Can Email Save Journalism? Yes, If Publishers Get Better At It, Study Says

You'd think media giants would know better. But only 36% of publications send a single welcome message and 30% conduct a welcome campaign after a reader signs on, according to News in the Age of Personalized Marketing, a study by Iterable.

This is disappointing, given that 70% of people expect to receive an email after subscribing to something, as the study notes. 

What’s more, promotional and cart abandonment campaigns are “vastly underutilized,” it continues. 

But 50% of publications used double opt-in. And perhaps reflecting concerns about regulation, that rose to 80% among international titles. 

For this study, Iterable explored the cross-channel experiences by 30 publications. The firm created an account, subscribed to three newsletters, opted in for web and mobile push notifications, downloaded the app and filled out premium subscription forms, then abandoned the carts. 



Included were publications in several categories: U.S. newspapers, international news, business, technology, online news and broadcast news.

There are valuable lessons here as journalism faces economic and existential threats, the latter being caused in part by the growth of fake news. "There is work to be done to regain trust, but the good news is: it’s possible," the study notes. And email can build engagement and ROI. 

Of all the emails received, 1.4% were welcome messages, and 2.8% were double opt-in messages.

Welcome messages work when the person is treated as an honored guest and contend is an ancillary consideration. For instance, Wired opens its engagement with “a description of when and how frequently you can expect communications from them.”

Newsletters were more voluminous, comprising 82.6% of all emails received. 

Of the newsletters studied, 50% had third-party ads. But 43% did not offer premium subscription. And only 13 out of 30 personalized the e-letter with the person’ name. 

Business publishers sent the most newsletters, at 19%. Internet titles sent the least — 11.6%. Fox News alone sent the most for a single publisher — 8.9%. 

Some publishers used the newsletter title as the sender address. Others humanized the experience with the editor’s name. In addition, some publishers used a generic sender name and address, including the newsletter title in the subject line.

Here’s one warning for newsletter editors: A few, such as Mashable and Vice, sent newsletters that were too large for Gmail and “they were clipped.” Worse, the unsubscribe button was hidden — the emails need a whole new window.

Of the emails sent, 7.3% were promotional in nature. Many focused on why a person should take an action.

Of three promotional emails received from The New York Times, for example, none “explicitly prompted a subscription beyond a ‘Why Subscribe’ call-to-action button at the end of the message.” One subject line said: “Don’t just read the story. Experience it,”

In contrast, The Los Angeles Times blasted out 18 promotional emails over three weeks (46% of the total emails it sent in that period), featuring such subject lines as:  “>>13 WEEKS FOR JUST 99¢.”

This shows that “the publication is more focused on its revenue stream than creating a valuable user experience,” the study argues.

Then there are cart abandonment campaigns. In a separate study, Iterable found that 80% of brands achieve a 40% conversion rate from abandoned cart emails.

Publishers apparently have not read that report: Only 13 out of 30 had a cart abandonment program.

But The New York Times sent an email asking “Can we help with your order?” the same day as the abandonment, which referenced the type of subscription that had been abandoned, along with a simple note that prompted readers to complete the purchase.

Here’s one more finding: 51% of the messages received were mobile push notifications. But only one publication, CNET included a video.

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