I have a unique perspective on this because it was one of my primary skills as a graphic designer for many years. This was in the pre-digital bad ol’days where everything was done by hand [type, photos, graphics] and pasted up on large mechanical boards with 2-16 pages per board. Now, I certainly realize that digital has changed the industry a lot. I taught digital printing production for well over a decade—wrote textbooks about the process. Email newsletters would seem to be quite different beasts. But as you will see, that is really not true.
What is a good reason to start one?
I’m not sure there is one unless: You are selling products and/or services that are constantly being updated and have regular new releases. So, as an author, that sounds good if you are producing several books a year (like I am). Plus, I am constantly updating, adding new product lines, and so on. I have a good font design line; a strong book design line with typography, fonts, page layout, and InDesign techniques; and nearly 20 years of online experience in teaching, training, and mentoring. So I have a news letter, right? No, I do not. Let’s look at some of the reasons.
The first criteria is reader quantity, the second is reader quality
The minimum size of readership for a newsletter is about 200 readers. For print, it’s 250 to get the reduced postal rates. You can do one for fewer people, but a newsletter is an audience thing. If you need more personal communication, a blog is better.
Next you need involved readers helped by your work. I have a traveling evangelist friend who tells me that most of his income comes from the readership of his printed newsletter—along with the emailed version to a lesser amount. His newsletter is chatty, filled with pictures of his latest campaign. When he got back from Nepal this spring he had a whole issue, with pictures, of the incredible things the Lord is doing in Nepal. His wife has her own portion of the ministry and she has her own monthly column. He has guest articles from pastors he serves as guest evangelist. It’s an interesting newsletter. It also serves as a source of information for the intercessors for his ministry. He also announces his new books, his radio programs, and all the other stuff his ministry does for the Lord.
Can an author do this? Certainly. But hopefully you are beginning to see some of the issues.
What do readers expect from you?
People want news
They want events
They want pictures of the people they love
They want tips, tricks, and techniques
They want access to the expertise they need
They need it on a timely basis, regular as clockwork
They demand and deserve useful, helpful information on an ongoing basis through a long period of time.
That seems obvious, so what are the problems?
First, a newsletter editor is almost a full-time job. Putting together the articles is a lot of work, as is the layout, getting the photos with model permissions, product shots, demos, and all of that. When I was working as the art director in a commercial printer my main job was supporting the editors of the newsletters for the companies we served. I handled over a dozen large newsletters a month, plus several quarterlies, to enable the editors of the newsletters to do their job. But I did all the production. They had trouble simply producing the content for layout in the newsletter.
It’s a long-term commitment, taking a couple years to realize most of the benefits
A newsletter is a lot of work. It demands persistence and commitment, plus a strong sense of style. If you are printing one, a regular predictable production schedule is legally required to get the postal benefits. For email newsletters, the legal requirement is not there AFAIK, but your readers will expect a standard publishing date, good interesting content, and useful materials.
In most cases, a blog is a much better solution. That’s why I have two blogs and no newsletters.