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Blogging vs Email – Is Blogging Dead?

mailicon.pngOver 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.

3. Homebases

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.

Screen shot 2010-07-09 at 11.55.00 AM.png

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.

Final reflections

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?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Rufus Dogg says:

    People want to eat, but they don’t want to join the hunt. RSS is hunting; email is serving food fully prepared. A good blog has both just in case hunters what a DIY meal, but email pulls in exponentially more traffic.

  2. doug hay says:

    I agree – it is not an either or situation. Email is still just an outflow and more like push marketing even though the person subscribed. In my view, blogging is the ultimate social media tool – one that the blogger can control and create at will. I almost think that a blog is more important than the business web site.

  3. This is so true that it’s not an either/or choice. You have to provide content to your customers in the way that they want to digest it.

    I think that many bloggers work themselves to death and try to create a separate email for their list that is different than their blog, and then go and try to create articles on top of that.

    You can just re-send your blog post as an email as well. Sure, it cuts down on your comments, but you can also link your emails to the blog and ask readers to comment there.

    Don’t decide how you want your customer to digest your information, let them decide. If they want audio or video, give them that as well.

    In the end we are not in a contest to collect comments in high volume, high RSS subscriber numbers, or lots fo Twitter fans. It’s not about any of that. It’s about how many people BUY your product or service. That’s why we are all here.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  4. Bradley says:

    If you are only sending out a newsletter, how do you get the word out about the newsletter to gain subscribers?

    Seems to me that you have to build up some kind of following prior to deciding to just have a newsletter. Especially when you are talking about a paid newsletter.

    I have a hard enough time getting people to “stick” on my free blog content!

  5. I think the point you raise about interaction is one of the key ones here. Blogging is pretty unique in the way readers interact with both the writer and other readers. Can e-mail ever replicate that?

  6. Josh Garcia says:

    Hey Darren,

    Blogging gives credibility to someone that is just starting out with a business. Now, you can mix the two together. Which I highly recommend. But blogging is still so powerful to get content indexed by search engines which will drive traffic and build an email subscription.

    I’ll say for someone starting out. Having a blog to build credibility is important.

    Have a great weekend…
    Josh

  7. Monevator says:

    Personally I think the biggest threat to blogging is social networking like Facebook and Twitter.

    If you look at the rise of blogging before that, the ‘link economy’ that brought lots of big blogs to prominence was driven by hordes of mini-bloggers discussing and quoting from other blogs.

    Now that discussion happens largely in Facebook. Twitter is a bit of an echo chamber (I know you’re a big fan Darren, but personally I think Twitter is only worthwhile if you’ve already got a big audience – the passthru is pretty terrible).

    Worse, it’s not clear how link juice is being passed around anymore even when you do get links, given how much of Facebook is behind a wall, hidden from Google, and how much of the link commentary is now on Twitter.

    Finally, the audience has moved to these platforms, too.

    Blogging isn’t dead and probably never will be, but social networking definitely clipped its wings in my view.

  8. hokya says:

    i love blogging
    for me, email is for blog
    not blog for email

    with email, i can get visits from old commenters and readers
    but that’s all nothing if i don’t have the blog

    :-)

  9. Joshua Noerr says:

    I feel that my blog is the single best way to build my personal brand.

    Also, email subscriptions don’t lend themselves well to search engine traffic. I’ve heard that google doesn’t really like squeeze pages (but you would now better than I). I think the benefit of a blog being available to a search engine can drive additional newsletter subscriptions, but they really work hand in hand.

  10. ThoreyO says:

    Hi Darren,

    what popped into my mind was the fact that email requires more confidence from the author. Once that newsletter has been sent, there’s no going back to edit. Even if you did get the readership somehow by magic, you’d have to have some serious balls (or not care) to dive in the deep end like that. I think.

