Where are all the email publishing startups?
Four years ago I had a revelation. I wrote about it here on Pando.
Email isn’t dead.
Despite a decade or more of predictions to the contrary, I wrote, email - not Facebook, not Twitter - was proving to be the single biggest driver of subscribers and subscriber engagement to NSFWCORP.
That was 2012. Today the same is true for Pando. The single biggest driver of new subscribers is our email newsletter (which you can subscribe to here). On days when we’re late sending out the newsletter, subscriptions drop. On the few days when the newsletter doesn’t go out, we get complaints. We never get complaints when we forget to tweet new stories, or even on days when we don’t publish much. But miss the newsletter and - hoo boy.
Now yes another new study shows that email usage, even in the face of a billion social media communications tools, continues to increase. It’s up 6% annually, and projected to keep growing. Last month, Craig Newmark’s online harassment study found 67% of Americans reported checking their personal email multiple times a day.
The reasons offered by experts for the continued success of email are manifold: Email is the ultimate cross-platform, cross generational tool. Everyone has an email address. It’s asynchronous. It’s easy to use on mobile. I believe all of those things are true. Certainly email is the only digital communication method I use regularly, despite the world trying to encourage me to figure out Facebook messenger and Snapchat and the rest.
But I’m less interested in email as a communications tool and more interested in email as a publishing and discussion tool. Specially, I’m curious why so few people are talking about those uses, and why there are so few startups built around them.
We’re told that email is the communications medium on which you are least likely to get harassed. So why are email discussion groups (remember those?) almost dead? Why, outside of very tech interest areas, can’t I subscribe to an curated and moderated email group about [insert any one of ten thousand interest areas here] via a shiny interface ala Yahoo Groups back in the day? Why is my only option to join a Facebook group which I can’t meaningfully interact with via email? And that opens the door to all the trolls we know stalk social media - 63% of responders to Newmark’s study who said that they’d been harassed online said the harassment had occurred on Facebook vs 25% via email.
Where are the new Daily Candys and Thrillists? Is it just Lena Dunham's Lenny and The Skimm? Why when we’re told targeted web advertising is a bust are we all salivating about half-cocked “The New Yorker For People Who Eat Farm To Table Emojis” or whateverthehell pitches and yet (I’d love to be corrected here) nobody sees any opportunity in an email-first publication, ideally combined with the kind of group discussion element I described above?
(A quick sidenote: While I admire and respect anyone trying to start a new online publication in the current climate, I feel sure we can learn all we need to know about Josh Topolsy’s new venture, The Outline, from its slogan: “It’s not for everyone, it’s for you.” Could there be a more risk averse, we’re going to grab every pageview we possibly can and don’t want to alienate anyone pitch than that? It’s like the old joke about emo teenagers: I’m so unique, and so are all my friends.)
I get that I’m old. And increasingly so. But so are lots of people. I’ve stopped reading most of the blogs I used to read daily (and so have you) but I still read every issue of Lefsetz and MediaRedef (neither of which is strictly an email publication, the former is a personal newsletter and the latter is an aggregator.)
Is any media entrepreneur right now working on a startup (launched or prelaunched) where email is the primary delivery method / interaction platform?
If so I would love, love, love to hear about it. If not, then all of the data suggests they are ignoring a huge, and growing audience, and one that is woefully under-served.