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Summary:

Sam Lessin, founder of media startup Drop.io, is shutting down his blog and has started a subscription email newsletter, much like the one Weblogs Inc. founder Jason Calacanis started in 2008. Lessin has also started a service called Letter.ly to allow others to follow his example.

When entrepreneur Jason Calacanis shut down his blog in 2008 and replaced it with a subscription-only email newsletter, his move seemed to be more of a personal response to abusive reader comments rather than a leading indicator of a trend (although software guru Joel Spolsky also shut down his blog earlier this year). But now others have joined the blog exodus: Sam Lessin, the founder of streaming-media startup Drop.io, recently announced he was shutting down his blog and starting a subscription newsletter — one that charges readers a monthly fee. And since he is also an entrepreneur, he started his own subscription-newsletter service too, which is called Letter.ly. On the Drop.io blog, Lessin said that he started blogging in 2008 with a defined set of goals, including:

  • Understanding the medium: “I strongly believed that it was an important medium to understand and that the only way I would really ‘get’ it would be to make a serious commitment to it.”
  • Protecting online identity: “I personally found that if you don’t own your own identity, others are more than happy to hijack it and use it for their own ends.”
  • Intellectual rigor: “I was letting myself get a bit lazy/sloppy in my thinking and I thought that forcing myself to take a public position would force me to hone my positions.”
  • Being taken seriously: “I thought that there was ‘margin’ in the medium… meaning, more people that I cared about read and took blogs seriously per-unit of work/input.”

The Drop.io founder said that after two years, he felt that he had achieved all of his goals, but added that he felt writing a public blog that was available for free to readers was “exceedingly disingenuous if not straight hypocritical given my strong belief in the value of information” (Letter.ly is designed to allow newsletter writers to set their own price for subscriptions, and the Drop.io founder’s blog is $1.99 a month). Lessin also mentioned a factor that others argue has contributed to a decline in blogging — namely, the rise of Twitter and Facebook and other social tools that are easier to use and require a smaller investment of time, or what Lessin calls “passive and active data-streams.”

Since setting up Letter.ly, Lessin has been joined by several other bloggers, including Nate Westheimer — co-founder of video-indexing startup AnyClip — who says he plans to continue blogging but will share in-depth startup tips and other thoughts through his premium newsletter. Aviary.com co-founder Michael Galpert has also started a newsletter through Letter.ly. And Jason Baptiste, co-founder of several startups including Cloudomatic, argues that while they may seem somewhat stale and old-fashioned, email newsletters can still be a good business (although Lessin charges for his newsletter, Jason Calacanis’s version is free, but subscription is limited).

Not everyone agrees that moving from a blog to a subscription newsletter is a good move, however, particularly for startups and entrepreneurs — since sharing your ideas with a broader audience can have its own value, especially when you aren’t well-known. Former investment banker-turned-entrepreneur Steve Cheney recently described how he asked Hunch co-founder and angel investor Chris Dixon for advice on what he should do to raise his profile, and Dixon responded: “Start a blog.” It’s worth noting that .

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Social Advertising Models Go Back to the Future

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Boetter

By Mathew Ingram

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  1. Seriously? But the web 2.0 movement taught us that the value of the web was connecting people to people… seems like a bunch of guys with huge egos listened to the lesser half of their own personality.

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    1. *psshh

      Haven’t you heard? “Web 2.0″ is soooo Web 1.0.

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  2. I figure we are simply looking at two opposing trends, both of which are valid. One is the real time web, and the other is epitomized by your quote “my strong belief in the value of information”.

    Privacy and publicity do not contradict; they simply coexist.

    I recently blogged about it :-)
    Here:
    http://www.porticor.com/2010/05/total-openness-on-the-real-time-web-and-the-counter-revolution-towards-privacy/

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    1. I think you are right, Gilad — thanks for the link and the comment.

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  3. Great post Mathew. I think email provides for a more intimate experience. It’s also more focused and the trust/permission based nature of email makes you want to write something with more impact. With that said, I commented on Darren hermans take of Sam’s move to email that replicating the content out through social channels/reposted elsewhere is a good move. Every one of calacanis’ posts end up on the web and shared as well. It’s a win win scenario: increased retention email provides with the increased distribution social media channels provide.

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    1. Thanks, Jason — but if newsletters just end up on the web anyway, doesn’t that detract from the exclusivity angle? Or is it just that newsletter readers get the information sooner and they value that?

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      1. I divide the space up into two sectors: exclusive (usually paid) newsletters Sam talks about, and content driven newsletters like thrillist, dailycandy, geekchicdaily,etc. I’m more bullish on ones like thrillist. They’re not exclusive, but still get the best benefits of email- reader retention+focus. This echoes a lot of Gilad’s sentiment: the best option is to have email+public blog like coexist.

