The Promise and Pitfalls of E-mail Newsletters

December 1999
by David W. McClintock

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It’s difficult to resist the economics of e-mail newsletters. Instead of spending about $6,000 for
printing and mailing an eight-page issue, small publishers can make a ten cent phone call through a
modem and broadcast author interviews, reviews, and excerpts. With just one click of a mouse.
Beyond that one click of a mouse, however, there are two major challenges. First, converting
e-mail correspondents to e-newsletter recipients is a gamble, because not all e-mail users are equally
receptive to all e-mail messages. First-time e-mail broadcasts must walk the line between traditional
direct mail (such as printed newsletters and catalogs) and the evil twins of modern direct-marketing:
unsolicited fax broadcasts and unsolicited e-mail (nicknamed “spam”). Unless we’ve allowed people to
opt out of e-mail announcements (by having a checkbox for that on order forms, for example), we risk
contacting someone who wants order-related correspondence only via electronic mail. That person may be
retrieving e-mail from a cell phone at international rates!
The second major challenge for book publishers is to approach e-newsletters with the decisiveness
of missile launchers, because there’s no retreat after clicking the “send” button.
My college buddy Paul, a senior editor at a small publisher of books on advanced mathematics,
recently suffered the effects of these problems after adapting his newsletter articles into an
e-newsletter format and broadcasting the inaugural editi…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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