7 Email Publishers Profiting From the Inbox

Image of a Vintage British Telegram

The oldest form of social media is still the most potent for online publishers.

No, I’m not referring to Friendster.

The first email was sent in 1971, and it definitely didn’t include any “today only” offers on flatscreen TVs or discounted Indian food.

When we think of “social media” we think of faster, sexier platforms like Google +, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or (ahem) Facebook.

But every single minute, some 170 million emails are sent by an estimated 3.3 billion accounts worldwide, and around 100 a day land in your own inbox.

How can this ancient technology possibly drive the profits of a business online?

Let’s take a look …

A responsive email list is a far more valuable asset than a Twitter following

The trick to email marketing that works isn’t a trick at all, it’s the foundation of any proftable content marketing strategy.

It starts with a subscriber, and the one thing that subscriber wants at the moment he or she finds your website.

You see those prominent “sign up” boxes on every smart website for a reason. They are asking for your permission to deepen the conversation about what you’re looking for, and in a much more personalized setting.

Your prospect is what legendary copywriter Robert Collier calls “the man on the speeding train.”

We see something shiny through the window as we speed through the massive clutter of the social media landscape, but we don’t look for long because a new thing is already in our periphery.

Attention alone will get you nowhere. That’s the secret that so many successful email marketers have learned. Keeping your prospect’s attention is where the hard work comes in.

Robert Collier points out:

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.

Let’s take a look at 7 successful email publishers who are delivering that kind of content daily …

1. Thrillist

Thrillist is a free daily email that uses a mix of content and commerce to blur the lines of traditional media. They create one-on-one relationships with their audience of 20-something guys to showcase “cool stuff,” localized by city delivery.

Ben Lerer, founder of Thrillist Media Group, which now touts an audience of over 4 million, and revenue of more than $50 million said:

When someone subscribes, they invite you into their inbox on a regular basis …

Their innovative approach to regular daily content seems to be working pretty well for them.


Peter Shankman founded HARO (Help a Reporter Out) as a humble service helping journalists connect to sources.

When HARO outgrew its Facebook home, Shankman took it to a daily email list, which grew to more than 100,000 subscribers and soon began to change the PR industry’s model of how reporters found story sources.

It resonated enough with the changing tides to get acquired in 2010 for what was rumored to be a highly attractive number.

3. Daily Worth

DailyWorth, a daily financial e-newsletter empowering women to “save more + spend smarter,” landed on Forbes Top 100 Websites for Women.

It has raised over $3 million in investor funding on the strength of its 200,000+ subscribers.

Founder Amanda Steinberg says:

E-newsletters are a great business because they follow proven, highly-scalable models, which make it easy to focus.

4. Ideal Bite

Ideal Bite started out as a daily email newsletter that tapped into the growing demand for “eco-conscious” food products and services.

Disney caught on and swooped up the site for around $15 million, likely due to their growing audience of conscious moms in a key demographic.

5. GeekChicDaily

GeekChicDaily became a wildly popular email opt-in list of 425,000 nerds with know-how that attracted big name investors.

They joined forces with Nerdist Industries to create a geekdom-juggernaut that reaches into the millions and was named one of the most influential brands on Twitter by Time Magazine.

6. Red Tricycle

Red Tricycle offers localized content via e-newsletter aimed directly at new parents looking for fun things to do with their kids.

They are growing fast on the strength of their near 400,000 subscribers and recently found some big investors like entrepreneur Jason Calacanis.

7. Daily Candy

Daily Candy got the jump on email when they started offering their style-savvy e-newsletter for young women in 2000.

8 years later they were bought by Comcast for a mind-bending $125,000,000 on the strength of their 2.5 million subscribers.

What do all of these email newsletters have in common?

Undeniable value and the permission to deliver.

Psychologist Susan Weinschenk reminds us that our prospects are essentially “hard-wired” to seek out rewarding information and valuable services.

As content marketers, the easier we make it for prospects to get that truly valuable cookie content, the more addicted they become (in a good way) to engaging with you in a value exchange.

In a 2012 survey performed by ExactTarget, 91% of respondents said they checked their email daily, and 77% claimed that email was their preferred channel for “permission-based promotional messages.”

The runner up was direct mail at a whopping 9%.

Good old Facebook clocked-in at 4%.

Higher engagement means higher conversion rates

In the rather blunt phrasing of online marketer Derek Halpern:

If you’re not building your email list, you’re an idiot.

Get started today.

  • Study your audience before you ever hit Send. Know your targeted niche and demographic cold.
  • Make sure you are offering some kind of value exchange for people’s shrinking amount of free time. We’ve seen how well Groupon commodified the simplicity of email coupons, at least for awhile. Can you innovate in a different way?
  • Localize your content to connect more deeply with a smaller audience, as opposed to having shallow relationships with a “catch-all” audience.
  • Create email content that is succinct and easy to digest (see: Copywriting 101).
  • When you build trust by offering valuable content, you can turn your audience’s precious attention into long-term interest that drives repeat traffic.

