How sending fewer emails and content previews improved The New Yorker’s newsletter engagement

The New Yorker has refocused its newsletter strategy in an effort to retain its cohort of 1.2 million paid subscribers and grow its audience beyond that — by sending fewer emails.

Last August, The New Yorker began sending newsletters less frequently and giving paid subscribers early access to content in their inboxes. As a result, onsite page views and time spent from newsletter users has gone up, as has the percentage of newsletter subscribers who are also paying New Yorker subscribers, according to Jessanne Collins, The New Yorker’s director of newsletters. 

The New Yorker expanded the early access part of this strategy to its non-paid reader cohort by relaunching its Books & Fiction newsletter on May 12. People who get the free-to-read newsletter are the first to receive a new story on Sunday mornings from the latest magazine issue, which doesn’t go on sale until the following Monday — and paid subscribers will also get interviews with the author of the week.

Currently, the publication’s daily flagship newsletter has more than 2 million subscribers, Collins said. Newsletters, she added, have the highest subscriber conversion rate among The New Yorker’s organic referral sources. Collins declined to share that conversion rate or the total number of newsletter subscribers to the publication’s suite of 10 products.

Fewer email sends

Almost a year ago, The New Yorker cut back on the frequency of its email sends to produce more valuable newsletter products to improve engagement from both paid and non-paid readers. This strategy can can boost click-throughs to a publisher’s site, according to Arvid Tchivzhel, svp of product at digital consulting practice Mather Economics.

The New Yorker created an editor-curated, twice-weekly News & Politics newsletter out of what had been as many as five emails a week of automated, single-article push notifications for the publisher’s politics coverage. It did the same for its Science & Technology newsletter. As a result, The New Yorker has cut back from 18 newsletters two years ago to 10 now.

And while its news and politics-related email volume has decreased by 65% since this change, Collins said that the publishers’ page views coming from the News & Politics newsletter have gone up by 35%. Time spent onsite has increased by 51% as well, and the Science & Technology newsletter changes have resulted in 6% more page views and 39% more minutes spent onsite, Collins said.

“We’ve seen that a reader’s propensity to subscribe increases with each additional newsletter they follow. This finding was one of the motivations for making clearly distinct newsletters that each serve a different purpose and reader interest,” Collins said. (In 2022, the publisher began rolling out versions of its newsletters with more voice in an effort to make them more valuable to readers and convert them into subscribers.)

Exclusive (or windowed) subscriber emails

The New Yorker now also sends emails to paid subscribers previewing content before it publishes anywhere else as a subscriber retention and acquisition tactic.

For example, paying subscribers who are signed up for the Goings On newsletter get an additional send with book recommendations each week, and early access to The New Yorker’s culture previews before they publish online or in print. And subscribers who sign up for The Food Scene newsletter get new restaurant reviews 24 hours before any other readers.

Giving paid subscribers early access to that content before it hits The New Yorker’s website “adds value to the newsletter as [a] core part of the value proposition and exclusivity,” Tchivzhel said.

Since launching in August, there are now 24% more paying readers subscribed to The Food Scene than non-paying readers, Collins said. Overall, the percentage of paid subscribers that have signed up for The New Yorker’s newsletters has increased by 11% since August, while the overall size of its newsletter subscribers has remained flat due to frequent email list cleaning, she said. Collins declined to share how many new subscribers The New Yorker has added as a direct result of this approach.

Collins added that it’s not a worry that exclusive emails are being forwarded to non-subscribers.

“We’re doing this with a pretty finite amount of content that we’re actually giving away completely in the inbox. And I see it as an experiment to see what happens. But in my opinion, if someone were to forward that newsletter and we gained a newsletter follower out of it because someone wanted to get on the list, that’s a win,” Collins said.

Measuring this strategy

Collins said her team is measuring the success of this strategy by looking at the engagement of newsletter subscribers and the growth of the subscriber base altogether.

The New Yorker has “moved away from measuring traffic to the site as the main goal,” she said. “If you looked at our newsletters maybe five years ago, they were, I would say 90% focused on driving traffic to the site. … We look at a combination of open and click rates to measure the health of a list, and we have seen positive growth by these metrics.”

Tchivzhel said churn and customer lifetime value are important things for a publisher to monitor and that, ideally, churn rate would decrease as a result of an improved newsletter strategy. (Churn rate has been “stable,” Collins told Digiday.)

However, improvements in page visits and time spent do “usually correlate with better retention and better lifetime values,” Tchivzhel said.

“Our goal with the newsletters is really to drive overall engagement with the brand, our content and loyalty over time so that we’re ultimately contributing to converting users to becoming paid subscribers,” Collins said.

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