The Washington Post Takes Matters Into Its Own Hands, Creates Newsletter Platform

Paloma Available as Part of the Company's Arc Suite of Publishing Products

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The top of the Daily 202 newsletter, built using Paloma.
The top of the Daily 202 newsletter, built using Paloma. Credit: The Washington Post

Sensing an opportunity to reduce its reliance on third-party providers, The Washington Post has created a platform for email newsletters that is available for sale as part of its Arc suite of editorial and technology products.

Newsletters are a big focus in digital publishing, where homepage visits are getting harder to come by, but the format has challenges of its own.

Though advertisers and editors closely watch open rates, for example, stats can fluctuate based on whether an email has been "clipped" for being too long. Subscription-based newsletters can be undercut by an action as simple as email-forwarding. And companies like LiveIntent , which places ads in email newsletters, exist in part because publishers still need help turning their inbox access into revenue.

Shailesh Prakash, The Washington Post's chief information officer and the face of the company's product-centric approach to technology (well, besides owner Jeff Bezos), described what happens when an open rate dips. First, the newsroom complains. Then the publisher has to call up the myriad third-party companies that power and deliver the newsletter product, in an effort to determine the cause of the issue. "It's just impossible to figure out what happened," he said.

Seeking control and transparency, the Post decided to build its own newsletter product, Paloma. Once Paloma is implemented across the company, the newspaper will able to reduce its reliance on third-party providers.

"When you use a third-party system, all you can see is what they choose to expose you to," Mr. Prakash said.

Paloma has three components, Mr. Prakash said: It makes it easier to import and embed multimedia content from social platforms like Instagram; it employs a package of spam-detection technologies and tests to ensure that newsletters aren't getting caught in filters, a persistent issue in the industry; and it uses Amazon's Simple Email Service platform to actually build and deliver the product, once assembled.

For about two months now, Paloma has powered two of The Washington Post's more than 60 email newsletters, including The Daily 202 politics newsletter that is seen as a competitor to Politico's Playbook franchise. The rest, for now, still rely on third-party providers for vital stats like open rate data.

As with all proprietary products developed by the Post, Mr. Prakash said his goal is to make sure Paloma works for the newsroom before it is sold. He predicted that Paloma will be used for all Post newsletters by the end of the year.

Maybe he's just being a good businessman, but Mr. Prakash said he's talked to a bunch of media types who have complained about the landscape of email newsletter platforms and expressed interest in a new solution -- though he said they wouldn't put that sentiment on the record.

Paloma can be purchased individually, as an add-on to other Arc products, or as part of an all-of-the-above offering. Pricing has not yet been determined. (Back in March, Mr. Prakash said that profit is not the company's short-term goal for Arc, but told The Wall Street Journal in June that it could eventually be a $100 million business.)

Mr. Prakash, while bullish on the platform, sought to temper expectations a bit.

He called Paloma a "barebones system," and said, "Is it groundbreaking? I wouldn't say so." But, he added, it addresses a lot of the issues that media publishers are dealing with.

Paloma, Mr. Prakash said, also gives publishers greater control in placing native ads in newsletters, and improves the process for placing custom sponsorships at the top of newsletters. (The Post also plans to incorporate some of its new ad products into newsletters.)

On that front, the Post is a client of LiveIntent, which works with about 1,300 publishers and some 1,100 brands to serve advertisements in email newsletters.

LiveIntent embeds a pixel that determines when an email has been opened, which then signals for an ad to be placed.

"Email, for all of its challenges, also has created this really interesting barrier that has made advertising in email so engaging because of how newsletters work," said Dave Helmreich, chief operating officer at LiveIntent. The actions of signing up for a newsletter, opening a newsletter, enabling images and actually reading a newsletter all show intent, a signal that marketers crave.

Asked whether LiveIntent provides a meaningful revenue stream to publishers, Mr. Helmreich said "it is valuable enough that we have virtually zero churn."

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