    I’m not only talking about spelling and such, but wording, topics, developing your writing voice… do we really want to do that in a final form like e-mail? Wouldn’t it result in a too-careful, at-risk-of-becoming-impersonal writing? I don’t know…

    I agree with the other points, I think the blog itself is a wonderful playground for us to shape however we feel like, get feedback and start a revolution! (Well, maybe not that last part.)

    Great post,

    Thorey
    (Am currently reading your 31DTBBB, btw :) )

  11. Great discussion!

    I think the key is :

    “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.”

    “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).”

    I would also take a dual approach. Why not have the best of both worlds?

    Kindest,
    Nabeel

  12. Keri says:

    Excellent post!

    I’ve been preaching the value of building an email list for years and am a business partner of a well-known email marketing firm in the USA.

    The area where I live – it has been hard to get people to understand the value of it, let alone what a blog can do for a business. With the popularity of social media, I believe we’re on the edge of a lot of good things in Southwestern Ohio – people are beginning to understand how it all works!

    I’m in the process of re-branding/re-configuring my own company, and plan to continue my email newsletter, but also implement an accompanying blog.

    Thanks for this post!! :)

    ~Keri
    A fan from Social Media Success Summit 2010

  13. KishPress says:

    Darren, blogging can never die, it’s a process where you can develop a brand, write about your thoughts, reach a wider audience, etc. Email marketing is also something which works for many. There are many these days who get into blogging and get desperate soon as they do not get the results they expect in a short span of time.

  14. Personally, I am not a person who is subscribed to many newsletters and don’t see the direct benefit of harvesting user’s e-mail addresses to contact them via e-mail. Of course, I give my readers the choice of receiving regular updates of new blog posts via e-mail, if they don’t use RSS, but I don’t see the added-value of a newsletter. Maybe I am too sceptical, but I would never rely solely on a newsletter to build my business.

  15. veganboyjosh says:

    I think the key is what you said in #1, Darren. I’ve always thought of blogs as more archivable than emails. Even email lists or newsletters which are archived online seem so much more dated to me.

    Maybe it’s the one-way-conduit-of-information factor because the comments are missing, but for some reason, if I see the same content on a blog and on an archived email list, from the same date 2 or 3 years ago, the blog for some reason seems more reliable. Does anyone else experience this?

  16. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by driving people to email from your blog, but your right blogs build credibility and with this comes the likelihood that if one of your subscribers gets a newsletter from you they will visit your blog.

  17. Jezza101 says:

    The email newsletter at the large commercial site I used to work for made up about 15% of the mix. This was enough to justify 2 full time staff members but it was obviously not the biggest revenue driver.

    I have been a member of mailing lists that started on email and thrived once they moved to community sites/forums etc so some are desperate to go the other way too!

    I think it’s down to your business model.

  18. Ari Herzog says:

    Email is as social as a bachelorette party. Someone sends an announcement, people reply, a few back and forth messages, and it ends.

    If you don’t want to be social and write blog posts in the frame of Jakob Nielsen, then use email.

  19. Michelle says:

    I like the interaction of the blog. People get to know you, they get to see how you respond to their real questions.

    I subscribe to blogs through RSS anyway (and read them in-context using Google reader’s “next” button).

    Email is for bills.

  20. I started out with a “YouTube” channel. This built up a network of friends and subscribers. Then I started a blog, facebook page and twitter account.

    Finally after two years, I started an email list. Wish I did that from day 1!… Now I’m gaining around 50 a day on the list, which is pretty sweet!…

    ;]

  21. I like the way my 2 blogs allow me to build a relationship with my readers.

    However, there is one question that keeps plaguing me…

    Where will they get new subscribers if they don’t have a blog where people can opt-in?

    Because – if you don’t want to maintain a blog because you don’t want the responsibility of posting everyday to get visitors, you can always get a nice surge of traffic by simply sending your list a link to one of your blog posts.

    Plus – how long is it going to be, before you start spamming your email list to make money?

