Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A History of Newsletters

Wikipedia’s definition of a Newsletter states: A newsletter is a regularly distributed publication generally about one main topic that is of interest to its subscribers. Webster’s Dictionary states a Newsletter to be: A printed report usually issued at regular intervals, giving news about or information of interest to a particular group.

Traditional newsletters were printed on paper in a hard copy format; however that is not the norm in most cases today with the majority being delivered via e-mail (eNewsletters or electronic newsletters). Research shows that the first newsletter appeared in 1538, long before newspapers became the standard medium for news stories. One of the first known newsletters was distributed in England in 1631 featuring happenings of locals overseas. In 1704, the
Boston News-letter made its appearance in the US and eventually became a newspaper. Many other newsletters flourished in the 1700’s and also followed suit by becoming newspapers.

By the early 1900’s, newsletters made a comeback mainly because businesses and industries needed specialized information. In 1904 Babson’s Report, an investment advisory newsletter, surfaced and was followed by the
Kiplinger Letter in 1923. The Kiplinger Letter continues to be the most widely-read business forecasting periodical in the world.

A few decades later in 1930, corporate newsletters emerged rapidly. To be specific, Telecommunications Reports (a telecommunications industry newsletter) took the lead in 1934 and was followed by a series of business newsletters. Several types of newsletters ranging from farming to fashion also became commonplace.

Jump ahead to mid-1980 with the advent of personal computers which altered the concept of the rapidly changing workplace. The term “e-mail” becomes part of our regular vocabulary and it is during this time that Desktop Publishing and the use of PC’s to produce print materials became common place buzzwords. Newsletters were welcomed with open arms because desktop publishing software allowed them to be created with ease.

In the 21st century, newsletters appeared in another medium – online or web versions. These are known today as electronic newsletters (eNewsletters) which are usually distributed by email to people who voluntarily subscribed to them online. Initially these types of newsletters contained hyperlinks to webpages so that website operators could draw surfers to their websites. This would increase hits and pageviews allowing website operators to get revenue from banner ads put up by advertisers. Over time, it was clear that web surfers were more interested in getting information from their e-mail accounts than from websites.

Hence today, eNewsletters are now full-fledged, content-rich publications. Advertisers are also more willing to sponsor such newsletters as they believe their ads are better targeted and more effective than banner ads. All types of newsletters fall into one of these broad categories whether they are print or electronic:

  • Promotional Newsletters: Frequently used by businesses to promote a product or service (I receive several of these each day). Also known as marketing newsletters, they are typically sent to current or prospective customers free of charge. Promotional newsletters also strive to turn prospects into customers and customers into repeat customers.

  • Relationship Newsletters: These focus on the shared interests of the target audience (club newsletters, employee newsletters, church newsletters, alumni newsletters, etc.). Typically distributed at no charge, some organizations may send newsletters only to paid members. Our Dow Jones InfoPro Alliance Bulletin monthly newsletter is a great example of a relationship newsletter.

  • Expert Newsletters: Usually subscription-based, these normally focus on a specific topic and the recipient is someone who has specifically requested the information in the newsletter and is willing to pay for the information.

As you can see, Newsletters have been around for a long time and have truly evolved into an important mainstream communications tool that can be created quite easily using inexpensive software programs. As a matter of fact, our Dow Jones Factiva product has a built-in Newsletter Builder feature that is simple to use and is offered at no additional cost to our customers. So the next time you need a way to keep in touch with customers, develop relationships with people who have similar interests as you or provide a group of people with proprietary information, consider starting a newsletter.


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