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Print Isn’t Dead – Unless You Do It This Way

by Uncle Alan

Back in the pre-Internet days, specialized newsletters were a highly prized medium. Printed with real ink on sheets of paper, they ran generally anywhere from four to 16 pages, folded up and mailed through the U.S. mail, either weekly, monthly or whenever the publisher decided to send one out the door.

Direct marketing experts, stock market masters, real estate gurus – they all mailed printed newsletters to their customers in those days. Some charged hundreds of dollars per year for 4 pages of wisdom in the mailbox per month.

I couldn't wait to devour every word of every issue of Gary Halbert's now-legendary marketing newsletters.

These newsletters contained no advertising. That fact – and the way they were generally designed to look like typewritten letters — was what differentiated them from the much less-expensive newspapers and magazines they competed with.

It was how they justified their higher subscription prices and it made perfect sense. They were, after all, news letters, packed with information not otherwise shared with anyone, direct from the publisher. Personal.

Entire businesses were built around these newsletters, in all facets of business and life. A lot of fortunes were generated with this form of small-press publishing. Some, though far too few, continue to this day.

Then, along came the Web.

Most newsletters, especially in the marketing arena, moved to e-mail. At first, you could charge $97 per year for an info-packed weekly email newsletter and get it. Without the printing and mailing costs, the profits were nearly identical to printing and mailing a specialized newsletter you would have to charge much more for. You could also go a lot more in-depth with your information, without worrying about exceeding your page count or increasing costs if you did.

Soon, as it is with almost everything else online, the lure of “easy money” led everyone to offer an email newsletter. As the newsletter clutter increased, the value of these newsletters decreased. Eventually, most email newsletters were jammed with thinly-disguised sales pitches, with little content to make them worth reading.

It wasn’t long before it was impossible for all but a few to sell a subscription to an email newsletter, even if it was packed with rock-solid info not found elsewhere. Free email newsletters, were thus born, published with the sole purpose of gathering names on an email list.

For the most part, this free newsletter model lives on today, although many have moved onto blogs, given the current over-cluttered state of email.

Not long ago, a few marketers decided they could buck the trend and return to printed newsletters. “After all,” they reasoned, “if I can’t sell subscriptions to an email newsletter any more, why not offer a printed one?”

Why not, indeed? The logic was sound. Sadly, the execution left a lot to be desired.

Like all good printed newsletters, these marketers set out to provide information you can’t find from them anywhere else in their printed newsletters. At least, they said that was their goal. They also implied the information provided would be similarly personal, direct from the publisher.

Also true to form, they charged a premium for subscriptions, because they had printing and mailing costs – and the information was exclusive, close-up and personal…right?

Then they went overboard. Somewhere along the way, these same people decided that no one would pay a premium for a small printed newsletter that looked like it just came out of a typewriter, so they added color printing, slick paper, fancy eye-burning layout and graphics, making their high-priced printed newsletters look and feel like…exciting newsstand magazines.

Maybe they weren’t entirely sure of the information inside for the price, so they added pages and all this glitz to hopefully make up for it.

The damage didn’t stop there. They also included guest articles and feature pieces by other writers and staff members – often filling their printed newsletters with them and only including an opening editorial from the originator of the newsletter.

Yes, the printed newsletters of old had occasional guest pieces, but the keyword here is occasional. I suppose they missed that point – or it started to look like a lot of work filling it themselves, despite the fact that this, alone, is the number one factor that makes a specialized printed newsletter worth the price.

But wait! They also sold advertising. Some ran lots of ads. Many of these newsletters were filled with half-page, quarter-page and even full-page slick-looking ads that would have made Madison Avenue ad agencies proud.

Thank goodness Gary's sons, Kevin and Bond, have kept their dad's newsletters available and added new issues...all online.

Sadly, you couldn’t wander farther from the traditional printed newsletter model if you tried. Indeed, what these people wound up with, almost without exception, was a slick commercial magazine that carried a monthly subscription price equal to what most slick commercial magazines charge for an entire year.

12 times the price for…essentially the same thing you can pick up on the newsstand.

Small wonder we’ve seen one after another of these slick publications whither and move back to the Web, if they survived at all. For free.

