P028: The Three P’s of Newsletters

The newsletter world was all abuzz last week in response to Rebecca Greenfield’s article titled “Tips on Crafting a Popular Newsletter, From Top Newsletter Authors”. Now, reader acquisition is a topic near and dear to my heart, so I figured these Helpful Tips would be right up my alley. Instead, this article lit up some areas of my brain that I’ve been reserving for working out the distinctions between public, private and personal.

For an old punk, the DIY-nature of writing a newsletter is a central part of the appeal. But as a newsletter reader, I don’t see a huge distinction between defiantly personal, the obviously corporate or the semi-anonymous something-in-between. Every newsletter I receive speaks in its own voice and provides the type of content that I am specifically requesting in exchange for my email address.

David Carr touches on this in a piece that Greenfield references as the catalyst for her article:

“An email newsletter generally shows up in your inbox because you asked for it and it includes links to content you have deemed relevant. In other words, it’s important content you want in list form, which seems like a suddenly modern approach.”

Maybe this definition of personal is the thing that is exciting about newsletters. The triumph of messaging apps as the default mode for utilitarian communication has opened up our email inboxes for something more considered. And that direct, personal connection is a welcome point of clarity when so much of our daily experience is surprisingly public

Privacy and Consent

Last week also saw Anil Dash unleash a massive call-to-arms encouraging us all to stop and consider the nature of public interactions on social media and the personal costs of those interactions. A key point:

“The conventional wisdom is “Don’t publish anything on social media that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper.” But this is an absurd and impossible standard. The same tools are being used for person-to-person conversations and for making grand pronouncements to the world, often by the same person at different times. Would we say “Don’t write anything in a sealed letter that you don’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper” simply because the technology exists to read that letter without opening it?”

In my humble opinion, it is this well-earned paranoia that makes the two-way communication of a newsletter feel more personal than the conversations we have on Twitter. While we know intellectually that our email is not exactly private, the expectation is there that your receipt of an email newsletter is not going to be held against you in the courts of law or public opinion. And in this day and age, any relief from that anxiety is welcome.

Periodically yours,

Bob Sherron