In a nutshell: Email marketing is still the most cost-effective and profitable way of delivering true value to an audience that wants it.

In the next installment of Email Marketing that Works, we’ll peer into the inner workings of an email campaign that stormed the White House, see how tracking data can be used to grow your audience, and learn why rhetoric doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

Don’t miss it, get Copyblogger updates delivered via email or RSS right here.

And be sure to drop your own email marketing stories into the comments …

Print Friendly

What do you want to learn?

Click to get a free course and resources about:

Reader Comments (43)

  1. says

    Newsletters are a great a great way to build relationship with your readers. Look at Ramit form I will teach you to be rich, he uses his newsletters effectively to sell his own products but he offers tremendous value in terms of great and entertaining content for free as well.

    • says


      WOW, the items on this agenda are so powerful and yet so difficult. As with the comment above, I can see what the system accomplishes and why the newsletters are a personal and intimate form of communication, like entering a client’s home through the inbox (as you said).

      Email content can be skillfully directed towards the audience in a form that just isn’t possible, short of standing face to face. I stand in the midst of “the massive clutter of the social media landscape” and try to wave my arms to slow them down. The reality of the task is that I need to separate myself from the clutter using powerful emails.

      You state eloquently that waving a shiny object as they pass by quickly is only a small start because “Keeping your prospect’s attention is where the hard work comes in.” I am able to grab the attention of my clients rather well, but when I move to the challenging part of maintaining the same level of engagement on a long term basis through the emails, I fall short because of the hard work required.

      Collier mentioned that success comes through “small steps,” but the tiny bits of hard work on a daily basis really add up, especially when the examples you show are so creative and effective. I sympathize with others who comment about the difficulties and intricacies of this work, Dan Erickson below for example.

      Having stressed the difficulty, it ls not because of any failure in the piece, which is skillfully crafted. Rather we all shy at the complexity of the task and the work involved to get there. One must have the courage and dedication to work through the labor. This is my point, that I have to develop the self-discipline and ambition to endure. I hope that I can find this through your inspiring piece.

      At least the task seems possible now, and I understand the significance of it. Perhaps with this new determination I can get it done. Thank you.


  2. says

    A permission-based email list is something I’d like to incorporate into my blog, danerickson.net, in the future. I’m fairly new. I have a few problems. 1. I need more subscribers. 2. I don’t completely understand the technical aspects of setting something like this up. 3. Time: I’m a single dad with a career outside of writing and blogging. Any ideas?

    • says

      The technical element is easy — you want to go with a third-party service that manages deliverability (in other words, staying out of spam filters). Aweber and MailChimp are both good options, each has their advantages and disadvantages.

      My recommendation is to get your email list set up first with a good autoresponder — that way you capture every single person who finds you, right from the start.

      You can get a lot of our more specific recommendations for email here: http://www.copyblogger.com/email-marketing/

  3. says

    Yeah its all about the email list but you have to wonder what is the future holds for email?
    Everyone is flocking to social media and so many people are saying that twitter or Google + is the future.

    In my opinion email is direct marketing and everyone knows how well direct marketing works.
    However, with so much emphasis on social media how should one divide their time? 80/20 60/40?

    • says

      You use social media to get people to subscribe by email. Maybe not directly, but your general content should give you exposure on the social networks and move them to a warmer relationship with you. Social media traffic is the “coldest” least loyal part of your audience. Got to bring them in closer, and email is still the best converting sales medium online. That’s not going to change any time soon.

      If it makes you feel any better, people were saying the same thing about email in 2004, when social media was just getting started. I obviously ignored that talk. 😉

    • says

      Let’s put it this way. Email is (by far) the most effective way to make offers for your business today, as well as deepening the relationship with prospects and customers. We recommend you keep using email until that stops being true.

      If something better comes along, you can always add it to your mix. It may be awhile. :)

  4. says

    I see Aweber and Mail Chimp constantly promoted as the go to email service providers. What about iContact? Is it not mentioned because of problems or because many A-listers started with Aweber and that is what is being recommended.

    • says

      I’ve never heard of any problems with it. I have personal experience with Aweber & MC so I mention them because I know they both work well. As far as I know, iContact allows unlimited autoresponders, some services don’t.

      One thing to watch out for with other providers is that I (personally) wouldn’t go with a service that limits your # of autoresponders.

  5. Lisa says

    We are just starting to research e-mail services and have yet to find one that makes it easy to tailor messages to specific customers (we sell a variety of items to very different customers). We already have a fairly large list and have always used MailChimp in the past. Any recommendations?

