Thoughts on newsletters

Carl sent me this link the other day. It's an interesting read and this post is my considerations on the topic so take a moment and go read that first. I'll wait...

♪ Imagine Elevator Music Here ♪

Done? OK excellent. Let me start by clarifying one thing: I don't personally disagree with the spirit of that essay. I mostly agree with Robin. That said, I do think there are things that need to be said. To start the reason why:

...Websites are treated as these embarrassing, ugly, ad-riddled things, whilst newsletters have established some kind of prestige for themselves somehow.

This is because newsletters are mostly still technically very limited compared to websites. Which is both a blessing and a curse. The limitation of the email platform is the reason why newsletters are still a relatively clutter and noise-free environment when it comes to design and technology.

You don't have banners, sliders, popups and auto play videos inside your emails because those are pretty much impossible to have. And that's not the case when it comes to websites since in 2021 pretty much everything is possible on the web.
Newsletters are still a "pure" medium because the platform is fairly dumb and it's extremely hard to do anything complex. That's one thing.

Then there's a matter of newsletters having killed blogs. I disagree. Blogs are definitely not dead. As for the three reasons provided, I'll start from the end.

Writers can actually, ya know, get paid.
Agreed. Premium newsletters are very easy to create these days.

Your inbox is a notification stream.
Both agree and disagree. It is a notification stream but it's also a mess and notifications can get lost very easily.

They’re impossibly easy to publish.
So are blogs posts.

As for the three points about websites...
Are difficult to make. Can’t notify people of new work. Aren’t able to pay writers easily.
These are all true and false depending on how you look at the problem. Most people don't run newsletters themselves. I certainly don't. They usually rely on a third party platform that does everything for them. If that is the criteria, then sign up for Ghost and you're good to go. They'll provide all the tools and it's as easy to start a blog there as it is to run a newsletter on MailChimp or Substack.

Most of the considerations on the original essay are only valid if we compare creating and self hosting a website against using a 3rd party all in one solution. But that's an apples to oranges comparison.
I run a blog where publishing an entry is as easy as copying from iA Writer and pasting into a text area. It all comes down to what we want to achieve. If we want super elaborate layouts that leverage all the fancy new tools of the web then inevitably that will create some complexity. Most complex layouts are, well, complex. That's just the reality. And that's true for both sites and newsletters.

Also, this notion that you still need to learn CSS and HTML to make a site but somehow you don't if you want to send out a newsletter, well that's just odd. Unless you're writing plain text emails and CCN your entire list, you're using something built with HTML and CSS (and some other tech). It's just hidden from you. But as I said before, you can do the same with a site. Sign up to one of the dozen site builders out there and you're good to go. Get a Squarespace site and you can be up and running super fast. Or get a Micro Blog.

Solutions are available. Sites are only complex if you want something complex. But that is also true for newsletters. If you want a bespoke newsletter you need to know your way around HTML and CSS. And I'd argue it's easier to code a nice site than a nice newsletter.

I do agree that RSS is awesome. We should promote it more.
And finally, as for the financial aspect of it, well I don't know shit about finance or getting paid online so it's better if I don't say anything.

And that concludes my rant response. Robin, if you're reading this, I think you have some excellent points and this is a discussion worth having. I'd have usually sent you a simple email but I thought it was worth discussing the topic in public because it's an interesting one.

And that's all I have to say.