How newsletter publishers are thriving amidst an advertising slowdown

In a time when many media companies are struggling with an economic downturn and an advertising slowdown, publishers who focus on producing newsletters are experiencing growth in their subscriber base and ad revenue. While some publishers are seeing ad revenue lagging behind forecasts this quarter, newsletter publishers have been able to continue to attract dollars from existing advertisers as well as bring on new advertisers to their products, according to conversations with six publishing executives.

According to these executives, companies such as The Gist, 1440, Industry Dive, and The Ankler have been able to run profitable businesses and are not seeing the impact of the advertising slowdown on their revenues. In fact, ad revenue is continuing to grow this year at newsletter-focused businesses, as are newsletter subscribers.

None of the six companies that spoke with Digiday have undergone layoffs since the economic downturn that began in the latter half of last year, and most have plans to expand their teams this year. Advertising revenue at 1440, The Gist, Front Office Sports, and Puck is continuing to grow this quarter, executives said, all of whom declined to share raw revenue figures.

Executives at The Gist, Puck, and The Ankler said they have attracted new advertisers this year, while Front Office Sports and Industry Dive executives pointed mostly to larger budgets from existing advertisers as the reason for revenue growth. This growth could be due to a variety of factors. Newsletter start-up companies like The Ankler and Puck are still in a growth phase. Other executives said their newsletters won over marketers who have wanted to pull back on brand awareness ads and shift to direct response campaigns.

Sean Griffey, co-founder and CEO at B2B digital media company Industry Dive, noted that “you [see] marketers put an increased focus on ROI and direct response. And that’s one of the great things about newsletters — it’s a push platform, and you can generate response. When you send someone an email, people take action. The newsletters see the ROI-focused advertisers really start to shift towards it.”

However, Katie Driggs, media director at ad agency FerebeeLane, suggested that the growing media budgets going to newsletters is likely a result of the current economic climate, and advertisers experimenting with channels like email that allow for contextual targeting to prepare for a cookie-less future. “E-newsletters are relatively inexpensive, trackable, and provide advertisers with a great deal of flexibility. Ads can be contextually targeted and appear within editorial for a more native feel,” she said in an email. “With an uncertain economic climate this year, e-newsletters — and digital media in general — are the most flexible media channels if budgets change throughout the year… This is likely the biggest reason we are seeing this shift.”

While many newsletter-focused publishers are thriving, some have not been immune to the economic downturn. Morning Brew, for example, announced layoffs in November 2022 and a second round of layoffs in March 2023.

Despite the challenges, Tim Huelskamp, co-founder and CEO of newsletter publisher 1440, reported that the company has had “48 months of consecutive revenue growth.” Q4 2022 revenue growth was double Q4 2021, according to the company. Liz Gough, co-found…in said. An executive at a newsletter business who traded anonymity for candor said they had seen a similar pattern. The Ankler, an entertainment-focused, subscription-based newsletter publisher, is “well into the seven figures for sponsorship advertising,”

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