Draw digital subscribers with newsletters

The Post and Courier stopped just doing them and started thinking about how to monetize them


Like most newspapers, The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., is trying to increase digital subscriptions as print circulation continues to drop. By restructuring and promoting its newsletters, the Charleston paper is using them as something of a back door to that goal.

Until about a year ago, The Post and Courier put out several free newsletters, including breaking news, sports and food/entertainment. Ads were sold on a flat rate. No one gave the system much thought, and the paper's content management system did the work, said Scott Embry, director of advertising.

"We would just tag articles for whatever content category it would fall under," he said. "They system would pull all those tagged articles together into an automated email that would go out. When people would ultimately click on them, they would go back to our website."

The website – – is behind a paywall; the first five page views each month are free. The newsletters summarize stories and provide links that take readers to the full story on the website.

The big change is that now people think about them, as Embry puts it: what should go in them and in what order, how they should be formatted for visual appeal and readability, what is the best time to send them out, how many ads they should contain and how much ads should cost. The paper hired a curator to compile the newsletter, select stories, address the presentation and keep track of the results.

The strategy, which was presented at the first SNPA P2P video conference call, went fully into effect in October.  Newsletters covering politics and real estate were added to the mix, while food and entertainment were divided into separate newsletters with some overlapping content. Other newsletters are being tried out, and a free obituary newsletter is definitely in the works.

"We basically said, 'OK, we're going to make the content worthwhile, we're going to promote it. We're going to grow that audience,'" Embry said.

While nobody is rejecting advertising, The Post and Courier's focus is increasing reader-generated revenue, Embry said. "Our goal is for everybody to hit paywalls because they enjoy our content. We know engaged newsletter subscribers are likely to become digital subscribers."

The revamped newsletters started with one ad position each and have since increased to two. Rates are based on CPM (cost per thousand) impressions, and are cheaper than print ads, he said.

The results so far: Incremental ad revenue is projected at $45,000 through the end of September. Reader engagement has grown digital subscriptions from 1,700 to more than 4,200 since October.

Embry's advice to other publishers is to customize the strategy for their markets and don't be afraid to try new subjects or drop what isn't working.

"The first thing that would be good is just to sit down and look for the biggest opportunities that you have," he said. "That's going to vary from market to market. What newsletter could you put out that the public would want?

"If you start with one, fine. Start with one. But then you want to promote that in the paper to then get people to sign up for it.

"We started out with one exclusive ad position. I think that's a great move to start out with because then you're talking a 100 percent share of voice, which helps you sell it at a better rate. But once we got enough participation then we added a second advertising unit and just did category exclusive."

If a particular newsletter isn't drawing interest, give it a chance but don't hang onto it indefinitely, Embry said. Stop promoting it and then drop it. Hang on to those subscribers by switching them to another newsletter, but offer them the option to opt out.

Overall, Embry said, the concept is working to increase digital subscriptions. "It's been really, really effective. It's amazing. You give people just what they want, and you do a real good job of it."

For more information, contact Scott Embry at

Publishers: Register now to take part in the next P2P video conference call.  The April 19 call will be on tactical cost-cutting.  The price of admission: submit a successful cost-cutting idea by April 13. LEARN MORE

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at

Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.

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