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Running A Newsletter Can Be Tricky

Jane Applegate Los Angeles Times

In this age of access to instant information on the Internet, it’s comforting to know that there is still a vibrant market for old-fashioned, printed newsletters. There are about 5,000 subscription newsletters and thousands of free ones, according to industry experts. Newsletters cover everything from fly-fishing and school violence to gluten-free baking.

With the right mailing list, exclusive or proprietary information, and a few thousand dollars, just about anyone who can write or hire writers can start one. But, making money is another story.

“You have to pick a field as narrow as you can get it but leave it wide enough so there’s an audience to promote to,” advises Howard Penn Hudson, president of the Newsletter Clearinghouse in Rhinebeck, N.Y. “Too often, people who start newsletters find they haven’t narrowed the field enough.”

Healthcare, technology and celebrity newsletters are hot right now, according to Hudson, who publishes the Newsletter on Newsletters, founded in 1964.

“Rush Limbaugh has a newsletter and attracts an audience with his name,” said Penn Hudson, adding that “newsletters ride the trends. … When we had an energy crisis in this country, there were two dozen newsletters about energy. When the crisis ended, so did those newsletters.”

Newsletter publishers charge whatever the market will bear, especially if they are offering specialized or competitive information. One of the most expensive newsletters, the Daily Report for Executives, costs $5,811 a year, according to Penn Hudson. (If you want to check out the competition before launching a newsletter, he also publishes a directory with 158 categories and a variety of other newsletter publications. It costs $159. For information, write to: The Newsletter Clearinghouse, P.O. Box 311, Rhinebeck, N.Y. 12572.)

Patty Wysocki, executive director of the Newsletter Publishers Association, said newsletter publishers aren’t too worried about competition from the Internet. Some use it to deliver one free issue to a potential subscriber.

“But you can’t download something that looks fabulous,” she said. “People still want that written copy. They don’t want to read it on the computer.”

Hundreds of kitchen-table publishers and major corporations belong to her trade association, which offers several publications. For information: Newsletter Publishers Association, 1401 Wilson Blvd., No. 207, Arlington, Va. 22209.

Beverly Davis, editor and publisher of Supermodel News, started writing and publishing her newsletter after pursuing a modeling career. “I started with $4 and a lot of faith,” said Davis, who still works as a secretary in Georgia to support herself.

Supermodel News has grown from two to eight pages since she began publishing it in November 1995. Her 2,600 subscribers in 21 states are eager for her modeling tips, lists of model-search contests, pageants and fashion events, fitness tips, and stories about top models.

Before you start publishing a newsletter, read “Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine,” by Cheryl Woodard (Nolo Press, $24.95). Her book is a lively, easy-to-read bible for publishers. Meanwhile, here are Woodard’s tips for first-time publishers:

1. Concentrate on markets you know very well.

2. Listen to your readers and advertisers, and develop products responsive to their needs.

3. Get help from experienced people.

4. Adopt good ideas whenever you find them. Study what’s already working for other publishers by collecting media kits or renewal promotion letters, and use their best ideas.

5. Befriend influential people, and ask them to support your publication.

6. Study your results.

7. Be prepared for change.

8. Aim for readers who have continuing information needs.

9. Look for ancillary profit opportunities. Many publications make most of their profits from special reports, books and videos.

10. Look hard before you leap into print. Don’t go forward until you’ve got a long-term plan you can live with.


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