Great Business Ideas: Publish a Newsletter

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Publish a Newsletter

In this age of instant information on the Internet, it’s comforting to know that there is still a vibrant market for old-fashioned printed newsletters. There are about 5,000 subscription newsletters and thousands more for free, according to industry experts. Newsletters cover everything from fly fishing and school violence to gluten-free baking.

With the right mailing list, exclusive or proprietary information, and a few thousand dollars, just about anyone who can write or hire writers can start one. But making money is another story. “You have to pick a field as narrow as you can get it, but leave it wide enough so there’s an audience to promote to,” advises Howard Penn Hudson, president of the Newsletter Clearinghouse in Rhinebeck, New York. “Too often, people who start newsletters find they haven’t narrowed the field enough.”

Health care, technology, and celebrity newsletters are hot right now, according to Penn Hudson, who publishes the Newsletter on Newsletters, founded in 1964. “Rush Limbaugh has a newsletter and attracts an audience with his name,” said Penn Hudson, adding that “newsletters ride the trends.” “When we had an energy crisis in this country, there were two dozen newsletters about energy,” he said. “When the cri- sis ended, so did those newsletters.” Newsletter publishers charge whatever the market will bear, especially if they are offering specialized or competitive information. One of the most expensive newsletters, the Daily Report for Executives, costs $5,811 a year, according to Penn Hudson.

You might think that the Internet and all that free information is hurting newsletter sales. Not so, says Patty Wysocki, executive director of the Newsletter Publishers Association. She said newsletter publishers aren’t too worried about competition from the Internet. Some even use it to market to potential subscribers.

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Hundreds of kitchen-table publishers and major corporations belong to Wysocki’s trade association, which offers several helpful publications. Beverly Davis, editor and publisher of Supermodel News, started writing and publishing her newsletter after pursuing a modeling career. “I started with $4 and a lot of faith,” said Davis, who still works as a secretary to support herself. Supermodel News has grown from two to eight pages since she began publishing it in November 1995. Her 2,600 sub- scribers in twenty-one states are eager for her modeling tips, lists of model search contests, pageants, fashion events, fitness tips, and stories about top models. Most of her sub- scribers are teenage girls, but one of her oldest subscribers is Mrs. Senior America 1995.

Davis attributes much of her success to mentions of her newsletter in the press. “With no advertising budget, I rely totally on free publicity,” said Davis. “Money from sub- scribers pays for postage and printing,” said Davis. “I work on this about three hours a day, seven days a week.”

Before you publish a newsletter, read Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine, by Cheryl Woodard (Nolo Press; 1998). Her book is a lively, easy-to-read bible for publishers.

Meanwhile, here are Woodard’s tips for first-time newsletter publishers:

  • Concentrate on markets you know very well.
  • Listen to your readers and advertisers and develop products responsive to their needs.
  • Get help from experienced people.
  • Adopt good ideas whenever you find them. Study what’s already working for other publishers by collecting media kits or renewal promotion letters and use their best ideas.
  • Befriend influential people and ask them to support your publication.
  • Study your results and be prepared for change.
  • Aim for readers who have continuing information needs.
  • Look for ancillary profit opportunities. Many publications make most of their profits from special reports, books, and videos.
  • Look hard before you leap into print. Don’t go forward until you’ve got a long-term plan you can live with.
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If you want to check out the competition before launching a newsletter, Penn Hudson publishes a newsletter directory and a variety of other relevant publications.