How The Times of London uses email newsletters to drive subscriptions

For News UK’s The Times of London and Sunday Times, subscriptions are the end goal. One key part of the Times’ arsenal to convert subscribers and retain them: email newsletters.

“Different newsletters do different jobs,” said Ben Whitelaw, head of audience development at the Times and Sunday Times, adding that the title has evolved its newsletters strategy since launching its first newsletter five years ago. “Link roundups are not always the best content for that audience.”

Shortly after the Times introduced its registered-access model — readers can access two articles a week in exchange for an email address — nearly two years ago, it launched the Best of Times daily email for those who register. The newsletter, which Whitelaw says has around 2 million subscribers, covers the day’s top stories across the news, international, sports, business and opinion sections.

The Times has four other newsletters around topics like football, driving, style, and food and drink, which are available for nonpaying, registered-access users. These are designed to expose nonpaying users to a variety of articles, so they hit their weekly limit and convert into subscribers. The Times also has another 20 newsletters for paying subscribers. These, like Brexit Briefing written by Times political reporter Henry Zeffman, tend to have a lot of original content, and because their recipients are already signed up, the Times doesn’t need them to click back to the site. Editorial staffers at various news desks handle much of the daily newsletter writing.

In September 2017, the Times launched The Sweeper, a daily newsletter about fantasy football, and in 2014, it unveiled Red Box, a political newsletter that now has 43,000 subscribers, according to Whitelaw. Using these newsletters, the Times can introduce readers to other parts of its coverage that require registration.

“We haven’t worked out all the journeys,” said Whitelaw. “For now, our newsletters are quite broad brushstrokes. We don’t personalize content yet, for instance.”

Newsletter subscribers are typically a publisher’s most engaged readers. Once readers have subscribed to a newsletter, they are much less likely to let their subscription lapse. So, they’re a critical tool to remind people of what the Times can offer, making sure readers come back each week.

“[Newsletters are] a useful lever to pull to engage and remind people who don’t come back as frequently,” said Whitelaw. “You’re delivering a bundle of information that’s finite and consumable. People are up to speed in a familiar-to-use format.”

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