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How to Make a Living as a Newsletter Publisher

According to Howard Penn Hudson publisher of The Newsletter on Newsletters,

"There are at least 100,000 professional and amateur newsletters in the United States - some estimate as many as 500,000- and they are read by millions of people."

While this is a quote from the last century, and referred to printed newsletters, the marketplace for newsletters has only increased with the internet – allowing publishers to much more easily reach a worldwide readership.

Remember, newsletters can be printed or downloadable, or both.

To be successful as a newsletter publisher, you have to specialise.
Your best bet will be with new information on a subject that is not already covered by an established newsletter, but don’t be put off competing with existing newsletters if you have an expertise in the subject or can see an untapped angle.

Writing and publishing a successful newsletter is one of the most competitive of all publishing ventures, and in order for you to succeed in this field you must find a void in the marketplace and then fill it with your specialised information and knowledge.

Regardless of the frustrations involved in launching your own newsletter, never forget this truth:
There are people from all walks of life, in all parts of the world, many of them with no writing ability what so ever, who are making a good living with a simple two-four-six and eight page newsletter.

Your first step should be to pinpoint as many different newsletters in your chosen area as you can. Analyse and study how the others are doing it. Many publishers allow you to download a free sample issue – great for working out their newsletter strategies. Adapt their methods to your own newsletter, but determine to recognize where they are weak, and make yours better in every way. Find as many forums and website on your subject as possible. Learn from the pros.


What Really is a Newsletter?

There is some confusion about what a newsletter is as evidenced by many pieces of material that carry the name, but lack the proper characteristics. A newsletter is NOT a magazine; it is NOT a newspaper; it is NOT an ad sheet. It is none of these, yet it will often encompass a few characteristics of each.

A newsletter is, by simple definition, a LETTER containing NEWS about a specific field, business, profession, industry, hobby or activity.


How to Find Your Place in The Newsletter Field

You don't have to be an accomplished writer to publish a newsletter, but you will need three basic elements:

  1. A subject that is not being covered by other newsletters, or is not being covered thoroughly enough.
  2. A specific market for your subject material. unlike a magazine or newspaper which may require a circulation of 10,000 to over a million readers to achieve success, a newsletter can produce a nice profit with as few as 500 subscribers.
  3. A continuing supply of material that you can draw from to provide readers with news, facts & feature articles, ideas, supply sources and other bits of information to round out each issue.

These are the basics. Naturally, you should be an AUTHORITY on the subject on which you intend to report through your newsletter. You can draw from your knowledge and experience, of course, but in addition to this you should be a member of associations, clubs organizations in your field, subscribe to several magazines, newspapers (possibly other newsletters) and other material, member of online forums, all of which will help to provide you with an on-going stream of information for your own newsletter.

Your function (other than publisher) will primarily be that as EDITOR OF THE MATERIAL you gather, refining it to useful worthy of publishing in your newsletter.


How Often Should You Publish?

Some newsletters are published monthly; a few are issued on a weekly basis. But until you work out the "bugs" and get yourself established in your particular field, it is advisable that you plan a quarterly newsletter, publishing every 3 months. Thus, your newsletter will carry issue dates such as Jan-April-July & Oct. This will give you nearly three months between issues to gather material, write and layout the next issue. I say "nearly" three months because you'll have to allow at least two weeks (maybe longer) at the printer (but obviously less if you plan to only publish online – but remember to allow time to learn how to put together a newsletter).

Once you get a few issues under your belt, you can look at publishing every two months, then monthly. If you feel that you have enough knowledge and can call on enough information, you might decide to go straight to monthly – but don’t let down your readers! Monthly means monthly.


What's My Newsletter Worth?

When we talk about worth, we're referring to the value to a subscriber. It might surprise you to learn that some subscribers are happy to pay £100’s a year to get their hot little hands on vital information that keeps them abreast of current trends and shifts in their respective fields.

There are the heavy hitters; the major league newsletters that are few and far between, and need not concern us for this report. On the other end of the economic scale, many beginning newsletter publishers go too low in pricing their publication. Some are priced as little as £10 to £15 a year. It is extremely unlikely that these publishers will ever get out of the red and will soon be forced to increase their subscription rates or ultimately cease publication.

Right from the start you have to set a minimum subscription price. Your previous research will have given you an idea of the market; the potential number of subscribers. You won’t capture all these straight away, but you need obviously want to build up an income, so start at a reasonable price to entice new readers. As time goes on, you can start to slowly increase rates as you become more established and recognised, but don't go to the higher extremes until you can establish some kind of projections on the next year's edition.


What About Size?

If you are going to offer a printed version, you need to consider sizing. Some newsletters run 8-12-16-24 pages, and virtually all of them are printed in the convenient A4 size. Naturally, the larger sizes are usually those commanding the higher subscription rates. You'll probably want to begin with the standard 8-page format. This can either be 4 single sheets printed both sides, to two A3 sheets printed two sides, folded to A4. If you go for the 8-page format at say £30 a year, published quarterly, this gives you a price of £7.50 per issue. This might seem a bit steep for just 8 sheets of paper, but here's what you must keep in mind ... and stress in your advertising and promotion:

You are NOT selling and subscribers are not buying the paper; they are buying the INFORMATION you are providing, information that might easily cost them £100 more each issue if subscribers had to search, weed out, edit, evaluate and condense the same information you are giving them.

A newsletter's true value (although style, format and printing quality are all important) is in the information content each issue offers its readers. This is what you have to sell. Everything else is packaging.

