Newsletter Nation: The Battle for the Inbox

Throughout the day they appear like clockwork in your inbox–Politico Playbook, Axios AM, Morning Briefing, The Scoop, The Daily 202, The Point.

As digital outlets struggle with declining readership and paywalls, many are turning to newsletters to build their audience and engage with readers.

Interviews with five leading news outlets reveal a competitive industry that is only growing.

“Newsletters are a great way to connect with readers and become part of the[ir] day” said Nick Johnston, editor-in-chief of Axios.

Johnston told MediaFile that across Axios’s 13 newsletters there are more than 250,000 total subscribers.

Axios, a news website founded by Politico alum in 2016, exemplifies the power of newsletters to build an audience.

Johnston said that “What really blows me away are the emails I get when one of our newsletters goes out a little later than the regular send time. People write in and ask where it is… They’ve really come to rely on them daily.”

Axios and Politico are primarily online outlets that have built their brand around newsletters. Politico declined to be interviewed for this piece, thought their various newsletters are a staple of the Beltway insiders.

Its Playbook franchise drives the political discussion not only in DC, but in the other markets it serves in the United States in around the world. According to Politico, as of July 2017, the Playbook franchise “is read by more than a quarter million global influencers every morning who rely on it for original news, sharp insight and a bit of fun.”

A DigiDay 2016 article reveals Playbook’s “gross open rate is also the highest it has ever been at 80 percent, which compares to the 22.5 percent average for political email newsletters, per email marketing company MailChimp.”

However, all types of news organizations are turning to newsletters because of their immense value.

Tessa Muggeridge, newsletter and alerts editor at The Washington Post, said that The Post is sending out newsletters pretty much 24 hours a day aimed at different audiences across the world. Over 100 writers and editors contribute to one of the many Post newsletters, according to Muggeridge.

She said the Post’s 65 newsletters are “really focused on original reporting” as opposed to just news alerts in its email newsletters.

Muggeridge told MediaFile that “Newsletters are not a delivery mechanism, but a destination.”

She elaborated they are a way to form intimate relationships with readers, and to meet them in their inbox.

Some of the Post’s most popular newsletters are from its 202 series. The Daily 202, along with Energy, Finance and Health, have full-time writers who solely working on original reporting for their newsletter. Muggeridge revealed that two more 202’s, one focused on cybersecurity/defense and one focused on tech will be launching soon.

While declining to share specifics, she said that the Post is happy with the number of subscribers it has across its newsletters and that newsletter readers are more loyal and more likely to subscribe to The Washington Post compared to those who don’t get a newsletter to their inbox.

A representative from the New York Times said in an interview that across its 53 free editorial newsletters, the Times has over 14 million subscribers. It’s three most popular are Morning Briefing, Cooking, and Today’s Headlines.

In an interview with, Lindsay Goddard, Email Product Manager at The New York Times said, “Every newsletter has a very different goal, whether it’s driving eyeballs back to the site, or serving as a testing ground for a new product, or serving as a special incentive to a paid subscription.”  

New York Times newsletter readers consume twice as much content as those who don’t get newsletters, and they’re twice as likely to become paid subscribers, according to the interview.

A CNN representative told MediaFile that its 12 free newsletters reach millions of people.

Just this past month, Dylan Byers of CNNMoney launched PACIFIC–a new “morning newsletter for the Innovation Economy, offering the latest breaking news and big-picture analysis on the people, industries and ideas changing the world,”

In its mission statement, Byers writes, “Wall Street has DealBook. Washington has Playbook. It’s about time the West Coast had PACIFIC.”

Even Fox News has a substantial newsletter operation.  Fox News’s two most popular newsletters, Fox News First and The Scoop each reach over 450,000 people, according to What Counts.

These numbers shared with MediaFile reveal that Fox News First has an average open rate of 15.6%, while The Scoop’s is 10.6%. The Scoop has grown 18% compared to the previous year, while Fox News First is up 34% compared to its launch in 2017, according to What Counts.

While some worry that the rapid news cycle will make email newsletters obsolete, the numbers tell a different story.

In 2014, David Carr wrote in an article titled “For Email Newsletters, a Death Greatly Exaggerated” in the New York Times that, “Newsletters are clicking because readers have grown tired of the endless stream of information on the Internet, and having something finite and recognizable show up in your inbox can impose order on all that chaos.”

In the era of President Trump, where the news cycle seemingly moves quicker than ever before, the newsletter offers an engaging, reliable destination for the day’s news that benefits both the reader and the outlet.

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