Over the last couple of years a number of fairly prominent bloggers have decided to shut down their blogs and move their communications to subscription only email newsletters. Bloggers such as Jason Calacanis, Joel Spolsky and Sam Lessin were three (all mentioned in this post on Gigaom).
Some of these have moved to a free email subscription while others have gone to a paid model.
I’ve had a number of readers ask for my response to this and asking:
- is blogging dead?
- do I have to choose between email and blogging?
- should those starting out start with a blog or email?
Side note: In some ways I think that this post is pretty funny. Only a year or two back we were debating whether RSS had killed email and now people are debating whether email has killed blogging!
Today I thought I’d jot down a few random thoughts on the topic – I hope they add something useful for those pondering the topic:
1. It’s not an either or choice
My own experience over the last few years has been that things have really taken off for me when I’ve taken a dual approach. While I initially put all my eggs in the blogging (with an RSS subscription) model – I discovered a couple of years back that when I developed a newsletter along side a blog that my business really took off.
Over at digital photography school we are approaching half a million subscribers (combined total of RSS and email) – less than a quarter of these are RSS subscribers. Adding email as an option has expanded our potential reach incredibly.
2. Blogs build profile
One of the reflections that I’d have on the above 3 people who have abandoned blogs is that they’ve each used blogging to build their profiles. They have all done other worthwhile things to build their authority, credibility and reach – but part of what has enabled them to make their email subscription model work is that they had an established audience (partly from their blogging).
To start out with just an email subscription service and make it successful is not impossible – but I suspect some other kind of web presence (whether it be blogging, life streaming, Twitter etc) will help.
I guess it comes down partly to the stage you’re at as an online entrepreneur and how established your network is. If you’re well known, have a network already in some way and have the ability to pull numbers of email subscribers then it’s probably something to consider. But if you’re starting out online – you’ll probably need some kind of site or other presence online to help get the ball rolling.
One of the things that I find useful about having a blog is that it gives me a ‘home base’. I’ve written about the importance of having a place that you control and that readers can find you (a home base) before and for me a blog is the ideal way to do this.
Email has become increasingly powerful in my own business over the last few years but part of the success for me has been that I’ve had a homebase.
For me having a blog alongside email does two things.
Firstly the blog helps me to drive people to sign up for the newsletter. We try to write the most useful content that we can – content that not only helps our existing readers but also the kind of content that they share and that leads new people to us via social media, search engines and word of mouth. Any new person landing on our site almost always finds us through the blog (a few do it via the forum but the blog is #1).
As a result we’re able to grow our email newsletter subscribers by around 800 new people per day.
Secondly – the email drives people back to the blog. In some ways our emails are like a condensed version of our RSS feed. So every week our email readers are being driven back to our blog in massive numbers.
It might seem a little silly to have a blog that drives people to email which drives people back to the blog – but without the email first time readers would arrive on our blog and never return.
Of course being able to drive people back to the blog in large numbers allows us to monetize it – through advertising, some affiliate stuff, selling our own products etc.
I guess my main concern with only going with email is where the growth will come from in new subscribers if its not out there for people to see, taste and be drawn into. Interestingly some of those who do emails then post their emails on the web in an archive – which in some ways isn’t that dissimilar to a blog.
4. It’s all about your business ‘model’
I guess ultimately it’s about the business model you’re using. I monetize in a variety of ways including advertising (ad networks and direct ad sales), affiliate marketing, selling my own products and more. Some of these could certainly be done purely through an email model but others could not.
For example running ad network ads is something you can’t do via email (at least not the major ones). I could certainly sell ads directly to advertisers, do affiliate marketing or sell my own products via email – but the markets I’m working in seem to respond best when I take a multi-pronged approach (communicating in email, on blogs and via social media).
For me targeting multiple mediums increases the reach significantly.
5. Other factors to consider
The more I think about the more I realise that there are many other factors at play in these kinds of decisions. They would include:
- audience – who are you writing for and what mediums are they familiar with and a part of their workflow?
- style - your own style of communication is going to definitely play a part here. The differences between email and blogging are subtle but you’ll find that your style will lend itself to different mediums. Some people just have a knack with email while others are much more engaging on a blog, in video or in short form like Twitter.
- interaction - emails don’t have a comments section. This will be attractive to some (no more moderation) or unattractive to others. Of course people will comment (replying to emails, on social media etc) but one of the great things that happens on some blogs is the public discussion that happens after a post goes live – a communal experience that often adds a lot to a post. I guess it depends whether what you’re doing lends itself to communal interaction.
6. Will it end up looking like a blog?
I’ve had a number of conversations with people about this lately and about ideas to develop email subscription services. One conversation with someone pitching the idea of an email subscription was that he’d post his emails on a website so that new people could see what he was sending, get indexed in Google and so people could share them with friends.
When I asked whether he’d miss the comments people give he agreed and said he’d add a comments section to that website.
My reflection was simply that it was starting to look like a blog with the option to subscribe via email.
I’m certainly not anti the idea of email or even focusing solely upon email subscriptions instead of blogging – however I guess it comes down to what you want to achieve, who you want to speak to, what your current situation, and profile is, whether you’ve got time to do multiple mediums and what kind of medium best suits your style.
What other factors would need to be considered in making such a decision?