If you are just going to publish online, size is academic (apart from download time). But just because size doesn’t matter, don’t use that as an excuse to bulk out your newsletter with waffle. Better a smaller packed newsletter, than a larger one interspersed with waffle.


Become a Newsletter Publisher ... the marketplace for newsletters has only increased with the internet – allowing publishers to much more easily reach a worldwide readership.

What Should Your Newsletter Contain?

It's your publication, so you can include anything that is moral, legal, ethical and useful to readers, just so it pertains to the subject and market for which it is intended.
Here are a few examples.

  • * Editor's Page
    Here's the place for your own opinions, viewpoints, editorial comments about your subject or field. Say what you like or dislike about what's going on, what changes should be made, what the competition is doing, what happened at a seminar your recently attended. Also, ask readers for their opinions about what you are providing in your newsletter; what would they like to see covered? This is YOUR page to blow your stack or toot your own horn. Make the best of it.

  • * Letters From Readers
    Eventually you'll be getting letters from subscribers, some congratulating you on your progress, others complaining about you or somebody else in the field. A few might ask questions or be looking for additional help and information that you haven't yet provided in your newsletter. These can be printed as-is (with the subscriber's permission) or edited to fit your space. They also give you needed input for additional features in future issues.

  • * Book Reviews -- New Products
    Aside from your newsletters, there are probably many other publications, websites and forums out there offering information in your specific field: new books, magazines, newspapers, directories, courses, audio/visual tapes and, yes, maybe other newsletters. Buy some. Subscribe, read, evaluate, digest and report on them in this spot. Include a special invitation to solicit additional publications to be featured in future issues. Is there a new machine on the market? A new gadget or product that might help readers? Here's the place to tell them. All publishers, manufactures and distributors want and need publicity for their wares, and this gives them a good outlet.

  • * What's New -- What's Happening
    This is where you report on the NEWS that makes your newsletter what it is. Include the latest innovations, changes in the law, new companies in the field, new ideas, new people, or anything that will help readers accomplish more in their field of interest.

  • * Guest Writers
    If you see articles or columns in other publications by prominent people in the field, you can write to them and ask if you may reprint a particular article in your newsletters, naturally giving the author full attribution for their work. Some may grant permission if you allow them a plug for a book or service they provide.

  • * Use Your Imagination
    Use your initiative to include whatever you think readers want to know. Be concise, keeping all information brief and to the point as you make every issue informative, interesting, helpful and valuable so subscribers will want to file all issues for future reference, and renew their subscription year after year.


Building A Subscription List

This is what will make you a decent income or break you as a newsletter publisher. It is said that many newsletter publishers must spend up to 75p on promoting their newsletter for every £ they take in. Others say that at least 50% of their subscription revenue must be used for advertising and promotion.

This was in the day of offline newsletters – even if you do not plan to sell a downloadable version, there are many opportunities for you to get free and low-cost publicity. As a newsletter publisher, that gives you the air of expertise, and writing guest articles for websites, blogs will get you free publicity. Also, sign up to all the best forums in your field, and start offering real advice – again, that will build your credibility, and the credibility of your newsletter.

As with promoting any product, you will advertise your newsletter in publications/websites that are read by your target market. There is some disagreement on this, but most authorities tend to favour NOT offering a free sample issue or even a sample issue at the regular price. The reason given is that best results are usually obtained by building interest and anticipation in the advertising, but not satisfying the resulting curiosity until you get the subscription order. Once a prospect sees a sample issue, it seems, they have satisfied their curiosity about it and procrastinate about subscribing, usually not sending in their order at all, however sincere their intentions might have been. You might want to test both methods and continue with the one that brings best results for you.


A Hypothetical Promotional Campaign

Let's say your newsletter will sell for £30 a year. You invest in some advertising, as well as writing guest articles, forum posts etc. You answer enquiries with a good sales letter / website / landing page, explaining all the benefits of subscribing.

With 1,000 enquiries/site visits a month, and you convert just 3% of these enquiries to subscribers, this gives you 30 new subscribers a month @ £30 each. After 12 months, you have 360 subscribers paying you £10,800. You will have expenses to pay out of that, but remember, this is year one, and with each new subscriber word is spreading. The reality is that you will probably find that subscribers increase in percentage each month.

Although blatant hard core advertising should NOT be included within the pages of the newsletter itself, you can generate additional revenue by including subtle offers of books, reports or a service that you can provide to readers. If presented in a dignified manner that is perceived as being helpful, not as cold advertising, this can provide many extra orders from subscribers throughout the year. Before subscription end, send renewal notice to keep the subscriber on your list.
Everyone won't renew, of course, but you should be able to keep about 40 to 50% each year ... and there will not carry the high promotional cost. That's where the real money will start coming. That's when you'll be well on your way to a good full-time income.


Before You Get Started

Plan your newsletter before launching it. Know the basic premise for its being, your editorial position, the layout, art work, type style, subscription price, distribution methods, and every other detail necessary to make it look, sound and feel like the end result you have envisioned.
Lay out your start up needs; detail the length of time it's going to take to become established, and what will be involved in becoming established.

Set a date as a milestone of accomplishment for each phase of development; A date for breaking even, a date for attaining a certain paid subscription figure, and a monetary goal for your first five years in business.

And all this must be done before you publish your first issue. If you follow this advice before you start your first issue your chances for success are greatly increased. The more time you take in the planning stage, the more professional looking and profit potential your first issue will become.


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