    I don’t know, these are just my thoughts on the topic. See, I think it is wise to do both, have a blog with an email list. I am setting up a new account right now to build my list on my 2 blogs http://www.i-blogger.info and http://www.hcg411.info – I think that this is the better way to go.

    Thanks,

    Brian M. Connole

  22. You can definitely make a lot more advertising money in a blog than in an email. Online ads are all about impressions and clicks, and a public blog will have more eyes than an email to subscribers only.

  23. Bill Nad says:

    I have to agree. The great way that I add to my email list is from my blog. The problem is continuing the conversation on the email list since it tends to be very one sided (from me to you) so getting people to come back to the blog for newer content keeps the conversation alive for me.

    Also keeping visitors is very important. Even if you offer good content on your blog there is no guarantee that they will come back again

  24. Qodam says:

    I think that blog and email are perfect combination, but the way i interact, i would consider blog.

  25. I use feedburner so that my blog readers can subscribe via email as well if they want. I see no reason to restrict my readers to a format.

  26. Saloog says:

    Interesting article.. At the moment email alone cannot kill blogging. Blogging has too many advantages as has been pointed out by other commentators here.

    I would however change my mind if a revolution came to Email (think of Google Wave – though not successful as it was hyped to be) and it too ended up providing all the pros (and maybe more) that blogging does..

  27. I like to read on my own terms, not somebody else’s.

    When I get an email, I may or may not have time to read it and if it sits in my inbox for too long, it will just get deleted.

    However, when I come to your blog, it’s because I want to read and I have the time.

    I’d like to think that’s what my readers want as well.

    I find that blog==>email==>blog system works for me as well.

    Ana Hoffman

  28. I do believe that email is an extremely viable method of bringing in revenue, but if it were able to compete with the money-making abilities of a blog, then i think we certainly notice that trend. This being said, emails are a great sidearm to a blog, but not the primary choice of weaponry, at least that’s the case in my opinion.

  29. Blogging has just begun and will almost triple by 2012

  30. Febap Liew says:

    this is why working and having a business online is fun and challenging in a way.
    this sort of post sparks ‘debate’ and i believe it eventually has even before Darren himself wrote this up.
    -
    i believe e-mail is just secondary to having a blog or website. just like having your website/blog listed onto the search engines, people would tend to come and stay as they please. they are coming to you . However, with e-mails, you are going towards them directly and personally. Somehow i believe when you eventually have establish a very credible reputation, having this sort of e-mail application could somewhat bring your readers/potential customers closer to you. somehow, by going for them them personally, you are breaching the common ‘anonymous’ status between you and your readers.

    with a blog/website, you get to tender in more new readers and subscribers. you are providing a common portal with open doors for anyone interested. Subscribing through e-mail somehow feels like an exclusive invitation for them.

    as mentioned by darren, 3 internet marketers, Jason Calacanis, Joel Spolsky and Sam Lessin , i believe would have at one point in their progress established a primary public portal. Till the point where their subscribers are huge enough to sustain itself, maybe by depending on just such email application would be eventually enough to provide them lucratively. =)

    have a nice day.

  31. Actually, combining both blogging and email marketing (list building) together is a good idea, and I’ve seen quite a number of people are doing so, includes those gurus.

    Aweber has a nice feature in which we can make our opt-in form pop out. This is a way to increase the conversion rate…and it works!

  32. Elizabeth says:

    As a reader, I don’t really get this. Some of my fav bloggers send out email newsletters, but I don’t subscribe. I read your blog, follow you on Twitter, and maybe on Facebook – why do I want to read email, too? Especially since I barely remember to check it now that most people I’d email are on Facebook. Am I missing something?

  33. Ive just recently started blogging at http://www.myrestaurantsmelbourne.com, and I enjoy reading other peoples blogs and adding my own opions too. I find with emails not many people read them unless they already know what it is.

