How to turn your newsletters into subscription gold

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Newsletters can be gold. But they require a little more digging than most publishers are doing today.

A lot of publishers use newsletters to push their news content out to readers each day, reaching an audience that wants the news to come to them rather than buying a paper or going to a website. A few also do calendar-oriented newsletters, telling readers about things to do for the weekend.

Those are a good start (and if you aren't doing both of these yet, you should get going), but that isn't where the gold is.

Newsletters also are a great way to create niche products and to test new concepts.

The cost of starting and delivering a newsletter is very low and there are dozens of niche audiences in every market that can become new revenue streams. It's possible to create lots of newsletters, each with a sponsor and/or targeted advertisers, that can each generate considerable revenue.

Among the obvious choices would be a newsletter for moms. Or business people. Or high school sports fans. You probably already have strong content that would appeal to these audiences.

But there are dozens of other less obvious niche opportunities. Military families. Foodies. Fishermen. TV viewers. Pro sports. Casino goers. Music lovers. Pet owners. Commuters. Gardeners. Car enthusiasts. Motorcycle riders. People who like to travel. Book clubs.

The possibilities are endless. Need more ideas, look at what Facebook groups are active in your area?

And there are opportunities to reach beyond your own geography or to penetrate markets you can't get to any other way.

If you are a tourism destination, you could start a newsletter for tourists. If you have lots of condos and gated communities in your market, you could start a newsletter for the people who live in those communities, which are historically difficult to penetrate with print editions. And if you are a place where snowbirds gather or skiers frequent, you can start a newsletter for people who own vacation homes in your market.

How do you get the list for niche newsletters? First, you collect names from your readership. But you can also buy lists or get involved in events or national organizations that cater to the niche you seek and publicize your newsletter through them.

Producing a weekly newsletter from existing content can be accomplished in less than an hour, although it can be harder to do something more specialized. You might find a staffer, stringer or volunteer with a passion for the topic who can get you going. You can also pull from your archives, gather user-contributed content or aggregate content from a variety of public or private sources.

The most successful newsletters also have a point of view, attitude or perspective. It's often better to think of them as a column, not just news. So having a point person who really knows the topic and can add some perspective and persona really helps.

The easiest way to monetize a newsletter is to get a sponsor but don't overlook classifieds or web or print display ads as potential newsletter revenue. A weekly sponsor paying just $250/week to reach targeted subscribers will gross $13,000.

What kind of premium would an advertiser who needs to reach those vacation homeowners pay to be part of your niche marketplace? Potential advertisers would include people who maintain these homes, real estate agents, furniture stores, insurance agents and more.

If you own several papers, you can take the strategy being used by Troc, which is to create a series of newsletters – politics, food, videos, entertainment news, real estate – based on content drawn from all their publications. Troc is aggressively marketing these newsletters nationwide.

Of all the new revenue ideas being talked about today – video, events, niche publications – newsletters are one of the easiest and least expensive new revenue streams to get started. You probably have the content or talent needed to pull some of them off available to you already.

Bill Ostendorf, president and founder of Creative Circle Media Solutions, was an early proponent of newsletters – so much so that he built a newsletter builder into his company's CMS back in 2008. Ostendorf has led thousands of workshops and consulted with hundreds of media companies on three continents. His firm leads print redesigns, consulting, outsourcing and training projects and offers a full suite of innovative web CMS, web advertising and print production software for media companies. You can reach him at bill@creativecirclemedia.com or (401) 455-1555.

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