My only metric for success on A Lesser Photographer, or any other site I've ever had, is newsletter subscribers.
Newsletter subscribers are my most engaged readers. They are the readers who read my stuff no matter what happens in the fickle lands of social media. Email is different.
- It's more deliberate. It takes time to craft a good newsletter and time to read it. More attention can be given by both parties. Frivolous information is discarded. It's simply more respectful to the reader.
- It's universal.
- It's delivered with permission, so there's an implied mutual agreement.
- It offers a blank canvas, so that several different kinds of content and formats can be used within a single post. Blogs really struggle with formats.
- I know who my readers are. I write to them and we have conversations. I know why they signed up and where they heard about the newsletter.
- Google, Twitter and Facebook essentially have usurped what newsletters used to do, but they keep the email addresses and reader information for themselves. It's their only real value to a publisher. Relying on them is ensuring a lasting dependency that will bite you on the ass later. See Google Reader.
- Measuring what's working is much easier than on the web alone.
It's obvious I'm in love with newsletters. So, why haven't I taken A Lesser Photographer to a newsletter-only format? In short, that exactly what I have planned.
As I started designing the site more around blog readers, my newsletter sign-ups dropped precipitously. I still believe in the idea of that style of design, but the most important readers are going undiscovered and underserved. I must correct this.
These are some of the issues I've been ironing out to make it happen:
- Squarespace doesn't make it easy to change on a dime like this and create a site optimized for newsletters. It's just not a typical use case. I will probably leave the archives as is, push the blog off the home page and populate the current RSS feed with the individual issues in the form of blog posts. This seems to be the fastest way to get it done, but leaves the home page a bit of a mystery without some heavy CSS editing. I'm experimenting with options now.
- Gmail is doing Google's ad sellers' dirty work right now. Traditional newsletters are being funneled into the "Promotions" tab in Gmail. Lumping A Lesser Photographer in with ads from Amazon and the shoe store down the street is a recipe for being ignored. And it's working. Congrats, Google. You're doing yet another disservice to readers. Hope the extra ad dollars are worth the added evil. Mailchimp is on the case, because their business model is at stake. I don't know how this will turn out.
- Support: I've never made a big deal about A Lesser Photographer making money to support itself. I've considered it a hobby. But, I'd really like to devote the time and money necessary to take it to another level. I could do this through ads, paid subscriptions or products. Products are my preferred route, because it adds real value to the relationship with the reader. I've already started a new book that would do nicely.
- Frequency: This is a tough one. It may take some experimenting to find the perfect amount of time when, after wiping the cruft away, there's enough worthy information to put in a reader's inbox. Monthly? Weekly? My guess is to start bi-weekly and work up or down from there, depending on the response.
I've been inspired to step all this up by Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like an Artist. Austin shares a lot of my views on art and publishing. Here's what he wrote recently about his experiences:
"Email newsletters are totally underrated. Social media, bookmarks, and RSS can all be ignored—email has to be deleted.
The formula is very simple: give great stuff away, build your list, and then you have a big list of people you can reach directly when you have something to sell."
He links to best-selling business author Dan Pink, who has replaced his blog completely with his email newsletter:
"DanPink.com will become a resource center. We’re reconfiguring the web site to make it much less about what’s happening this day or this hour and much more about providing you a rich set of enduringly useful resources. We’re going to shutter the blog and instead expand and deepen our collection of videos, articles, and guides on working smarter and living better. This newsletter will become the main way I communicate with readers."
I love that idea. Websites really are better suited as "resource centers." I'll probably do the same, because I tend to Steal Like an Artist.