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The long trail away from just the print newsletter.

In some ways the history of newsletter publishers parallels the ever-changing names of the newsletter association--from, among other names, Newsletter Association to Newsletter Publishers Association to Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association to the current Specialized Information Publishers Association. Publishers began simply producing "newsletters" and have diversified continually ever since.

My own association with newsletter publishers began 40+ years ago in the founding days of Capital Publications. They published a newsletter. Then they launched a second, followed by a third and so on. In only a few years the total came to around 30 publications.

Special reports

Cap Pub did experiment with selling special reports. They put their own covers on Education Department-funded studies gathering dust on Dept. of Ed. shelves (very successful), and they marketed books they bought from publishers (built a lot of volume but didn't make much money).

If you can create books and special reports internally, the economics are much better, but one successful publisher told us recently that the internet has killed the market for the high-ticket, single-subject reports he used to produce.

Yet, special reports have become a mainstay of many other newsletter publishers' ancillary products and services--recently boosted by the ease of producing electronic ones, such as PDFs and CDs.

Allie Ash, who rose from bean counter to publisher at Cap Pub, liked to say that there was greater return in spending your creative capital launching another newsletter than in dreaming up seminars, conferences and/or doing consulting, because you can only sell an hour of your time and expertise once, but a successful new newsletter brings long-term returns.

Early diversification

Nonetheless many other publishers soon began to diversify. By the end of 1978 the association's fledging Guidebook to Newsletter Publishing already carried these chapters:

* The Opportunities and Arithmetic of Sponsoring Conferences and Seminars

* List Rentals Today Are Big Business

* Special Reports as a Profit Center

* Contract Newsletters Can Be Profitable--If

* Business Opportunities in Consulting

Conferences and seminars

A natural opportunity for a newsletter that has established itself as an industry authority is the staging of conferences and workshops or seminars. At UCG they learned that newsletters with a circulation apparently "too small" to support a seminar can do so. To the amazement of publishers, among your prospect lists lurk people who will come to a seminar or conference costing more than the newsletter to which they don't subscribe.

What has worked best is creating a meeting that can be "annualized," repeated year after year. It becomes an industry happening where everyone who is anyone attends. Publishers as diverse as Marvin Shankin in wine and beverages and Charles Intraglio in money laundering have done so.

Timely topics

Yet, even though one idea for a seminar is a blockbuster, the next can be a bomb. The biggest single success the newsletter association ever had in seminars came in the mid-eighties with a workshop on selecting the right PCs and software. We almost had to limit registration. We couldn't replicate it. A year or 18 months later everyone had made a decision and taken the plunge into "desktop publishing."

Some publishers have developed dog-and-pony-show seminars they could move around the country. Ragan Communications has been one of the most successful. (In a reverse situation, the very successful Pryor Report newsletter grew out of the Pryor organization's traveling workshops.)

On the other hand, for many years then-NL/NL publisher Howard Hudson offered "How to Start a Newsletter" workshops. And the association presented newsletter marketing and renewal seminars around the country. I don't think either of us made much money. The association was offering a service to members in "remote" locales (California, Canada), and Howard liked a business write-off for trips to the places he liked to visit (Chicago, San Francisco, even Amsterdam and Hawaii * ).


No, not computer software: Publishers have also marketed a variety of what Rives Cheney at Imagine Inc. called her "software"--coffee mugs, T-shirts, etc. Among my possessions I have a Winning Hoops polo shirt and a Poop Sheet (now ACC Sports Journal) ball cap ("Poop Is What's Happening"). It's hard to make money doing this.

Glen Parker at Market Logic said, "With honest accounting I'd have to sell a quality binder for $12-$15 to make any money." So he, like many in the days when subscribers kept back issues, used them as renewal premiums.

Ancillary Profits newsletter

For aggressive newsletter publishers in the early 1990s, the go-to publication for ideas on additional products and services was the newsletter Ancillary Profits. It was founded, edited and published by current NL/NL publisher Marlene Jensen, who eventually sold it for a tidy profit to a much larger publisher that promptly ran it into the ground (but that's another story for another day).

Audio conferences

Audio conferences have been very successful for many publishers in recent years. Good for them, but I fearlessly predict the old-fashioned conference will continue to be viable. U.S. business execs seem hard-wired to like them and no audio conference or webinar can replace the attractions of desirable locations, in-room minibars, and the opportunity to flirt with attractive fellow delegates at receptions (called networking).

Online ancillaries

Today the activity is in electronic information delivery: online newsletters, e-zines, listservs, managing multiple websites. As I see it, at present, the newsletter industry runs the gamut from Ron Shandler of The Baseball Forecaster, who published his final print newsletter almost seven years ago, to Mark Ziebarth of Bongarde Communications, who is making his profits from paper but pouring those profits into developing electronic products to be ready "for the 20-year olds wandering around campus with baseball hats on backwards."

And, of course, newsletter websites offer archival search capabilities for their subscribers, replacing those three-ring binders of back issues.

An association survey in 2005 found that "ancillaries," taken as a whole, were the largest part of a publisher's income--leading to the most recent new name--although I suspect the respondents probably over-represented the larger, more diversified firms.

I like Llewellyn King's comment that newsletter publishers have been successful selling information to a relatively few people for a high price, but the frontier lies where the enormous potential of the internet is in figuring out how to sell information cheaply to a tremendous number of people.

* Speaking of people who will pay more to attend a seminar than they will to subscribe to a newsletter, Howard Hudson's workshop in Honolulu drew only two people, one of whom was from Chicago, where Howard had just staged the same workshop a month earlier.
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Title Annotation:Ancillaries
Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Nov 10, 2006
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