Hanging By A Thread

If you’ve been receiving this newsletter for even a little while, I’m sure you’ve come to view me as a serious, thoughtful, dare I say… highbrow kind of person.

And while I appreciate your kind words (thank you), it will probably come as a shock when I reveal the following: When the Sunday newspaper arrives each week, the first section I read is the comics. In fact, and as long as we’re telling tales today, I should mention that there are weeks where the only section I read is the comics.

But wait, it gets worse. Because in recent months, it appears I’ve managed to corrupt my 15-year-old son, Evan. Now, he too is following in my intellectually curious footsteps by doing the same. Take a minute, I know it’s depressing.

And yet, there is one, small, silver lining within this storm cloud of 21st century unlearnedness… it gives Evan and me an excuse to have an in-depth conversation every Sunday morning.

Here, for example, is an excerpt from a recent father-son bonding interaction…

Me: “You know Evan, Monty was hysterical today, but I thought Doonesbury was way off. And as usual, I don’t have the slightest idea what Zippy the Pinhead was getting at.”

Evan: “Yeah, whatever Dad. See you later.”

Granted, some father-son conversations are more in-depth than others, but I think you get the idea.

In the course of our research, Evan and I have also uncovered one critical fact: The comics that they publish in the summer are decidedly less funny than those during the rest of the year.

Indeed, it’s as if the comic writers and newspaper editors of America have colluded to deliberately publish the weakest strips during the summer months, when fewer people are reading. Never mind WMDs, my friend – this is what I call a conspiracy.

And yet, my own comic paranoia aside, it does actually make some sense in the comic strip world. After all, why use your best stuff when people are less likely to read it? Why not just wait for them to return in September, and in the meantime, coast along with the near-reject material?

I mention this today, not because I’m using my own near-reject material in the summer, but to warn you away from applying this same logic to your E-Newsletter.

Because while it may work just fine in the world of print newspapers, it’s got one BIG problem here in e-mail marketing land: You’re always just one click away from a reader opting out… forever.

Here’s what I mean…

If you don’t like the comics in today’s newspaper, you don’t cancel your subscription. And even if today’s poor showing causes you to turn the page with a negative opinion of a particular strip, well, it will be right there next week and the week after that to possibly catch your eye again.

With e-mail, it’s one strike and you’re out. All a reader need do is click the “unsubscribe” button at the bottom of the message and she’s off your list for good (assuming you’re a responsible e-mail marketer). In practice, that means you can never afford to sit back and publish a “throwaway newsletter.”

Some data for those of you less comically inclined: Every time I publish this newsletter, some (apparently insane) readers opt out. The last five newsletters had opt out rates of:


Compare this to what happened last week. I sent an announcement to all of you regarding Blue Penguin’s upcoming birthday party. This e-mail, by contrast, had an opt out rate of .355%. Quite a bit higher.

Why the difference? There’s no telling for sure, but I’m guessing the extra opt outs were made up of people who didn’t realize that the invitation was from me (since it looked different from the newsletter); people who consider a birthday party event off target when what they signed up for was an “E-Newsletter on E-Newsletters;” people who hate ice cream; and other reasons I’m not even aware of.

The point is, every E-Newsletter you send carries with it the risk that someone will see something they don’t like, and opt out. Remember, some number of your readers are always near the edge – as e-mail marketers we literally hang by a single thread with every mailing.

Bottom line: The greatest number of opt outs will always occur (ironically) in response to your newsletter’s arrival; it’s the arrival that prompts action.

When you bring inferior content during the summer – whether that’s “no newsletter this month, have a great summer” empty messages, thrown together topics, or (worst of all) “reruns” of past newsletters – you increase the likelihood that more readers than usual will leave.

So you’ve got two content options during the summer. Either don’t publish at all (not a great choice, but at least one which causes minimal damage) or continue to give readers the best you’ve got, issue after issue after issue.

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