Email newsletters are not a new innovation.

Distributing news content through email is an established practice, but the medium has re-risen over the last 3 years and now holds a prominent place in most inboxes.

Major news outlets want to send you a morning update and start-ups such as The Skimm and The Lenny Letter have built entire media juggernauts out of email alone. These start-ups have taken a page from Clayton Christensen’s Theory of Disruptive Innovation – that a more complicated product is not necessarily best for the consumer. The newsletter is a simpler platform for readers to consume the news and learn about that is going on in the world.

But why now – what happened to bring this content distribution platform back into the spotlight?

  1. Content Proliferation. They say “content is king,” but too much of it can be overwhelming. The number of new websites and blogs has exploded over the last 3-5 years and social media provides an easy way to share and comment on stories, which creates even more content the poor reader must consume to stay up to date. Readers now want curated content on topics they deem interesting, and they want it seamlessly delivered. Newsletters have provided the perfect platform to fill the demands of busy people. Newsletters arrive on a predictable timeline and are a trusted source of the key things subscribers need to know. Subscribers rely on these sources so much that according to a 2015 Quartz Global Executives Survey 60% of executives say an email newsletter is one of their first 3 news sources they check daily.  Newsletters have become the subscriber’s way of creating order in the chaos that is digital news media.
  2. Attention spans have gotten shorter.  With attention spans declining, subscribers to e-newsletters want curated content in digestible formats. 75% of the executives in the Quartz survey say they spend at least 30 minutes a day on news consumption and readers are consuming more news that ever before – which means readers demand quick, eye-catching, and memorable stories.
  3. The shift to mobile. Facebook has proven the shift to mobile is real, and the same is true in the news business. 61% of people say they now consume news on a mobile device and 44% of people say they do that consuming right when they wake up. People are reading news and email often before they even get out of bed on their mobile devices. The e-newsletter is therefore very important to content producers, and subsequently their advertisers, who have a captive audience in the mornings. Despite the best efforts of news app creators, the mobile hierarchy of email, social media, and then other news apps is still real and makes e-newsletters ever more important in today’s distracted world.
  4. Better email technology. Technology innovations have made it easier to both send and receive email newsletters. Companies such as the email marketing service Mailchimp have made creating a subscriber list and reviewing analytics easy, lowering barriers to entry for publishers. Users of Mailchimp alone sent over 100bn emails in 2014, which is a 43% increase year-over-year. On the receiver side, Gmail and other email providers now separate primary emails from everything else making it easy to skim content from a lot of newsletters quickly.

As newsletters continue to infiltrate inboxes, I’d argue that the consumer will only have time or tolerance for 1 or 2 in each subject matter. With over 1.5m subscribers as a first mover, The Skimm has cornered the general news vertical and topic-specific newsletters are the new focus. Within the specific verticals, I believe that sports is the most attractive domain.

Sports news is as an ever-prominent topic of conversation and an email newsletter is a logical platform of delivering content to subscribers. An email provides a defined list of the most important sports stories in an age when people have become increasingly obsessed with sports. Games are the most watched TV programs and fantasy sports are now played by over 50m people in the US and Canada. Sports events are often the center of social gatherings and being fluent about relevant games has become table stakes for many professional and social networking situations. The high educational barriers to entry for many sports conversations and the time required to move up the learning curve makes a curated list of relevant sports stories ever more important. Sports Ketchup is one of the early entrants into this market and has shown there is demand for curated content for the non-fan or the busy fan.

With the growth of email newsletters, I believe the biggest question is who will succeed. I think there is room for winners across verticals, but within topics readers likely only have mindshare for 1 or 2 providers on a consistent basis – making them winner take all segments.

By: Britt Danneman


read more

During the latest round of the long and seemingly never-ending conflict between Israel and Palestine, and after following closely the news, links, tweets, posts, etc. that one could find mainly in Facebook and Twitter, my old concern about the role that Social Media is playing beyond its social-fun aspect, in terms of affecting the way we inform ourselves, crawled back inevitably to my mind.

Since the irruption of social media in our lives, there has been ample talk about the democratization of the information, and the empowerment of all of us as civilians. I believe that the praise is well deserved in many aspects, and it is difficult to question the positive role it has played in connecting people and allowing for a free, fast, and high volume of information flow. Getting information has never been easier, but at the same time, in my opinion, never has been harder to differentiate between real versus fake, ill-intentioned posts, news, etc.

