Why Email Newsletters Are Doomed

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I’ve been with email newsletter publisher iContact since December using the same list of approximately 12,000 subscribers. Well, a recent newsletter triggered some AOL unsubscribes in which AOL users find it easier to flag as spam than go through the effort to find an unsubscribe link.

This is the email iContact sent about these AOL users:

    Your account has logged 20 spam complaints from AOL users over the past 15 days, surpassing the acceptable AOL complaint ratio. Due to this level of complaints, we have temporarily put sending on your account on hold.


It is a problem effecting legitimate email, even one Google recognizes in Gmail (Google to Gmail Users: We’ll Unsubscribe You Automatically). I see more and more newsletters begging people to unsubscribe rather than hit the spam button.

iContact had some additional hoops for me to segment my list and invite the AOL users to subscribe again. I just simply asked iContact to close my account. I wasn’t happy about the abrupt shutoff or about past nickel and diming. Guess what? They won’t prorate my month of service. They certainly aren’t providing newsletter service but they still want my money.

Regarding the spam button problem — which is the bigger issue here — it’s not going away. A recent email from a consumer’s food company hit my inbox two days ago with the headline: “How to stop our emails.” The email went through extreme detail about how to unsubscribe and even said if you hit reply we will take you off our list (something I do as well). The email ended with this appeal:

    P.S. Please be aware, “Report Spam” functions offered by some spam blockers WILL NOT unsubscribe you. Since you signed up for our messages (or someone signed you up using your email address), we don’t think that it’s quite fair to call it spamming. Just let us know you want out, and you won’t hear from us again.
Reach 1.7 million journalists


I think email newsletters are dying. To be honest, only about 10-15% of my subscribers even open any individual email according to stats. I’ve actually been tracking everyone who has opened my email over the past eight months as well as anyone who clicks on a link to the full article. I’m ditching the rest. As my newsletters only feature a summary of each week’s article followed by a link to the full article on my site, I feel pretty confident that those who have neither opened my email or clicked on my links don’t want my newsletter. Even with HTML turned off, readers who don’t click on my link aren’t really getting any value to my newsletter anyway.

Imagine how many millions of dollars would be saved, not to mention bandwidth, if we just segmented our lists and removed those who aren’t reading our emails. Why pay to send to 12,000 users when there are probably only 4,500 who ever open or read your emails over an eight month period? I know that email newsletter publishers wouldn’t be happy about this. There is money in those inflated numbers. There is also an ego play that prevents many list owners from purging their lists. I see it in the press release world. Company X says they reach 300,000 journalists. Company Y says they reach 500,000 journalists. I saw one company quote xx million journalists. Are there even that many journalists in the English-speaking world? I’ve got a stable of customers who have used these other guys in the past, tried us with our meager numbers of journalists, and stay with us. Why? Numbers don’t matter. It’s about being engaged with readers.

Interestingly, the recent newsletter that triggered all my problems was an apology for not posting the previous week’s PR Fuel. I let people in on a secret: I’m mostly posting to Twitter (http://twitter.com/ereleases) as well as to my blog of the same name as my newsletter: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/

I know of two people who simply won’t let AOL people join their lists or buy from them. I see reasons for this. Some of our most troublesome customer service issues have come from AOL users, including a person who couldn’t upload a document and didn’t know how to browse their hard drive to find said document. But this is too harsh. A lot of good people use AOL for its ease of use, including my wife. Also, a lot of these same issues are hitting Yahoo! Mail and Gmail users. I don’t see banning someone who uses AOL or any free email service as the answer.

Diversifying your communications is the short-term answer. I use Twitter, my blog, postcards, double opt-in autoresponders, and now a new email newsletter provider to reach subscribers, customers, and leads. So far, it’s working.

FYI: I asked iContact’s PR contact by phone and email for feedback on this issue, including my request for a prorated refund. I received no response from the company.

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (https://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: https://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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