two newsletter, the widget won’t appear at all.

This approach increases both the incentive while it avoids annoying the user by continuing to push more content.

Monetising the Efforts

The New York Times are highly dependent on paying subscribers and is therefore under pressure to nurture that part of their business. They see the newsletters as a key driver towards more paying subscribers since users are twice as likely to become paid members if they’ve signed up for a newsletter first.

While the New York Times sees the main benefit as audience development, there’s another incentive that drives them too. They sell ads in their newsletters, which is becoming an increasingly more profitable for publishers – especially those that invest in a platform such as Passendo.

The New York Times has invested in an e-mail adserver similar to Passendo’s, which makes it much easier for them to manage their campaigns across the high volume of different audiences combines with their 50 different newsletters.

You Can Optimise Your E-mail Earnings Too

It’s not difficult to earn money on your newsletter – in fact most newsletters with a fair amount of subscribers can earn money on advertisements. It’s much more profitable and effective compared to display advertising for example.

That’s why the Times and other publishers are looking back and reintroducing e-mail in their tool box.

The challenge for most publishers, however, is to utilize their inventory and thereby optimise their earnings. For years there were no ad servers for e-mail, until a group of digital pioneers chose to close that gap in the market with Passendo.

Passendo makes it easy for you to insert and control ads in your newsletters. This way you never have to worry about whether you under or over deliver on your CPC and the reporting is done automatically. It saves you and your employees a lot of manual copy/paste work.

If you’re interested in learning more about Passendo, we can help you with the commercialisation of your newsletter and our specialised team will take you through the process of making a sustainable business plan. If you think you have the volume to make it worth your while, contact us at or +45 2968 0833 and we’ll make time for you.

June 1, 2017 Denice Brun



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