Here’s a tip for you: you can publish a printed newsletter and make great money doing it. But, maybe you should first re-visit the past a bit and follow what worked then. Take the time to write your printed newsletter yourself. Make it a letter from you to your readers, with your insights and what you’ve learned that you simply don’t feel like releasing to the Web at large.

You don’t have to make it look like a letter but, that’s what I recommend. Use courier font on regular paper. You don’t need slick paper and blazing color graphics at all. Just your words on paper, one-on-one with your readers, is what commanded the high prices the printed newsletters of old were able to get.

It would still work.

And you can still advertise – but just your own stuff. Provide insider details about some of the things you’re doing that your readers can buy, but only once in a while. And don’t go on and on about it. Provide some valuable insights not available in your other ads for the same stuff.

OR – make your printed newsletter a part of your membership site. Something only members at a higher level receive. Part of the value they get for a higher price.

This stuff still works, folks, today as it did yesterday. It’s not overnight money. It won’t make you rich in a week doing nothing. But it can enrich your readers and you’ll see endless rewards.

Want a solid example of an offline newsletter you could model – probably the one that started all this nonsense in the first place? Check out The Gary Halbert letter. Although this genius has left the earth, his newsletters live on, beautifully hosted online by his sons, Kevin and Bond — available free of charge at:

http://www.thegaryhalbertletter.com/

It’s truly priceless stuff. All of it. You’d do yourself a favor if you read every freaking issue, word for word. It worked in print and – thanks to Kevin and Bond’s the genius (surely inherited), it works online, too.

6 comments to Print Isn’t Dead – Unless You Do It This Way

  • Felicia Slattery

    Hi Uncle Alan,
    So wait… You’re advocating creating ACTUAL ORIGINAL CONTENT? Imagine… And then letting that content stand in its own in our web 2.0 or 3.0 or whatever number world we’re living in where they tell us people expect glitz, graphics, and glamour? Huh.

    I’ve been considering just that for quite a while & your post has given me the inspiration I need to give it a try!

    I have to ask your expert opinion here because I’ve been studying the Glazer-Kennedy newsletter model, which seems to be similar to what you’re talking about here. One of their guidelines is not to cram the newsletter full of 100% related content, but to also include non-related content… For example Kennedy’s musings on politics and use of cartoons – still black & white, but amusing nonetheless. What say you about the amount of “related content?”

    Thanks for such a thoughtful & well-written piece.

    • Yes, Felicia. Glazer-Kennedy’s newsletter model is another I suspect inspired the failures I described in my piece. Definitely worth modeling! Dan’s suggestion is excellent. It’s the part that makes it a letter by adding that personal touch. Not too much…because newsletters are by nature limited in space…but enough. Dan usually ties his political points and such in with the topic at hand but, then again, he is a master.

      Another aspect of all of this I failed to mention in the piece is — newsletters should be timely. This is another thing that contributed to the failure of those slick, full-color, graphically-enhanced “newsletters.” All that stuff takes more time to produce and deliver.

      It’s hard to believe, but all of this adds up to the “reason why” your printed newsletter can and should look like a simple letter and doesn’t need to be slick at all. Keep it “hot off the typewriter” (whatever those things are — grin) and it works.

  • Thanks Alan. I appreciate your down to earth back to the basics approach. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see that while not easy, good publishing is simple.

    • Glad you liked it, Mark. In the case of this post, these marketers actually assumed it should be harder than it needs to be — then proceeded to make it so. You put it well, however. Publishing is NOT easy…but it can be very simple when you follow the steps and know what you’re doing.

      Now — if I could just figure out blog publishing. I just upgraded the theme I use and usually have no problems with — Atahualpa — and for some reason it’s no longer showing the header for the Portal no matter what I do. Grrr.

      I’m sure it’s something simple. :)

  • Good news perhaps?? I can see the header in Firefox, although earlier I noticed it was missing. I refreshed and it was there. Guess you fixed it!

    • Yup! Thanks for letting me know you can see it, too. For some reason, the update put back the default headers and when I replaced them with the Portal header…nothing came up. Crossing my fingers! Tech is always so much fun. :)

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