Last month, we talked about the benefits of the traditional, old-fashioned, non-sexy newsletter as a powerful marketing tool. I’m pretty familiar with the in’s and out’s of newsletters, having worked for newsletter publishing companies throughout most of my career.

Going Back to the ‘80s

My newsletter career started in 1985 with the company that pretty much invented the concept of using newsletters to communicate regularly with the customers of banks and other financial institutions. The company’s bread and butter was a four-page, two-color newsletter sent to the bank’s customer database on a quarterly basis.

As printing technology evolved and costs fell, full-color newsletters started replacing spot two-color. Soon after that, many banks expanded their newsletters to 8, 12 and 24-page “maga-letter” formats.

But the biggest change by far in newsletter publishing was brought on by — what else? — the Internet. When the Internet and email exploded onto the scene in the mid-‘90s, it didn’t take marketers long to figure out that they could sent out electronic newsletters at a fraction of the cost of print.

With an e-newsletter, there’s no paper, ink or postage. The only “hard” production and distribution costs are the Internet connection, which you’ve already got, and an e-newsletter management system (like Constant Contact, for example). Not surprisingly, many marketers started converting their print newsletters to e-newsletters, especially as the technological capabilities of e-newsletters (e.g., HTML) grew.

Your First Decision

So today, the first decision a marketer must make before launching a newsletter program is whether it will be a print or electronic newsletter (or both). There are many different factors that go into this decision.

Budget is obviously one of them. If you’re operating on a shoestring budget, you’ll probably want to opt for an e-newsletter. The size of your distribution list also plays into this: If it’s relatively small — say, under 500 or 1,000 — it may not be cost-efficient to print newsletters, as the unit cost can soar to several dollars per copy or more.

But “cost” is a relative concept. “A newsletter that few people read is very expensive. Don’t forget that even with an e-newsletter, you’ve got the costs of generating the content and maintaining the distribution list,” notes Gene Siciliano, “Your CFO For Rent.” Gene is one of the few small business owners I know who still sends out a print newsletter. “The most important thing is that people read your newsletter, not that it costs less money to send,” he says.

Gene started publishing his newsletter in 1994 and mailed it quarterly until 2002, when he converted it to electronic. “But we went back to print less than two years later because our readership had dropped dramatically and our readers indicated a strong preference for print. We’ve mailed a print newsletter quarterly every since.”

When I asked Gene what is the biggest benefit of publishing a print newsletter, he simply said, “People read it. Many recipients I meet around town comment on it and say they appreciate getting my newsletter.” Gene mails 1,600 copies of his newsletter to referral sources, existing clients and prospects, using it as both a client retention and new business prospecting tool.

Email Overload

My personal observations mirror Gene’s experiences. Like you, I get so much e-mail that it’s easy to just hit “delete” if an e-newsletter doesn’t grab my attention immediately. But I don’t get nearly as much snail mail, so when a print newsletter comes across my desk, I usually stop and take the time to read it — and I remember who sent it to me.

An investment advisory firm used to send me a quarterly print newsletter that was very well done: good content, strong writing, attractive design. About a year ago, they switched to an e-newsletter format, sending out the newsletter as a PDF attachment. I haven’t read an issue since. While I understand their decision to switch to electronic to save money, what are they really saving if people no longer read the newsletter?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not slamming e-newsletters! I publish one myself. Given my marketing goals, budget and the size of my distribution list, an e-newsletter makes the most sense for me. Also, electronic publishing allows all sorts of cool linking and tracking capabilities you don’t get with print.

The best solution is often a combination of both print and electronic publishing. If you’re producing a print newsletter, then by all means, send it out electronically as well. You’ve already generated the content, so it will cost you little (if anything) to convert it into an e-newsletter. I prefer sending an HTML newsletter instead of a PDF attachment — with the latter, you’re asking your readers to take the additional step of downloading and opening an attachment.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Aarron PIna

    Don,
    This is one of the most helpful pieces of mail I’ve seen hit my inbox in months. I’ve often wondered and suspected what you’ve stated here about the overall “cost” factor.

    This is going into our action plan for quarters 3 and 4 for 2013 and will likely be part of our marketing/support/media outreach from here on out. Thanks, for such helpful information in easily digestible bites.

    in Christ,

    AP

    1. don

      Awesome, Aarron — glad it was helpful! Let me know your results.

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