No Pay Zone: Consumers Prefer Free Email Newsletters Supported By Ads

Email newsletters may deliver high ROI, but they’re not a popular content form — especially when people are asked to pay for them, according to The State of Email Newsletters: 2021 And Beyond, a study by the What If Media Group. 

A staggering 84.1% of consumers are unwilling to pay for newsletters, even if the content is the kind they like the most.  

Indeed, 79.6% would rather access ad-supported content for free than pay for ad-free content.  

Media giants like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times can get away with charging for content. 

But “the subscription-based model opportunity for smaller publishers is practically non-existent,” the study observes.  

Not that people want even free email newsletters cramming their inboxes.  

In general, 52.7% subscribe to no email newsletters at all, either for news or entertainment. Only 19.4% subscribe to two or three newsletters, while 14.7% subscribe to one, 7.5% to five or more and 5.7% to four or five.  



Of the people are willing to pay, 71.5% would cough up to $10, 14.6% from $11 to $15 and 14.4% more than $15.

It may be that newsletter advertisers have to do a better job.  

Only 13.1% say email newsletter ads are very relevant. And 32.4% feel they are somewhat relevant On the other side, 17.3% say the ads they see are somewhat irrelevant and 11% say they are very irrelevant. And 26% don’t even notice newsletter ads.  

“That leaves a majority of respondents — 54.5% — either oblivious or actively repelled by the ads they see,” the study says.

Moreover, 43.7% say email newsletters do not influence their shopping decisions. 

On the brighter, side, 45.6% say they’re some whatever influential, and 12.8% feel they’re very much so. Add it up, and “56.4% felt their email newsletter ads were very or somewhat influential on their shopping decisions.”

What If Media Group surveyed 9,313 U.S. consumers in December 2020.  

1 comment about "No Pay Zone: Consumers Prefer Free Email Newsletters Supported By Ads".
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  1. Jordan Cohen from What If Media Group, January 12, 2021 at 10:54 a.m.

    Thanks for the write up Ray! I would like to take the "opposing view" though and note that newsletters ARE a very popular form of content, with exactly half of the survey respondents saying they ARE signed up for newsletters for news and entertainment, and with only 14% only signed up for only one such newsletter, the remaining 85% get multiple newsletters in their inboxes.  It's one of those glass half full vs empty ways of looking at it I suppose. 

    Needless to say, at 50% that = at least 100MM+ American adults who subscribe to newsletters. Not too shabby of a number.

    Also, while the theme of ad irrelevance is nothing new, I actually was encouraged by just how many people find them relevant and even more so, the acknowledgement that they influence purchasing decisions.  As you know, I've been running these studies for going on 20 years now, and usually people like to believe that ads have nothing to do with why they buy the things they do.  However, in this day and age, even just anecdotally speaking, it's hard to deny that digital ads whether displayed in email newsletters, on websites, or in social media newsfeeds prompt purchases. Targeting is getting better, as is the creative, resulting in far more impulsive real-time buys in response to advertising, especially for D2C brands, which is all posiitive for the industry.

    Thanks again,
    Jordan Cohen
    CMO, What If Media Group
    jordan - at -

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