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  4. Isn’t this a matter of audience? They seem to generalize quite a bit. The information value for a very specific context might be very small to nil for the general audience, which then might take it up to interpret it their way(to the dismay of a writer with specific knowledge). Or the article is broad for a given audience and they get into partisan/fanboi exchanges.

    Long story short, one size does not fit all. Or, know your audience. When are they going to complain about spam filters? Haven’t we been through this?

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    1. Agreed — I think there is a lot of nuances in the information and media business and what I hear here is that certain people want to follow the email model. Just as some companies offer close-circulation trade journals.

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  5. I personally prefer blogs/rss.
    Only the well established could even consider a newsletter. One problem is they are undiscoverable for the most part – unless of course someone recommends it. No Google juice, no nothing.

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    1. You could certainly start a newsletter from the ground up. If the content provides utility to a specific audience, it’s fairly doable. Once you have a subscriber, theyre yours (yes there’s churn, but keeping things simple).

      Look at thrillist,etc. Main consumption is via email,but they also republish to the web for added distribution.

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    2. That’s a good point, PXLated — what you gain in targeting a specific group you more or less give up in terms of SEO and marketing awareness. Although I suppose if you post your newsletter to the web eventually, as Jason Calacanis does, then you could theoretically have both.

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  6. Blogs have natural lifecycles. With however many gazillion bloggers that there are today, there will always be scads of bloggers — some of them well known — who have reached the end of their blogging lifespan. Yes, Twitter/Facebook have definitely redefined blogging away from casual brief messaging. But it will take a lot more change to end blogs’ role as the platform of choice for writers who care about the accessibility and archivability of their words. Email newsletters are venerable and valuable but they don’t index or archive well unless you put them on the Web, in which case you might as well, er, blog.

    Also: Calacanis says he has something like 20,000 plus subscribers on his list. Which is dandy. But in what way is it “limited”?

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    1. Fábio Silva Thursday, July 8, 2010

      I always find myself sending emails to my gmail just to have that information archived. My delicious is full of links but I simply don’t log in that service. Don’t know why.

      Also, I can’t imagine google shutdown the gmail service so soon. But any blog can just go off in a fraction of second. You would need tons of resources (time, source for content, peace at home, no children, no wife :P) to keep a blog with fresh content for every-day-10-thousands-page-views.

      I liked the newsletter approach. But for the not well established, I would consider a half-free service: some content for free, some paid.

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      1. Gmail makes a great personal archive but I was thinking more about public archives. In my experience and research, I’ve found that well-tended personal blogs have much more longevity online than most other forms of information. Bloggers who care about their work make sure that it stays online; they move it from one platform to another. And then most public blog posts will be captured by the Internet Archive and stored for the future there. But email newsletters vanish, and commercial content will often disappear as well. For instance, much of Dan Gillmor’s early blogging disappeared from the Web because the news company he worked for didn’t care to maintain the archives (and its robots.txt file blocked the Internet Archive from storing a lot of it, though some of it has now been recovered).

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    2. I think you are right, Scott — there is an ebb and flow to blogging, and some (like Joel Spolsky and Jason) have clearly come to the end of the road for whatever reason. As for the “limited” part to Jason’s newsletter, that seems designed to cultivate the impression of exclusivity, much like Amex and others do with their members’ only privileges, etc.

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  7. Newsletters are passe. Primarily because there is far reduced opportunity for a shared feedback / open discussion. Not that it is impossible to do so over email, but the threshold is high.

    A newsletter (or email as a medium) makes sense when you are dealing with “heavy work” (such as a research paper or a standards doc). Such work anyway calls for discipline and formality. The typical GigaOm article is more informational and calls for discussion unlike a scholarly piece of original work that calls for in depth study.

    Even if you have a great hammer, remember that not everything is a nail. And email is not a great hammer in the first place.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, FTM — I agree that much of what is missing with email newsletters is the back-and-forth within a community. It feels much more like an old-style, one way media distribution approach to me.

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      1. I agree. We wouldn’t be able to discuss things so easily if this were an email newsletter sent out to a select audience. Community enhances the conversation. Depends on whether you’re an info “consumer” or info “producer” or info “value-adder”.

        Making both co-exist is probably the best for those starting out.

        Publish your content via an email (newsletter) that gets posted (partially perhaps) to a blog. I say partially, because if its paid – the teaser gets people interested.

        You can do this with Posterous. You can also do this with WordPress using a newsletter plugin.

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  8. I’d never subscribe again to email newsletters. They just clutter my inbox. RSS or nothing. My 700 feeds are enough. Imagine I’d get thousands of emails instead! No way.

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  9. I really don’t understand the point here. Why would someone move to Email subscription from blogs? Unless you have particular reasons to do so, there’s no point.

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  10. I don’t agree that newsletters are more personal. I think blog posts are more personal because bloggers usually write something personal (an experience, a topic they were excited about, etc.) And it becomes even more personal when the bloggers themselves join the discussions.
    And personally, I consider newsletters to be spam mail and I don’t read them anyway.

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