How newsletters are changing the publishing world (or how publishing is adapting)

03 August 2021Reading time: 4 min.

In other words: am I going towards the information or is it coming towards me? Easy-to-answer question or question destined to remain unsolved? Let’s find out together with Domitilla Ferrari, in this second newsletter-themed issue.

In the previous issue on the newsletter phenomenon and its role in the contemporary media diet we saw how, in a world full of data, facts, opinions and information, we are increasingly placing our trust in certain sources from which to draw to save time and effort. I cannot know everything, and nor can I remain at the mercy of what is constantly being published online: this was the bitter conclusion we had reached. 

Having selected, therefore, the sources that we choose each day to welcome directly into our mailboxes (sources that, with an immediate notification on the smartphone, remind us that they are there, ready to be read), how do we choose which of these to dedicate our time to? Obviously the news items reported by these different sources are in many cases the same: what differentiates them is the way in which they are told and what angle is taken.

Editorial newsletters: a balance between press reviews and opinion pieces

Giuseppe De Filippi edits the newsletter What to talk about at dinner tonight on Il Foglio – every evening between 6 and 7 pm, without breaks or substitutions – he tells what there is to know about what is happening in Italy and in the world. 

“Links can lead you anywhere, but sometimes I also like to develop a dialogue with Il Foglio and so in the newsletter I sometimes write ‘that stuff was interesting, go and read it’. I don’t take it for granted”, explains Giuseppe De Filippi talking about his selection work. “My way of managing the newsletter is always trying to mix the popular news and the elite audience of Il Foglio, but giving a point of view. What to talk about tonight at dinner is not the “first page” in the Italian style where the fact of the day leads to the news items that we’ve all seen before. I stick to the title mandate, that’s all. Only later do I add the television news and journalistic angle of Il Foglio“. In this regard, it should be emphasized that in this context the tone of voice, as they say, is extremely important: What to talk about for dinner tonight is close to the audience, but not overly so. 

“For me it is a kind of editorial, to use an old word, which gives a key to reading. For this reason the tone must be opinionated and not cold: I propose a point of view as if to open the doors to a conversation”. 

How do you create an editorial newsletter?

When I teach the Internet at College, I focus on the representation of one’s identity online and students always ask me how long it takes. My answer is that it takes all the time in the world. Over the course of the day, you must never get distracted from what you are and what you want to say about yourself.

This is a great dilemma which also directly involves editorial newsletters, which can deviate from normal newspapers not only in terms of tone, but also in terms of customs and timing. This is why I enjoyed asking Giuseppe De Filippi how long it takes to write the newsletter he curates.

“I often write it on the bus. After reading and working on the news all day. My dream is for people to talk about the events happening in their home country, rather than passing their time zapping from one futile thing to the next. I also take a lot from Twitter, where you can find a bit of everything: politicians, agencies and even Istat. And always, in the end, the themes that I highlight in the newsletter, through my reasoning and synthesis process (which also ends up telling you about the day), are those of the front pages of the next day’s newspapers”. 

Why subscribe to a newsletter? The psychology of the sign-up

The reason why I subscribe to one newsletter and not another depends on this: how useful and informative I find it, but also the extent to which it talks like me, how much I can identify with its style and tone of voice

The daily newsletter of Donna Moderna – which is published in the morning from Monday to Saturday – is overseen by Marina D’Incerti, editor-in-chief and head of the Donna Moderna news channel. A full-bodied newsletter, with a fixed structure made up of five daily topics, described by Marina D’Incerti in these terms: 

“Our newsletter aims to help select news items with the usual spirit of service that the newspaper has always had. We have decided to set up a launch policy for the channel, but the channel is written in line with the newsletter. The editorial plan of the newsletter is the editorial plan of the part of the site that hosts the news. The content we write, including that of the contractors, is aimed at being launched in the newsletter“. 

Donna Moderna’s website is multi-faceted. You can land there by looking for beauty or cooking tips, but if what you’ve always liked about the newspaper is its feminine take on the news, the news channel really comes to life. “We’ve tried to do different things over time, even changing our tone of voice, or nodding at trends, but it didn’t work.  Nor was it useful to facilitate the entire reading of an article in the newsletter”, explains Marina D’Incerti. “I am very proud of a newsletter that constantly keeps up with and tells the news without those clichés and the repetitiveness that we see in some cases in the online world. We receive very few unsubscribe requests and the topic that garners the most interest above all else is women’s health. In our opinion, the newsletter has to be useful. Others are designed to cultivate the pleasure of reading, while we are more of a “service”. That is why we have adapted the work we had been doing for some time to channels that are new to us, and for this reason our historical readers have integrated their reading of the weekly issue into their daily reading of the site through the newsletter”. 

Newsletter and engagement: a question of consistency

The commitment to cultivate a relationship with one’s audience is so great that NR edizioni – the publishing house that published Joe Biden’s book in Italy, among others – was born out of a newsletter, NightReview, which came into being in 2013 from Gianluca Di Tommaso’s sharing of his weekend readings with a constantly growing  list of interested people. NightReview comes out every Friday evening, and we mean literally every one, because Gianluca Di Tommaso never put it on pause (not like me – mine has experienced all kinds of interruptions in the broadcasts).

This consistency, together with the quality of the selection and translations of the longreads, led to the birth in 2018 of a publishing house that publishes nonfiction titles and essays.

“They increasingly asked me to translate this or that article on topics that I was following with NightReview. However, translation costs not only money, but also time. And gradually I discovered that the audience that was attracted by the newsletter was an interesting segment because they were interested in things not taken into consideration by other publishing houses. Hence the idea: to translate and produce new content as a publishing house ”, says Gianluca Di Tommaso. 

Newsletters and publishing: a reader-centric future

But is book publishing really that easy? Of course not. “The more ‘content-based’ newsletters, so to speak, constitute a relatively little explored path in book publishing”, explains Claudio Cammarano, marketing director of DeA Planeta Libri. “The reason is quite simple: when you are not a publisher, your job as a marketer is often a storytelling exercise to be associated with your product or brand. But what do you do when your product is a book: that is, when it is itself the material and subject of narration?” The most immediate consequence, and the solution that actually circumvents the problem, is to create newsletters that are showcases aimed at selling: “Functional, necessary, we will never get rid of them: but they are a path that a publisher should not cultivate exclusively. On the contrary, one way might be: to transform the entire publisher into a matrix of content that can literally orbit the reader, his/her interests and needs”. A path that foreign champions such as Penguin Random House, strong even with the most limited language barriers, have already successfully trodden. “A path that we too should follow, by inscribing the newsletters within a broader content strategy. The same one that made us launch Digital Merenda , a few weeks ago, which is only a starting point”, continues Claudio Cammarano. “We are no longer living in the world of twenty or ten years ago: today every publisher, in his or her own small way, should make a small contribution to the promotion of reading. By putting its reader at the center”.

What’s next?

In the next and final newsletter-themed issue, we will talk about the benefits of this information tool for business and the advantages of adopting this channel to grow brands and sales. To make sure you don’t miss anything, subscribe to the Semerssuaq* newsletter created by Domitilla Ferrari and follow the monthly issue with the MailUp newsletter!

This article was written by

Domitilla Ferrari

Domitilla Ferrari

Domitilla Ferrari is a lecturer in Digital Communications at the University of Padua. She lives in Milan, where she works as a B2B Chief Marketing Officer. She holds a degree in Psychology of Marketing and Communications and an MBA from the Bocconi School of Management. She's one of Italy's most influential marketing and digital experts. Since 2003, she has written the blog Semmersuaq, and since 2012, she has sent out a newsletter to about 5,000 communications professionals.

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