Also the fact that anyone of us can, legitimately, post in social media, has opened a new outlet for people to misinform, or to express potentially dangerous ideas, that can affect different groups in our society. Don’t get me wrong, I value and see as a key right the freedom of speech that we have in many countries, but that doesn’t mean it is not important to analyze the potential negative effects of these new technologies.

The News/Media industry has been heavily disrupted by the strong growth of social media and technology in general. Print media is suffering, and has had to make a difficult transition towards mobile platforms. TV news outlets have maybe suffered somewhat to a lesser extent, but still have had to rethink their business models, incorporating technology like online videos, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages. Even though News/Media companies have always been subject to editorial lines that may come from the owners or the Editor in Chief, or from the own biases that the journalists bring with them, it was easier to trace back where the information was coming from, and from whom I was getting it. This is getting harder, considering the amount of content we receive, and from so many different outlets/sources/users.

Seeing the glass half-full, the fact that social media enabled people in countries like Iran in 2009 with the elections protests1, Egypt in 2011 with the social uprising against Mubarak2, and Venezuela in the 2012 presidential elections3 to express freely, was a significant event, that had bigger implications than everyone might have expected. Even though if it was for a short period of time (in Iran4 and Egypt5 they blocked the use of Twitter and social media in general), enabled people to express their opinions and share them with the rest of the world, generating awareness of their realities. It was one of the first times I can remember seeing relevant events “live” through the eyes of the population of a country, with no filters. Especially considering the low levels of freedom of the press in these particular countries (Egypt ranks 159/180, Iran 173/180, and Venezuela 116/180 in terms of freedom of the press worldwide6), the value generated by social media is even greater.

However, the empty half of the glass shows a somewhat grimmer view. During the latest Israel-Palestine outburst I saw first hand how people from both sides where almost without even reviewing their sources, posting links to old, fake, or non-accurate pictures7, news, and videos that supported their opinions. Worst, I saw how two dear friends, one with Jewish roots and one with Palestinian roots, created a Facebook group trying to unite both communities back in Chile, only to get severe backlash from people with radical views from both sides. They received personal threats, which ultimately led to closing the group, even if this aggressiveness came from a very small group. Social media provided the perfect outlet for people to express discriminatory/racist/xenophobic views against people from Israel, Palestine, or even towards the local communities associated with both places. Comment boxes in news outlets were dominated by irrational, insulting comments. People from both communities suffered virtual and real life, physical attacks. The Arab School of Santiago, Chile suffered from graffiti’s on their walls, and Jewish families were attacked in the streets and at their homes. One is left wandering, especially comparing with previous outbursts of the conflict like in 2008 and 2012 did social media amplify the impact of this international conflict outside their borders? Did social media actually played a role of informing in an unbiased way, or did it only polarized and confronted communities that are thousands of miles away from the point of origin? What effect did social media play in the general population that is not part of these two communities in shaping their views? Is social media simply enabling people hiding behind a computer express views that they don’t dare to express publicly, sometimes hiding behind an alias? I believe the jury is still out on these questions, and I don’t have the answer either.

There are reports suggesting that social media in general, but particularly a YouTube video, played a relevant role in the deaths of the US personnel of the embassy in Libya8 in 2012. Even if the video wasn’t the main cause, the fact that it is in the discussion as a possible enabler of a tragic event, validates the idea of at least making these questions.

If social media is enabling democratization and empowerment, one could think that the shift in power about informing would also shift the sense of responsibility towards the now empowered civilian population. However this is not necessarily happening. Maybe it has to do with the fact that this may be an industry still in its infancy. Is it fair to put the blame on the people that are posting only? Or should the companies providing the outlets take more responsibility? I believe both parties have to be more responsible, however as an example Facebook9, Twitter10, and YouTube11 argue they are not liable for the potential defamatory content posted in their sites. Even though we as users can report content that seems inappropriate, it means putting the burden on the user base. Considering these are successful businesses, where for example Facebook in terms of members would be the 3rd largest country in the world, shouldn’t they approach this in a proactive way? Hiding behind the argument that they are mere platforms and not publishers12 might serve them well for now, but I strongly believe they should try to analyze the ramifications and impact their networks have worldwide, and take a more proactive approach as they keep on growing in relevance and in members.  This decision might impact their business models, and imply investments in different areas, but this doesn’t mean it is something they should or can ignore forever.

