Publishers are seeing a mini-boom in coronavirus newsletter signups

Over the past two months, coronavirus has sent huge amounts of traffic and paid subscriber growth to news publishers. It has given them huge newsletter audiences too.

Next week, USA Today will launch its fourth national coronavirus newsletter. The newsletter, focused on sports and relaunched from its former sports newsletter, follows Staying Apart Together, a kind of self-care newsletter filled with distractions and life tips, and Daily Money, a personal finance newsletter that had existed before the outbreak that USA Today’s parent, Gannett, repurposed after the pandemic spread.

Those vertical-specific products, along with 29 other local coronavirus newsletters launched by individual papers in the USA Today Network, were built after USA Today’s first coronavirus newsletter became the fastest-growing newsletter in the news publisher’s history, according to a spokesperson. The company wouldn’t say how many subscribers the email has.

That newsletter packages reporting from different USA Today Network titles with original reported top stories, follows a similar template it built to cover Hurricane Irma in 2018. It boasts an open rate of 40%, and at one time had click through rates of 20%, according to the company.

Gannett is not the only news publisher that’s attracted a big audience to its coronavirus newsletter. The Washington Post’s coronavirus newsletter, also launched two months ago, has already built a subscriber base twice as big as the Post’s second most popular newsletter. Time Magazine’s coronavirus newsletter has gathered up 70,000 subscribers, with an open rate of more than 70%, Time Magazine chief revenue officer Viktoria Degtar said. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s coronavirus newsletter, which publishes seven days a week, has over 30,000 subscribers and became the second-biggest newsletter the Inquirer publishes in less than two months (The Inquirer’s food and drink newsletter reclaimed that spot after it pivoted its coverage to focus on coronavirus).

Even a non-news publisher like Dotdash, the search-focused publisher that operates brands including The Spruce and Verywell, has seen its email newsletter subscriptions “surge,” a source familiar with the matter said.

Newsletter ad revenue has leapt up during this period, though not in direct proportion to the growth of consumption, said Kerel Cooper, svp of marketing for the email monetization platform LiveIntent. Over the past two months, email newsletter ad revenue for local news publishers is up 32% compared to the previous period, LiveIntent data shows.

Though some publishers have had success in finding direct sponsors for their newsletters, doing so has gotten harder, said Kayvan Salmanpour, the chief revenue officer of Globe Media, which owns titles including the Boston Globe and Stat.

While the effects of the virus are likely to linger for several months longer, these publishers eventually will have to figure out how to hang on to the audiences they’ve gathered with these newsletters.

“We’re actively trying to get people back to our main stable of newsletters,” said Derrick Ho, senior product manager of messaging at Gannett, who has managed the newsletter effort with Lindsay Deutsch, its loyalty editor. “I think we’re still working out the plans. You just don’t know how the story is going to pivot.”

Some plan to move their coronavirus coverage over to another established product and encourage readers to migrate. BuzzFeed News, for example, which has gathered 35,000 subscribers to its daily coronavirus newsletter, will move people over to its flagship morning newsletter, Incoming, when life gets back to normal, a spokesperson said.

Others are hoping to use the audiences  to launch newsletters on related topics. The Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, sees an opportunity to use the coronavirus newsletter audience as a foundation for a health and science newsletter, said Kim Fox, a product director at the Inquirer.

“What we’ve seen here is a deep interest in science and health,” Fox said. “We always suspected that was there.”

While that transition will have to be managed and communicated very clearly, Fox said, she said she and her team have learned from this that they have an opportunity to build more like this in the future.

“We’ve proven to ourselves that we can be far more agile with this product line,” Fox said. “This event lesson has helps us.”

This story has been updated. An earlier version said Time’s newsletter had acquired 70,000 subscribers in one week.

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