This week we catch up with Neal Freyman, managing editor at Morning Brew. Since 2017 he’s been part of the team that’s proved the viability of newsletters as a source of both advertising and audience revenue  – and which was ahead of the curve when it comes to the importance of newsletters to a publishers’ wider strategy. We hear about what’s changed in the newsletter ecosystem this time, what the rise of the individual journalist-led newsletter means for creators, and what new verticals he wants to launch newsletters in.

In the news roundup the team discuss the Mail’s latest (poorly-researched) salvo in its war against Google, and ask what the ramifications are for the wider public. In the NIBs we talk about the sad closure of a beloved newsletter, ask whether podcasts are a replacement for magazines, and talk about the future of events for publishers. Peter calls Brian Morrissey “a very handsome man”.

The full transcript will be live here shortly, but for now, here are some highlights:

The importance of tone of voice and authors

The daily newsletter in the early days, we really focused so hard on creating this tone. In the daily newsletter, we’re not doing so much original reporting, we are basically aggregating what’s out there. So theoretically, if you’re an enterprising person who wants to read about the news, you could find the information out there that you want to know. And we think our differentiating factor is the fact that you can read about it and then laugh at the same time and laugh along with us.

So we’ve worked really hard on crafting the tone. And actually, for writers for the Brew, I’ve not hired so much traditional journalists as comedians… It’s really important across all of our newsletters. It was interesting trying to extrapolate the tone when we were creating these new newsletters because I was there and we were like, “Wow, we do this so well, like how’s it gonna go when we do emerging tech? And how are we going to make retail funny?”

People might take interesting lessons from this, but we pored over the exact voice of Morning Brew to the different ones. And I think that didn’t do so well. And we realised later that each writer for these publications has their unique voice, like maybe I’m into sports, and they’re more into pop culture, or something. So they should really lean into the stuff they’re interested in, and that will let their voice shine.

But we want to create a holistic sort of tone, elegant umbrella tone, where we’re empathetic, we’re not condescending, we’re not super cheesy. And then under that umbrella feel free to go crazy.

The inbox as a destination

What’s interesting is we’ve seen when we acquire acquire subscribers, one of the biggest growth hacks that we’ve done is cross promote in other newsletters. So we’ll talk to another newsletter and say, “Look, why don’t you promote Morning Brew, and we’ll promote you with this little exchange?”

We found that those subscribers coming from other newsletters are really high quality because they’re newsletter people, they’re already in the inbox, their habit is already created to read newsletters and get news from newsletters, whereas before, maybe when we started Morning Brew, they didn’t have that habit.

So those people are newsletter people, and there’s an increasing number of them. And they’re opening the Brew as well as a bunch of other newsletters because of the growth of the entire industry.

Neal’s perspective on solo newsletters

I think there was definitely a bit of a pandemic blip, as we’re seeing a lot of the pandemic winners fall back to Earth. Just doing this for five years, it’s an insane amount of work to put out a newsletter every day. And I would never be able to do it without a team of other writers, of growth people, of editors, of tech people. It is just not possible without getting so burned down and just saying ‘screw this’.

So I do think you’ll see the level of individual newsletter creators fall back down to earth and realise that a support system is really needed. You might see some of these writer collectives start forming, but then you’re basically looking back at a media company, again, with sales and all that.

I do think the individual creator newsletter boom is here to stay. I think there always be people with the grind set to put out a newsletter for their audience and have that direct connection, but I think it may fall back just because the support system is is so needed.

Deciding on new verticals

There’s a number of factors that go in whether obviously like there’s a market for it, the current media landscape for that particular topic is not up to snuff. A big part of it is whether there’s an advertiser market for it, whether there’s a lot of potential sponsors, because we’re profitable and want to maintain profitability with every new product that we launch. So that is obviously a big consideration.

We’re launching a crypto newsletter later. And so that maybe is a good example of the nexus of consumer trends, a lot of money, a lot of advertisers wanting to spend a lot of marketing, and there’s a big slice of our audience that has invested in crypto and is really keen on the industry.

Main story:

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has tweeted, “We cannot allow technology to distort democracy and compromise our free and fair society”. In the same tweet she shared an article from the Mail about how ‘Google has been promoting news stories from Left publishers over right’.

  • The proof of this insidious bias is that in a search for Boris Johnson the Guardian came up 38 times in search results, the Independent 14 times, while the MailOnline only came up twice.

News in brief:

  • Some sad news here, but extremely insightful. Anna Codrea-Rado has called time on her freelancer-focused newsletter after five years. First and foremost, it’s worth acknowledging that running a solo newsletter for that long – and managing to not only inform people but make it worthwhile continuing – is worthy of celebration. But more importantly for us and our listeners, Anna gets candid about the reality of running a newsletter and struggling to find revenue. It’s a bittersweet read but, true to form, Anna shares some real insight in the announcement of the closure.
  • Why events still matter from Brian Morrisey in his The Rebooting newsletter is a timely look at why physical events still have a place in the media mix. He was in Portugal at the FIPP event and has listed the value of events as well as some of the challenges they still need to overcome. Informality is a winner at future events, or as he puts it, more humanity.
  • B2B and specialist UK publisher Haymarket (who have just bought the British Podcast Awards) have revealed plans to increase their investment in podcasts as they move away from print. Deputy managing director of Haymarket Business Media Donna Murphy told Press Gazette that podcasts “replicate the way people would react” to magazines as she revealed the publisher had seen a 300% annual increase in listeners.

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