    • says

      Is your list on MailChimp now?

      Every vendor is different in how they segment lists. Often you’ll want to bring a developer in to write a custom solution for you that integrates your payment or shopping cart solution with the email provider, “tagging” users with the different products. InfusionSoft was pretty much built to do this, but it’s a higher price tag and may be a bit more complex to set up.

      • Lisa says

        Thanks Sonia. Yes, we have a couple of different lists on Mail Chimp.

        Our current top contenders are Aweber and Bronto. However, we’re not crazy about the double opt-in option with Aweber that means we would basically be starting over, as I understand it. Bronto seems geared towards e-commerce so that seems promising. I have not heard of InfusionSoft but will check into it, thanks!

  6. says

    Thank you for the encouraging examples. I would stress the importance of using a double opt in like Aweber. Our company is less than 2 years old and we thought we were starting out smart with inbound marketing on the HubSpot system (sigh). That didn’t work for us for a number of reasons but as we try to move our list from HubSpot to Aweber we found we had a large number of bad email addresses because the email address didn’t have to be confirmed to get the free content. So we are starting over. Working on a new strategy for auto responders and lists at the moment.

    In the last few months we have been consuming nearly everything Copyblogger as we just transitioned off of HubSpot. We went live with out new Genesis + Optimal theme + Premise + Scribe + hosted on Synthesis in November. We are still working on everything as we did the conversion ourselves (with redirect help from the rockstar Synthesis support) in a short period of time. We are also in Teaching Sells and Jon Marrow’s Guest Blogging so we are drinking from a fire hose! You guys give tremendous advice and I’m sure with your guidance on A) how to write and B) everything else we are going to be in great shape real soon!

  7. says

    Maybe it’s just the universe giving me a sign, but 2013 is my year of list-building. And all this stuff about emails just reminds me how important it is to create a killer opt-in, which is now the goal for the rest of December.

    Thanks for another awesome post, and some great ideas of enewsletters to look to for inspiration!

  8. says

    Being a history blog – loved the reference back to telegraphs! Anyways – we use Campayn.com for our e-mail marketing and they have been extremely helpful in guiding us down this new path. Your advice is really great and is reminds me even more to put focus on great content!

  9. says

    Thanks for the great info. I just had this conversation with a non-profit board who wants to get rid of enewsletters in favor of blogging. Still trying to convince them to stay with email communications.

  10. says

    2013 should be the year every-one builds their list. :) There are so many great nuggets of gold in this post. List building is so important. I had a similar story to sara above, in that I had poor quality subscribers. This wasn’t down to not having double opt-ins but because when I started out I hadn’t properly figured out my niche. Now I am so passionate about ensuring people figure out their niche early doors. You don’t want to get so far down the line to find you have a lot of bad eggs on your list who don’t really know if they should be in your basket or not.

    Beth :)

  11. says

    So at the end of the day what matters is providing great content and actually working hard to make sure that the people who come across that content get the hint that you want to continue your relationship with them, via email.

    Liked the examples you included.

  12. says

    That’s a lot for the mind of a beginning marketer to absorb! But isn’t it not just about the numbers but the quality of those numbers? I mean you could have a list of 100,000 people but if those people aren’t interested in what you’re selling aren’t they just wasted space or am I missing something?

    • says

      You’re not missing anything. As a form of content marketing, your list should be built with content that is closely related to what you sell. Or, listen to your list as to what they want to buy, and build that thing.

  13. says

    Fantastic stuff. I’ve been blogging about expat life in Norway for 18 months wondering how I can turn it into a business. Four weeks ago I launched an email newsletter for English-speaking foreigners in Norway and it’s taken off big time… my subscriber numbers have been increasing by 20% each week, and the click rate within the emails is phenomenal. I’ve already had advertiser interest without even soliciting any… the only way is up for email marketing as far as I’m concerned.

    Listen to these Copyblogger folks, they really know their stuff :)

  14. says

    Another great article CopyBlogger! Even though E-mail is one of the older technologies still in use today you can’t deny that nearly everyone uses it. Thats why it is so effective!

  15. says

    Thanks for this article.

    Some of the tips are really insightful. I liked how you’re mentioning that someone who’s being engaged in a conversation gets a higher buying temperature. I would like to read an article that covers the psychology behind this.

    I’m wondering what your view is on preformatted emails versus plain text. I realise that the visual aspect of an email can be valuable. Big buttons are more easily noted and thus more frequently clicked. On the other hand you’re mentioning that the content of your email is what makes the email valuable. And a whole plethora of graphic fireworks can and probably will distract from that.

    I realise there can also be a middle ground here. A minimalistic design perhaps.

    So my question is, how do you rather recieve your emails. Pretty graphics but distracting, or plain but informative?

Comments are open for seven days. This article's comments are now closed.