Big bucks in e-newsletters

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E-mail newsletters-an old standard in terms of the Internet-may not generate the excitement of newer media technologies such as online video, RSS feeds, podcasts and vertical search, but they are still one of the biggest online revenue generators for b-to-b media companies, and they continue to grow and evolve, publishers say.

By and large, there's nothing magical about selling e-mail newsletters to advertisers or sponsors; they are almost always sold as a component of a broader integrated media program. But the secret to the ongoing viability of e-newsletters is simple: reliable, quantifiable response.

For example, Gill Ashton Publishing's Foodservice Equipment Reports (FER), a monthly print publication, publishes a biweekly e-mail newsletter, "FER Fortnightly." The electronic newsletter has become a lead generator, even though the print magazine's audience has traditionally not responded to vehicles such as reader service cards, said Publisher Robin Ashton. "With our print publication, we would be happy if we got four or five responses to a reader service card. The `Fortnightly' will get as many as 80 to 150 click-throughs for the sponsor of a section," he said.

This level of response is the direct result of an interested, engaged reader, said Jason Young, president of the consumer/small business group at Ziff Davis, who oversees about 65 newsletters for 15 brands. "We still see very strong demand and consumption of electronic newsletters. We could do more of them. When the editorial is right and the readers are engaged, the advertising is delivered in a contextual environment and the metrics will be good."

At Fairchild Publications' Supermarket News, the "SN Daily" e-mail newsletter is a premier product that "we don't monetize to everyone," said Dan Bagan, VP-group publisher for the Fairchild B2B Retail Group. "Because we have 20 editors on staff, we have a newsletter that's different from any of our competitors', so we reserve it for our better advertisers."

Bagan said he does, however, foresee additional e-newsletters coming from Supermarket News and other properties within the retail group. "It's an area for growth, an area of opportunity," he said.

The Advertising Age Group publishes nine e-newsletters and there are plans for additional e-newsletter products, said Jill Manee, VP-publisher, Advertising Age (which is published by Media Business' parent, Crain Communications Inc.). Ad Age launched its first international e-newsletter, "Ad Age China," in beta form this past summer and as a regular product in the fall. By year's end, "Ad Age China" had more than 10,000 subscribers.

Publishers attribute the effectiveness of e-newsletters in part to e-mail legislation. In the two years since it went into effect, the CAN-SPAM Act has squelched the wildfires of unsolicited e-mail blasts, they say, and the backlash against e-mail marketing in general has eased. As a result, publishers that have established trust with their readers over the years have an advantage commercial marketers don't-as long as they don't abuse the privilege.

"E-mail marketing will continue to be effective as long as the legitimate publishers are very vigilant in complying with CAN-SPAM regulations and police it carefully," said Thomas Flynn, advertising director of VNU's Sales & Marketing Management, which publishes three e-newsletters and plans to launch a fourth this year.

Meanwhile, the advertising community is also playing a part in making sure e-mail newsletters-and online advertising in general-is "hot as a pistol," in the words of Stephen Moylan, division president for Reed Business Information's electronics group.

"Advertisers are getting better at online advertising, and they're starting to understand how an integrated media program works. They've got to keep surrounding the customer with their messages in the online environment three, or four or more times a week. Then they have to build in a call to action to get people to respond in some way-to download a white paper or register for a Webcast. Customers are seeing returns with online newsletters, and they're coming back because they see that it works." 

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