Referenced sources:

  1. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jun/16/irans-twitter-revolution/
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/books/review/how-an-egyptian-revolution-began-on-facebook.html?pagewanted=all
  3. http://www.academia.edu/6028772/GRINEVALD-The_Twitter_Effect_in_the_2012_Venezuelan_Presidential_Elections
  4. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=anh.uW3gNZp
  5. http://techcrunch.com/2011/01/25/twitter-blocked-egypt/
  6. http://rsf.org/index2014/en-index2014.php
  7. http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-28198622
  8. http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2012/09/12/how-could-chris-stevens-die-because-youtube-clip/Ex92OLF0qCwlXwa5nYV7fI/story.html & http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-lam/social-media-middle-east-protests-_b_1881827.html
  9. https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms
  10. https://twitter.com/tos
  11. https://www.youtube.com/static?gl=CA&template=terms
  12. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/29/twitter-urged-responsible-online-abuse

read more

I relentlessly pursue news updates from multiple sources at all times of the day. From my dorm room in Boston, I enjoy reading about topics ranging from the Chinese real estate market, European political elections, South American football leagues, Silicon Valley, etc. My pursuit continues away from my desktop as I rely even more on my smartphone and digital reader. In total, I likely reference ~5-10 news sources per day across five continents and three languages. If I had more time, I would like to believe that number would be even higher. As I can’t possibly cycle through all of these sites, I rely on news aggregators such as Flipboard, Google Reader, Google News, Twitter, etc. While I have certainly seen improvements in the content procurement and user interface, there remains room for improvement.

The following will attempt to address the current status quo of news aggregators (as I see them), the trends in the market of news aggregators and a possible future.

Status Quo

Today’s global and real-time news is read via online & mobile platforms. Today’s news media ecosystem is comprised of thousands of global sources creating content that is updated in (effective) real-time. We know (and even expect) stock prices, election results, weather updates within seconds. Furthermore, the rising medium through which we consume news with such immediacy is now mobile / online platforms. According to the Pew Research Center’s biennial news consumption survey, almost 40% of Americans now claim to access their news via mobile or online platforms (1).

As online news itself remains a commodity product, the providers of the news can be seen as competing on speed of delivery as well as variety of content.

Online traffic for digital news is concentrated.  Perhaps one of the reasons why today’s news aggregators have been insufficient is because there has still been no real demand for a good aggregator. In the Pew Research Center’s report “State of the News Media 2010 Executive Summary,” the author extrapolates data from Nielsen Net Ratings Data and indicates that 7% of news and information sites hold 80% of online reader traffic (2).  Or rather, online readers access a concentrated number of sources and have yet to access the long tail of news and information sites. If a reader is only accessing a handful of sites per day (NYTimes, CNN, FT), there may *currently* be no need for an aggregator.

Of the aggregators that exist, quality is varied. I have had personal experience with Flipboard, Google Reader, Google News, Flipboard, Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds.  Unfortunately, per my experience, all continue to provide a wide range of news that is of limited and / or sporatic interest.  Content procuration aside, the user experience also suffers as I oftentimes have to go through multiple websites in order to see the actual article (which, on occasion, may even be limited to paying readers).

Trends and a Possible Future.

More demand for the long tail of online news means increased demand for aggregators. If one were to assume that the world’s population is to become more itinerant with time, then demand for more regional and niche specific news sources should also increase, pushing more online reader traffic to the long tail of news and information sites. And as the online readers demand more access to this long tail via mobile and online platforms, news aggregators (online, mobile, digital reader) should also grow in importance.

I see aggregators of the future focusing more on personalizing the procurement of users’ desired content and easing the manner in which users have direct access to the content.  This will undoubtedly, however, create conflict between the aggregators and the original content providers regarding ownership of viewers and traffic.

A separate vision of the future, of course, would be that online readers access an increasingly concentrated number of legacy news sources, in which case aggregators will become even less important.

Sources:

1.       Pew Research Center, “In Changing News Landscape, Even Television is Vulnerable,” http://www.people-press.org/2012/09/27/in-changing-news-landscape-even-television-is-vulnerable/, September 27, 2012

2.       Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “State of the News Media 2010, Executive Summary,” [PDF] Available at: http://stateofthemedia.org/files/2011/05/2010_execsummary.pdf [Accessed 5 October 2012]

 


read more