  34. While I agree that it isn’t an either/or decision, if the line must be drawn, then I there are certain instances where each would excel.

    I prefer email newsletters (autoresponders) for my websites that are fairly static because they contain mostly “timeless” content, however because I simply can’t bring myself to simply not have a blog, so I add a new post about once a month and just call it my “Articles” section.

    On the other hand, I have websites where timeless content is near impossible, so my blogs are vital to those websites and my email newsletters simply point people back to my blog.

    In the end, I think that they are both still incredibly useful tools and don’t feel that a choice between the two needs to made. However, I do think that it is important to use one as a primary tool and the other as a supplementary tool.

  35. Kalesh@SE says:

    Hey Darren,

    I love Blogging. But it takes lot of time to build some audience. Email is something like ready made. It can get people’s attention immediately.

    But anyhow Email can’t touch Blogs in anyway.

  36. Chris says:

    I don’t think blogging is dead at all. I still make a decent amount of revenue from my blog. However, my email list produces much more revenue, and it’s very easy to maintain.

    I think many people feel if they are going to work so hard to drive traffic, then let it be to a squeeze page where they can capture an email address and keep in touch with the visitor.

    However, I find that a blog is very useful as a tool to feed your sunscriobers good content. Like Darren pointed out, it all depends on your business model. I happen to use both.

  37. In some ways I would say email is dead but I definitely agree that multiple mediums is the best way to go. Some people prefer email, some RSS, and some just browsing the blog. To each their own and we should cater to them.

  38. Craig says:

    I was recommended by a fellow marketer to come and check this blog for some helpful info. Well Darren you have pulled it out of the bag.

    I think you need all types of communication with your visitors and subscribers. I personally have my home/base as Darren describes. I use my email auto responder to send new info that I have placed on my blog.

    I will be also adding the RSS feed to my blog as another feature to my blog. So thanks for the info on the RSS feed post.

    Cheers

    Craig

  39. I suppose I view this from to different perspectives:

    As a blogger I won’t presume to tell my readers how to read my content – I will write my blog, and offer RSS, email, twitter and facebook updates. My blog posts also show up on linkedin if you go to my profile. I don’t have a separate newsletter, but there isn’t a need for one. I have a job that I’m happy in and I’m not trying to make money from my blog. I hope that it will help me financially in the future, but not directly by selling things. I just try to provide value – which will show potential clients or investors that I take what I do seriously.

    As a reader, I don’t actually like to receive email from websites, unless it is the only way the website offers to stay in touch. I follow a lot of bloggers that I’m interested in on Twitter, and when they tweet either their own blog posts or other blog posts that they find interesting, then I follow the link if I feel it will interest me. I get enough crap in my email inbox that i either delete, or intend to read later, which I then forget!

  40. Ian says:

    My baby blog is far too young to go the email only way. also wirte my blog to build a relationship between myself and potential clients that may want to work with me but are not really sure what I’m like. Maybe with time I will go the email route too. Is it worth me collecting email addresses yet do you think?

  41. Darren,
    I have worked as a personal development educator for years but I am a late comer to blogging since I only started six months ago. My blog has rapidly increased the amount of visitors coming to read my work before my static site did not exist on google. As a result I do have email subscribers on the side who enjoy (they say) receiving my updates by email.

    One sad thing about email marketing I have experienced (I wonder if other readers of yours have experienced) is that many of the top guns in internet marketing whose list I have subscribed to after being totally impressed by a blog or video are now offering me very little quality – many just marketing promotions in their email. I have UNsubscribed to many of big name lists as a result. This experience reminds me to keep my quality and value high.

    I don’t mind marketing as part of sharing of information (I do it too) but email does not delete the need to offer value – simply ads for another promotion is not the reason I sign up for email updates. I am looking for value with the ads.

    I welcome other people’s comments on my comment about their experience of being on an email list.

