I’ve removed the entire Newsletter Discovery section on Email Love and refunded all the publications that paid to be there.
After hundreds of hours (and $) trying to get this right, I came to the reality Newsletter Discovery is a problem I’m no longer passionate about solving in my life.
For some background context the dream was to connect someone with a newly found hobby/career with a professional within the niche, delivering exclusive content via email newsletter.
The Newsletter Discovery section was launched in 2019 and was received well:
This post-mortem debrief really helps me document and learn from the failed experiment but I’m hoping there is something in here to save you time on a related project.
Here are 4 takeaways that ultimately led to me moving on:
1. Blogs and Newsletters are merging and it’s confusing
This sounds so obvious but trust me, after inspecting 1000’s of “newsletters”, it was a huge breakthrough to discover there are actually two different types:
- Website-first newsletters – the content is published first online, then delivered to inboxes to subscribers wanting to be notified of the latest content. These newsletters often contain snippets of longer pieces, where you click to read more. A good reference to a website-first newsletter is Arch Daily:
- Newsletter-first newsletters – the full content is exclusive to newsletter subscribers and only readable via inbox. No clicking to read more. These are often personal digests or curated newsletters. A good reference to a newsletter-first newsletter is Trends.vc by Dru Riley:
Only after a couple of years confusing the two, I realized the real value of email newsletters was in the latter and the type I was now after curating.
Substack has really blurred these two and I personally feel the exclusively (read delight) of an email newsletter is diluted when it is blogged first and shared on social media for anyone to read.
Substack has really helped people share their voice but I feel the are facilitating a noisier inbox.
9/10 Email Love newsletter submissions are Substack publications wanting help with distribution.
Some are brilliant but the majority are rants within a niche and somehow I became a part of promoting this. This was eating away at me slowly.
2. You cannot outsource without good data to input
My goal for the Newsletter Discovery section was to position myself against the other discovery websites with an uncluttered newsletter profile design, clear CTA buttons, unique written overview (good for SEO too) and a transparent preview of the actual newsletter. This is exactly what I’d want when discovering newsletters:
After hitting dips several times questioning point #1 I hired a friend to help speed up publishing by writing reviews and adding screenshots.
I built a brilliant system to capture newsletter screenshots from a preview URL, but I discovered preview URLs are scarce if you are not subscribed. Especially for newsletter-first publications, the ones I wanted to feature.
This led me down a road of subscribing to 100’s of publications just to capture 1 edition each. I had created a severe bottleneck, waiting for editions to arrive hoping for read-online links.
A nightmare system that’s difficult to scale and ultimately broken to outsource.
3. Paid-for curation needs high leverage to work
A paradox of sorts but something I’ve got right on One Page Love because I have the leverage (traffic) in the exchange. You submit your website for free, if I think it is a good fit for the community, I send through a payment link to be featured. Once paid I continue to inspect, review and feature your website. You then receive a ton of traffic and exposure. Win win.
With Email Love there was definitely demand for Newsletter Discovery (read distribution), I was getting at least 1 submission per day (for years). But there was little leverage to negotiate a decent price as traffic is currently low compared to One Page Love.
I experimented with several pricing points from $10/year subscription, $20/year subscription, $29 lifetime, $49 lifetime, $10 for 12 months, $20 for 12 months… but learnt the majority of publishers with an un-monetized newsletter could not justify paying much at all.
I spent days speaking to publishers and even made a knowledge base extracted from the FAQs.
4. When passion is lost, it’s time to move on
Sidestep to One Page websites, I’m 13 years in and still excited when I get new submissions on One Page Love.
UX Love is now in the pipeline and a topic I’m a lot more passionate about than newsletters.
In a final attempt to make Newsletter Discovery work my next step was to pivot to a listicle format within niches. Here are some examples I was curating:
- 10 founder newsletters failing forward as they build in public
- 5 typography newsletters to discover new fonts
- 7 market analysis newsletters to stay on top of business trends
The plan was to kick off Twitter threads introduced by my favorites (so adding value first) while asking others what their favorites where within the niches. I’ve seen this work and bet it would have surfaced brilliant newsletters but at the end of the day this final play would have taken 100’s more hours.
Truth is I’m trying to optimize my time online on subjects that excite me.
And here I was encouraging Newsletter Discovery when 99% of my personal email newsletters are sent to their death via my Gmail filters.