How newsletter publishers are expanding and diversifying beyond inbox-based revenue

A media company can only grow so much when sticking to one channel. At least that’s what four newsletter publisher executives said when outlining their plans to Digiday about expanding into events, video and podcasts to diversify their businesses and grow their revenue this year.

“Newsletters are an entry point for media companies and then they’re going to expand from there,” said Front Office Sports founder and CEO Adam White. “We don’t even consider ourselves a newsletter company anymore.”

While newsletter ads make up nearly 70% of Front Office Sports’ revenue, White expects Front Office Sports’ other revenue lines – digital, social video, online education courses – to grow from about 30% of the business to 50% by the end of this year. He said that he also has plans to sell more social and digital ads and sponsorships. Front Office Sports will also launch virtual event franchises at the back half of this year, White added.

“Newsletters at this point is the – I wouldn’t say the easiest way in, because I don’t think any way is easy – but it’s the most direct way to build an audience and build a habit with that audience. And then from there I just don’t think you will see really pure newsletter businesses anymore in the future,” White said.

Front Office Sports started monetizing its short form videos on social media about eight months ago and in that time has attracted sponsors like New Balance and SlingTV. Social-first revenue went from “very minimal” last year to “well into the seven figures” now, White said. He declined to share specifc dollar figures.

Newsletter publishers are increasingly offering advertisers an array of products that reach different audiences to draw in larger budgets in order to diversify and grow their businesses, said Dan Oshinsky, who helps publishers and brands with their email strategy through his consultancy Inbox Collective.

Oshinsky said that publishers can reach a cap on how much money they can sell a newsletter ad for as their audiences grow, so it bodes well for them to branch out into other products and channels. 

The cost per open for a newsletter ad ranges from about $20 to $60, for every thousand readers who open the newsletters, according to Oshinsky. “Is a brand that spends $1,000 or $5,000 or even $10,000 on an ad – would they say, ‘Hey, your newsletter’s grown from 100,000 to a million readers, we’d be happy to now spend $50,000 on a single ad in newsletters?’ The answer is probably not,” Oshinsky said. “As those brands scale up, you start to see them expanding what they do.”

White said expanding into channels beyond email is a way to attract bigger ad deals. “Newsletters [aren’t] really a budget for most [advertisers]. Few brands have newsletters as a true line item,” White said. “People realize, ‘Hey, I’m not going to get a million dollar newsletter-only deal. I’ll get a million dollar deal, but that [deal] includes newsletters, social, digital, OTT.”

However, White noted that margins are lower as a result, “because you have more to do.” He declined to elaborate by how much deal margins have decreased. 

A media director at an ad agency who traded anonymity for candor said their team very rarely buys ads “one channel at a time.”

“We’re almost always considering multiple platforms from a publisher,” they said. “It’s less about the individual channel with newsletters and more about reaching the audience in the best channel we can or the best channel mix that we can.”

Newsletter publisher Puck is looking to expand its events and podcasts businesses this year, according to Liz Gough, Puck co-founder and COO. The company kicked off the first quarter with four events, including an executive and tastemaker dinner at the Sundance Film Festival, screening events in New York and Los Angeles for National Geographic’s Oscar-nominated documentary “Fire of Love,” and networking events in New York for members who pay for Puck’s $250 premium subscription tier.

She declined to share more details about the total number of events the company plans to host in 2023, or how many total podcasts it plans to launch, but said her team is also looking at newsletters as “just one of the channels and levers that we have to connect directly with our consumers.” 

Gough declined to share a revenue breakdown, but previously told Digiday that Q1 2023 revenue is up over 200% compared to the same period last year. Puck also sells display ad products, podcast ads and event sponsorships. 

“As we get into the spring and summer, I think we’ll absolutely be starting to do more” events with opportunities for subscribers and advertisers, Gough said. “But I don’t have a set number in mind.”

The Ankler is planning to grow revenue from events and podcasts this year as well, said Janice Min, The Ankler’s CEO and editor-in-chief.  The Ankler sells pre-roll and mid-roll podcasts ads, in addition to its newsletter ads, Min said, but declined to share a breakdown of how much revenue is generated from each. 

The Ankler held its first summit in March, in partnership with Advertising Week, called “NXSTREAM Global.” Min declined to share how much revenue the event generated but added that “we intend to stand up a few more” events this year.

B2B newsletter publisher Industry Dive, which was acquired by Informa last September, is looking into growing its custom content revenue, said Sean Griffey, co-founder and CEO. About 40% of Industry Dive’s revenue comes from its content studio, called studioID. Griffey said he “absolutely” expects that percentage to grow this year, but declined to share by how much.

“We’re newsletter-driven, but we’re a digital media [and] marketing services company,” Griffey said.

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