Building newsletter businesses

I had the pleasure to catch up with William Knight, a veteran and innovator in the newsletter publishing space. Since 2011, William has been publishing and monetizing dozens of daily newsletters through his companies Industry Slice and Early Morning Media. He was kind enough to share his wisdom, thoughts on the industry, and advice for creators. You can read the full interview below.

2011 is a long time to have been publishing newsletters what drew you to the space?

I and the rest of the founding management team had worked in the media monitoring industry for decades. In the world of media monitoring, you track every mention of a company, celebrity, or organization in the news and send it to their PR departments daily. Large companies would generate hundreds of mentions a day so there would be an executive briefing product whereby the best news stories would be summarised followed by the best industry landscape stories. This in effect was the pre-runner to what is now the curated daily business model. The executive briefing services were a big-ticket item only affordable for larger corporates. We believed that such news products could be bought to the masses. For instance in the accountancy world, why shouldn’t your average high street partner not have access to the same news intelligence as the biggest four accountancy firms in the country. So that’s what we set out to do.

I notice that your newsletters are monetized in multiple ways, why so many?

In the newsletter game there is no one size fits all. Some of the monetization methods we use are more historic and due to their success, it is hard to move on to different models. Ideally, I would have always liked to have every newsletter free and monetized through advertising. However, when you are getting an enterprise going you need cash and the quickest way to get cash in the newsletter business was and most probably still is through the subscription model.

Why is that?

If you write content people or organizations value they will pay for it and you’re away.. With the advertising model, you need an audience before you can attract advertisers.

Subscription vs Advertising is a debate we see often in the industry, where do you sit?  

We have very successful subscription newsletters with loyal readers and high retention and we also have extremely successful advertising newsletters. I can only speak from B2B perspective as that is where we operate but I do believe there is more of an expectation in recent years that newsletters should be free. That said people will pay for content that either educates, gives them an edge, or saves them time. Both models work and depend on your niche and your audience. As a publisher, I would say the outlook for advertising monetized newsletter is brighter but there is a load of fantastic companies doing really,really well out of subscription services.

You also do white-labeled newsletters can you explain that model?  

Certainly, white-labeled is when you produce a newsletter for a third party – it could be an association sending news to their members or a large corporate keeping their staff informed of the latest industry developments. We have a team of expert writers who know a lot of industries inside out, we have content we are producing daily which is reusable, so why not try to monetize those skills in as many ways possible. If your producing great content in any field your newsletter will open the door to such opportunities.

What is the single most important advice to someone publishing a newsletter?

In the B2B space, it’s simple get the right content to the right people at the right time. Without great content people won’t read it, a great deal of effort goes into providing the right content, we use sophisticated AI to scour hundreds of thousands of sources for possible stories using keyword matches just to give the editors a feed of possible articles for consideration before they decide what goes on the cutting room floor and what gets included. The right people are who you want reading your newsletter so in the B2B space it’s industry leaders, professionals, and influencers, this is what matters to advertisers. The right time means you need to be ahead of rivals – get a story as it’s developing so your audience can be on top of it first.

You mention AI what tools do use to produce your newsletters?

I’m a big believer in owning your tech as a company it is what adds value. Everything at Industry Slice has been developed in-house and we have an all-in-one self-developed platform for producing our content end-to-end from content aggregation, content validation, template creation, editorial suite, distribution suite, sending analytics, registrations, website CMS etc. However, for someone starting out, there are a whole range of great tools available, UpContent is a handy tool for grabbing articles which I’d recommend, Curated has a nice platform that makes it simple to produce newsletters, then, of course, you have Mailchimp, Substack, and now LinkedIn and Twitter world joining in. My one bit of advice here would be to make sure you own your audience. Think long-term about where you go with your newsletter.  

Thanks, William it’s been insightful, what next for Industry Slice?  

It’s been great and I hope that anyone creating can get a few ideas or direction from today. At Industry Slice we plan to launch multiple new industry sector newsletters every three throughout 2021 as we roll out more across North America.

You can follow William Knight on LinkedIn where he regularly posts insights on the newsletter landscape.

Interested in reading about experiences selling a newsletter? You can read that here and here.