    I am just working to keep my value high.
    Cheers,
    David

  42. I hope that blogging isn’t dead; I just started! As a reader, I like getting e-mail from websites only if it’s a new blog post. It is annoying to get e-mail from people who just have your e-mail address because they have your e-mail address. I do think having a blog gives you more credibility with readers.

  43. Pamela says:

    I follow problogger by RSS feed (since last month) but often find myself back onto the blog, either to read comments or by following links Darren has made to older blog posts that I haven’t read.

    I haven’t yet started my own blog (why not read about how the pros do it before you start) but as a reader, I’m much more comfortable with blogs than email newsletters.

    When you arrive on a new site, a blog allows you to get an idea of who the writer is, what subjects interest them and, through the comments, what kind of people read and interact with the writer. People often talk about social proof, that’s what an active comments section gives you – “other people, people who I can identify with – who are at the same stage as me, read this blog maybe I should too.”

    A blog also lets me go back and get instant value (now, when I’ve discovered the website – I’m interested and have time) by reading older posts (particuarly on problogger, and other how-to blogs where a lot of my beginner’s questions are answered by earlier posts). An email newsletter just gives me what the author is thinking about today, and I might even have to wait for tomorrow or next week to find out what the writer is talking about, when I want to know more about the subject now.

    I’m not saying newsletters – or subscribing to new posts by email – doesn’t have its place, from Darren’s experience as well as the more product launchy types, it obviously helps to have a list of people you can keep selling to or keep pulling back to the site. But for new readers, there needs to be a lot on the website that they can explore whilst in browsing mode. If they sign up for an email newsletter, they don’t get that instant benefit and your newsletter might turn up when they are busy dealing with work emails or a week later, by which time they got answers elsewhere and had forgotten why they signed up.

    Blogs and emails have different strengths, its thinking about what you want to achieve with them.

  44. deasy says:

    I’m happy blogging:) yeah it’s such true fact that you shared.. email that not managed with the owners of the blog, coz sometimes bussy doing blogging things an all aspects. Emai, I think it’s still the most important things we can keep in touch with our blogger friends.. yupz that’s all is our decision what right, and what we are comfy to decide which is the best sarana n tool that keep us connected, and interactive.

  45. Nasrul Hanis says:

    I agree with you.

    The decision to depends solely on the email is determined by what we want to achieve.

    Some people especially entrepreneurs might focusing on email because it’s the best method for them and having a blog might letting their focus distracted.

  46. Tammi Kibler says:

    I don’t expect we will hear much from those who believe blogging is dead on this blog.

    I agree with a multi-pronged approach, though when you are starting out it is probably best to find a focus for your efforts. Obviously, it depends upon your market, but there is a lot to be said for a blog’s influence with the search engines, permanence, and ability to be updated.

  47. Nice post.

    I think email is for blog and not the opposite. Email is only for a certain number of people who subscribed, on the other hand blog is generic.

    Many people wants to read blogs and not emails. I am one of them. So blogs cannot be dead.

    Ron

  48. paisano says:

    Great question. Blogging is prone to evolution like everything else… becoming easier and quicker to access & post from mobile devices explains the massive success of Posterous which accomplishes all of these much needed objectives for the modern blogger. I predicted success for Posterous when I reviewed all of the startups at Ycombinator’s Demo Day in 2008 in my SarahLacy.com piece called American Startup: http://www.sarahlacy.com/sarahlacy/2008/08/american-startu.html

    Blogging will never die, just change and adapt to us bloggers and technology. WordPress, typepad, blogger and other blogging platforms must also evolve and change or else perish. Many of them will, some won’t.

    Good food for thought.

    Pai

  49. Aniruddh says:

    I think blogs describes better. However subscription to news letter is is some thing which now adays better choice. Becasue people are struggling manage time to read full blogs.

  50. great post but i dont think blogging is dead and I never would have thought 2 compare it to emails. I swear I love this site and all of the information it has.