Blog Post

Is It Time to Stop Blogging and Start an Email Newsletter?

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

73 Responses to “Is It Time to Stop Blogging and Start an Email Newsletter?”

  1. Well i should say that when you start blogging it’s not what service you’ll have, the reasons or the precise steps you’ll take. The first factor that a majority of the people already doing such thing is to find the correct niche. It’s extremely important to know the issue you will discuss at your blog. Of course once in a while describing your life is similarly appealing for specific readers but it’s better when you focus one area only.

  2. I write a daily blog on credit union compliance issues. It has a small, but devoted following of roughly 2,300 people. While it is available via RSS, most (roughly 80 percent) prefer to have the daily blog updates emailed to them via Feedburner. Many people, it seems, use their email as an information gateway. I do that myself. When I find something I really like via RSS, I often email it to myself in order to build it into my work schedule or to file it. Also, I work at a trade association. So while I work form my members, the blog goes out generally to the public. Using an email newsletter format could be a way to provide information free for a select group (members) and charge for others (nonmembers). I don’t think one (blog or newsletter) is necessarily better or worse than the other. It just depends o n the given situation.

  3. Francis

    As others have said, I see value in both approaches running simultaneously.

    Unless you already have a following or are well-known for producing content that is worth reading, subscribing to and paying for, your newsletter will never get off the ground. People aren’t likely to sign up for (and pay) it, just to see if it’s interesting. So that approach works for those who already have an audience, and who can increase that audience through referrals (current subscribers recommending their friends, etc.) So if you don’t happen to be one of those lucky ones, you’ll have to build your audience first.

    If you have both a blog and a newsletter, you can attract an audience through your blog (providing you find a way for it to stand out from among the masses–but if you can’t manage that, no one will read your newsletter anyway), and then funnel them to the newsletter where they’ll get deeper insights. A bit like a magazine giving you free access to the daily/weekly news, but then charging you for feature length editorials and your favorite columnists.

    Of course that’s doing double-work, and takes away your focus from the newsletter. In a sense you’re having to produce two streams of content, and both have to be high quality. But it might only need to be temporary, as once you’ve established yourself you can turn off the blog and the newsletter has enough momentum to roll on its own.

  4. Wow! I jumped up Jason Calacanis’ blogging retirement statement and it was really touching.

    This is my first time to hear Jason’s name, in the blogosphere that’s why I am curious about this great guy.

    That’s why I joined his email list to learn about what he share on his newsletter.

    Thanks for sharing this information. It really benefited me. And for me, blogging having and email list is a great weapon for success online.

  5. Hi

    As Mark-[CEO face book] says “Let’s make the world more open!” I don’t think the email newsletter can survive long… Though you can grant permission, be safe through emails, that’s just until you receive the letter. There are occasions where we disagree our favorite authors. There are times when questions flow around our mind while we get to know new ideas. I don’t think people would sit and write an email to clear his doubts. The world is fast and will get much faster. He would either Google it or ask it on twitter. So anyways email newsletter would be indirect promotion of blogs. Probably a blogger can grow well if he/she starts researching on who and what they mail to the reader. :)

  6. I am leaving this comment before reading the post to the end but I will never shut down my blog because adsense works only on website not in inbox. I do not have any other way to monetize my blog.

    I think this is a long lasting argument but if one will shut down his blog that will be beneficial for me and other bloggers. I think this all argument is about monetizing your blog, if you can monetize it without content based ads, you may shut down it.

    I think email subscription only is good for a celebrity because they do not have to make money with their blog.

  7. does anyone want to run with letter.ly?

    , commit some dev cycles (in php) and build it out to full potential?

    to explain, I actually think that paid newsletters / this train of thought has a lot of legs to it… but I am 100% committed on drop.io —

    I just did letter.ly with Bill Piel for myself and a few friends (but I generally ascribe to the contact “line, why do anything once when you can do it twice for twice the cost” – see https://drop.io/swl/asset/consciously-and-aggressively-over-value-your-time)

    let me know, I would be psyched to push this to the next level, both because it is an interesting conversation and because my early read is that it has niche but valuable appeal as a platform. — it just can’t be me committing the cycles, so I need help from people who are interested in helping carry the torch :)

    and if you are more interested in the theoretics of why I think this is an interesting project check out:

    1. why the balance of power is going to shift to content creators:
      https://drop.io/swl/asset/why-the-balance-of-power-will-swing-to-information-and-entertainment-content-creators

    2. the economics of privacy:
      https://drop.io/swl/asset/publicity-is-the-new-social-norm-and-heidi-montag-knows-it

  8. Like others here, I really don’t think this is an either/or situation. Some content is good for blogs, some better for email, some better for twitter, and some for facebook.

    Also, your writing style can vary a little in each medium (which is a good thing). My blog is more public, meaning readers are a mix of customers and non-customers. My newsletters can be written a lot more personally, b/c I can assume it’s customers. Twitter? More for real-time customer service.

    And letter.ly adds yet another layer for even more in-depth content. Which is awesome.

    Like Less, I’ve also looked into Disqus’ API to “continue the conversation” from emails, but found that it’s too late. The conversation is already being continued on Facebook, whether we like it or not — I’ve noticed all my customers’ comments and email replies slowly migrating over to our Facebook fan page. Now, when I post or send anything, I go to FB to see what people think.

    Anyway. Blogs, emails, paid emails, social. They’re all good, but for different things. It just takes a lot of time (and staff) to use all those different tools effectively.

    I think what we’re seeing is more of a shift in time and resource management than paradigm shifts in the way we communicate.

    BTW, since she’s here, I’d like to put in my vote for Kathy Sierra to start a paid site, or newsletter. It was a sad, sad day for me when she stopped blogging.

  9. Great post and insightful questions, Mathew.

    With 25+ experience in the PR/Marketing world, I always find it fascinating to watch the diffusion curves and cycles.

    I think Jim Collins captured the danger of either/or thinking very well in “Good to Great.” Why do we have such a zero sum mentality about marketing tools? Does one have to die for another to live?

    I agree with the commenters who pointed out that it’s critical to understand goals before choosing tools.

  10. Writing in public (which for most today is blogging) will remain the best mouth piece/conversation hub for people.

    People with valuable competitive knowledge will prefer closed email lists.

    What I think’s more interesting is today’s choice between writing a blog post (which is kind-of-a-pain) vs. publishing a quick thought or link on a FB fanpage or Twitter.

    I’m finding myself updating http://facebook.com/WTFhawaii way more then I’m publshing to my blog. Finding that a lot of people don’t even want to click away to a blog now… they want EVERYTHING to be there in the stream.

    They want to comment and share in the stream, not off on a silo’d website

    • Good point, Adam — there is more and more of a move towards the “stream” rather than specific websites or even blogs. In that sense, email newsletters seem like even more of a step backwards.