If your online reading habits are anything like mine, you’ve likely seen some variation on the below prompt at least a dozen times a day every day in the last two years.
The email newsletter “sign up” prompt is the new site interstitial. In fact about half the time it comes either before or after an interstitial ad, meaning my attempt to read the story I’ve clicked on is interrupted at least once, if not twice. Then, after I’ve said “no thank you” to the offer, there’s sometimes a second bite at the apple. “Are you sure you don’t want to receive free, awesome content?” reads the interstitial, necessitating another click from me to get to the story I’m interested in.
What’s supremely frustrating about this is that a lot of the time I’m coming to the story *from* an email newsletter. And the site knows this, because I can see the tracking code they appended to the URL in order to track click-throughs. So the technology is smart enough to know that in the last 30 days I looked at Avengers comics on Amazon and serve me retargeted ads but not smart enough to say “Woah…he’s already subscribed. Let’s not annoy him.”
Email newsletters have experienced a resurgence in the last three or four years. With social media happening so fast (Twitter), hiding so much behind an algorithm (Facebook, Instagram) or being so ephemeral (Snapchat), email is a different beast. As Wired put it in 2016, it’s slow. You can take your time with it and get to it on your own schedule. Because it’s private, not like the pages you’ve liked on Facebook, you can opt out whenever you’d like and it’s your own business.
There are a plethora of newsletters you can subscribe to on topics either broad or niche. Bigger publications will use MailChimp, SalesForce or ConstantContact or another enterprise vendor while countless individuals and smaller organizations have embraced no-frills alternatives such as TinyLetter. “Letters” is a big part of Medium’s offerings, with an email newsletter baked into its platform. Nuzzel lets anyone aggregate news easily into a daily email blast.
Marketers and publishers love the email revival because unlike just about any other distribution platform around these days it allows them to capture audience data and information. When I subscribe I’m usually offering my name and email at least, if not more. I’m giving that publication permission to reach me on a regular basis. While RSS and social media are also opt-in platforms, none combine the inherent invitation and the personal behavioral data email does. And none allow for the content segmentation email does, with different campaigns sent to different segments, either on a planned schedule or because of recent purchase or other activity.
That’s why so many sites in the last couple of years have ditched RSS in favor of going all-in on email newsletters. At some point I realized Digiday, the advertising industry news site, was no longer publishing to their RSS feed. When I visited the site I saw a feed wasn’t even offered any more. It wanted everyone to subscribe via email. Many “new media” sites including Axios and others have never embraced RSS, going the email route from the outset.
The problem with this is that email is still, like social media, somewhat of a filtered platform. I’ve tried a number of times to subscribe to Digiday’s daily newsletters but they’re getting lost in the network somewhere. Gmail, as good as it is at fighting spam, sometimes goes too far. Not only that, but its redesign from a couple years ago will segregate email newsletters to a separate tab that may not be checked as regularly as the primary inbox. Or they’re sending those newsletters to a wholly unique address they’ve created for such blasts.
There are a number of email newsletters I dig and continue to subscribe to even after nixing several about a year ago because it got to be too much for any of the reasons stated here as the motivation for why people opt-out of an email they’ve been receiving. If I had the option to do so, I’d move all that reading to Digg Reader, where I’ve established an efficient reading system and workflow. Lacking that, email is fine for the time being.
I just wish when I clicked from the email the site would recognize that and not ask me once again if I’d like to subscribe. You’ve already got me, now let me read in peace.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.