A freemium/paid compromise
For publishers with some version of a paywall in place, the digest email represents a wonderful compromise. Firstly, registration is required, which builds the pool of prospective customers.
The customer gets email content that represents good value – free and authoritative journalism – without the publisher having to give away much at all.
If the recipient opts to click through to articles, there’s a higher chance of conversion to a paid subscriber, either after exhausting article ‘credits’ or straight away (depending on the model).
Click through to check out First FT.
More email means more advertising, whether that mean internal products and features or ad units for other companies.
Email provides good numbers when it comes to eyeballs, click throughs and ultimately conversion. It’s a trusted medium for customers.
The fact that specific email newsletters can accurately target specific segments makes it a powerful tool for native ad content.
Web design influenced by broader audiences
The front page of many a publisher has to cater for a fairly broad audience so that web users don’t feel alienated and then bounce.
Depending on the outlet, there’s space for video, sport, lifestyle, digested content, the big headline, imagery, advertising etc.
As publishers start to become interactive and rich media destinations, the digest email is a good way for regular readers to ‘cut through the crap’. And I don’t intend that to be derogatory.
The New York Times has tens of free email newsletters to subscribe to.
Social and linkbait fatigue
Social media is too much. It’s difficult for news and features to compete with linkbait, armed only with a 140 character intro. And although news publishers get great traffic from social media, many users prefer to read articles recommended by friends or by journalists from their own social media accounts.
Publishers such as BuzzFeed are so well suited to the pithy media of Facebook and Twitter that more serious journalism needs a way to fight back, to get some attention again (N.B. I’m aware BuzzFeed has diversified into politics and world affairs).
Email and news is now consumed anywhere and everywhere. Smartphone penetration is predicted to hit 100% in the UK by 2018 and companies are increasingly producing mobile friendly email in the knowledge that this is becoming one of the chief devices for accessing them.
Of course, many publishers have mobile apps, but these are often paid and don’t provide what email-to-web can in terms of acquisition.
3G and complementary Wi-Fi
Leaning back on a phone or tablet in a public place is now an incredibly common sight, in cafes, on public transport etc. 3G and free Wi-Fi have both caused more web content to be accessed out and about.
Speed of download is important for readers to feel confident in clicking through from email to web and then back again.
A snippet of The Guardian’s free email newsletters