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Notes on The Newsletter Conference 2024

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
2 min read

I went to The Newsletter Conference last week in New York City. Some have posted notes from the event and Dan Oshinsky has even posted the text of his keynote. The first thing I learned was that Dan has been crowned “The Oprah of Newsletters.” I endorse.

As one of the older folks there, I wanted to post a few takes from my experience that I thought you'd be unlikely to read elsewhere.

  1. Although ConvertKit was there, I got asked a of questions about Ghost from Substackers. I told them the truth: Substack is great for discovery, but eventually you’ll want a real home for your newsletter. Ghost is perfect for that.
  2. I loved talking to Brad Wolverton of HubSpot Media and Newsletter Examples. I didn't think I'd find anyone who cared as much about blurb design as I do. Everyone on his panel agreed that no matter how minimal their design was, they wanted to go even more minimal. This has been the way to go since the 90s. Be brave. Be brief.
  3. All the experts on every panel agreed one two things: you need to concentrate on the quality of your content and you need to build stronger relationships. When it got to tactics, these principles evaporated. The focus on the reader changed to a focus on the advertiser, sponsor, or business partner. This is like saying you need to strengthen the relationship to your spouse by pleasing your mistress. You eventually need to pick one. They want very different things from you. The younger the presenter, the less likely they were to realize advertising is cyclical, distracting, and short-term.
  4. There was a strong focus on what I call “editorial” or “journalism” newsletters. I didn't hear from anyone publishing corporate or personal newsletters. Sure, newsletters like 1440 and Morning Brew are fun to talk about, but I wonder how much more of the newsletter landscape is actually made of large corporations making billions (selling products and services, not ads) from their boringly-successful weekly newsletters? How many personal newsletters are on Substack right now, enjoying the extra few hundred bucks they make every month to share something with an audience of like-minded friends?
  5. I tried to talk to people I wouldn't normally have a reason to talk to. This is a good conference tactic – maybe the best reason for going to a conference. I had lunch with Evan Woolley of Everlit and Marcia Stepanek of BrandStories, Inc. They have nothing to do with my space in newsletters. I learned a lot, though.
  6. Adam Ryan and Matt McGarry were the most blunt panelists, unafraid to cause a little controversy in the room. They knew what they were doing. I liked them and I think if your goal in newsletters is primarily about growth, they stuck out as the clearest, no-nonsense advice givers. I'm not in that game, but I respected their game.
  7. If you've gotten this far, you need to buy tickets next year. There were over 400 people this year. I think they could do multiples of that if they expanded their reach beyond traditional “editorial” newsletters.