Think Like a Publisher

By Kathleen Goodwin

I’ve been in the publishing business a long time, including a stint as an associate publisher for PC Magazine and PC Week. Ever since I started this column, I’ve been stockpiling “think like a publisher” tidbits.

Tidbit No. 1: Why Publish an E-Newsletter, Anyway?

You may not think of yourself as a publisher, but you are. It doesn’t matter whether you work for a major international corporation, a small nonprofit organization, an academic institution, or yourself. You’re a publisher. Time to act accordingly.

People who think like publishers always start with the question: “Is there a real need or demand for this content?” From the beginning, it’s critical to consider the role your newsletter will play in your organization and in the lives of your readers. Key questions to ponder are:

Does your organization really need a newsletter? If so, why?

Whom do you want to reach with this newsletter, and why?

What important messages do you want to communicate to your target audience?

What other goals do you have for your newsletter?

Besides content promoting your organization’s identity, products, and interests, what else can you offer to make your newsletter uniquely valuable to your audience?

It’s easy to identify newsletters where the publishers have not figured out the answers to these questions. We’ve all seen them:

They feel aimless, unsatisfying, and dull from the moment you get there.

They are one big ad for the company and its products.

They are confusing and aren’t easily understood.

They aren’t read for more than a minute.

They aren’t mentioned to anyone else.

You’ve never even visited the Web site.

Don’t deny, ignore, or belittle your role as a publisher. If you do, you’ll find your newsletter won’t achieve the goals you’ve set for it. It will disappoint subscribers.

Tidbit No. 2: Motivate Readers With Your Passion

Never forget what made you want to start publishing a newsletter in the first place.

This issue is emotional as well as rational. Newsletters propelled by passion yield the most effective and compelling content.

Of course, some online venues take passion too far. Their content deteriorates into rants or diatribes or goes into far more detail than anyone cares to explore. If your audience supports that, fine. If not, strive to remain aware of your motivating passion without being consumed by it.

For some publishers (especially corporate and e-commerce sites), making money is the motivating passion. By and large, the very best newsletters are those for which making money is not the primary publishing motivation.

Getting rich might motivate you, but your audience’s passion isn’t to help you get rich. Visitors are drawn to your online venue if they share your passion and respect your efforts. If they sense you’re trying to manipulate them, they’ll abandon your content, even if you’re selling the best product in the world.

Tidbit No. 3: Remember, the Audience Is in Control

In the old days, when print and broadcast were the only options, we publishers (and our advertisers) were in control. We paid big money to be flashier, more outrageous, and more intrusive than our competition to win mind share.

The online world shifted that balance of power. Now, the audience is in control. It’s a user-directed world. The audience gets to choose which sites to view, which newsletters to read, which ads to read, and which path of clicks to pursue.

The content of most print and broadcast media is primarily structured to suit advertisers. If they pay more, they get more space and better “play.” The fight for bigger and better often overshadows the development of strong content in these media.

By and large, this model doesn’t work online. Many users turn to the Web specifically to escape that second-class treatment. They like being in control. They expect Web publishers to work hard to please them.

Kathleen Goodwin is CEO of iMakeNews, specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis’ publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.

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