Apple has declared war on email newsletters
PLUS: How Jay Shabat built one of the earliest newsletters covering the travel industry
Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:
Let’s jump into it…
Apple is coming again for your newsletter metrics
Apple recently announced new privacy updates to its iOS Mail app. Here’s how Digiday describes the changes:
With iOS 17 — which expands to public beta in July before the official launch in September — Apple will start automatically removing link trackers from URLs sent via Message and Mail as well as from links in Safari Private Browsing …
… Some marketers say removing URL parameters could make campaign analytics less reliable. Some of the “unintended impact” changes could include URL trackers related to ad measurement, embedded media, social widgets, fraud prevention, bot detection, audience measurement and funding websites that rely on targeted or personalized ads.
Apple is dead set on making it as difficult as possible for publishers and brands to measure the effectiveness of their newsletter strategies.
A few years ago, it killed our ability to accurately track open rates by automatically opening all emails that were loaded into the Apple Mail app. At the time, I wondered if the ability to track opens was even a legitimate privacy concern, considering that I had never heard anyone complain about it prior to Apple rolling out its policy.
And with this new announcement, I’m again left wondering the same thing. Open rates and link tracking allow publishers to optimize their newsletters, and the latter also makes it easier for newsletter sponsors to track the effectiveness of their campaigns. By eliminating these features, Apple just seems to be giving more power to closed platform ecosystems that can track user behavior from end to end — platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.
Apple is basically hurting the decentralized web at a time when publishers are trying to become less dependent on the big tech platforms. I’m not sure consumers will be better off as a result.
What do you think?
How Jay Shabat built Airline Weekly, one of the earliest newsletters covering the travel industry
When Jay Shabat launched his newsletter in 2004, he had absolutely no experience in journalism or in operating a media company. This was also long before the era when it became easy to distribute paid newsletters. But what Jay did have was a passionate fascination with the airline industry, and he leveraged that passion to build a loyal readership.
In our interview, we discussed how he found readers in a pre-social media age, his pricing strategy, and why he decided to sell the company in 2018.
Watch our discussion in the video embedded below:
If video embeds don’t work in your inbox, go here.
Will TikTok viewers actually pay for content?
TikTok launched a feature that allows its video creators to lock content behind a paywall:
The feature will be built into the LIVE Subscriptions package that TikTok launched last year, which enables live-streamers to generate recurring revenue from their efforts, by sharing regular exclusive streams with their paying audience.
Now they’ll also be able to share non-live content as well, providing another incentive to win over more users.
I think it'll be extremely difficult to convert Tiktok viewers into paying subscribers. The app's home feed is almost entirely driven by an algorithm, which makes it more difficult for stars on the platform to form a direct relationship with their viewers. I wouldn't be surprised if the conversion rates on this are very low.
The rise of the Substack competitors
Vanity Fair checked in on the state of Substack and noted that there are plenty of competitors nipping at its heels:
In terms of rivals, Ghost seems to be the one you hear about most often, and it does have its share of Substack refugees. (Then again, how often do you hear about Ghost?) Ten-year-old Patreon doesn’t make for as much of an apples-to-apples comparison, but it’s a shark in the water nonetheless, and it recently expanded upon the ways in which users can interact with and make money from their fans.
This month brought news of two direct challenges to Substack’s dominance. The nearly two-year-old New York–based newsletter start-up Beehiiv announced it had raised another $12.5 million to “expand its product, bring on more writers, and build out its revenues,” according to TechCrunch. Also in TechCrunch: “WordPress.com challenges Substack with launch of paid newsletters.” As Substack user and media writer Simon Owens observed, “Probably the biggest weakness of Substack is that, once a newsletter reaches a certain size, it’s incentivized to move off the platform to avoid the 10% fee. With WordPress, users will simply be able to upgrade and then eliminate the fee—thus WordPress doesn’t lose them as a customer.”
We've seen a lot of newsletter products launch over the last few years, and they're certainly competing with Substack for writers, but I still think Substack has several key advantages:
It's free: most of the competing platforms require some sort of upfront payment. I don't think you can ever underestimate the appeal of a free product.
It's extremely easy to use: Substack prioritized minimalist design and an out-of-the-box product that you can launch in less than 30 minutes. Just as people prefer their iPhone point-and-shoot cameras over fancy DSLRs, the vast majority of writers just want something functional that makes it easy for them to publish and distribute their content.
It can help writers grow their audience: Substack has been pushing out more and more features that allow writers to capitalize on network effects while still maintaining a direct relationship with their audience. It has a long way to go before it can replace the huge social platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but there's a good reason why Elon got scared into throttling Substack links.
"Despite the fact that Amazon has cleaned up their own reviews, they’ve done essentially nothing to moderate Goodreads, a site they purchased a decade ago. Goodreads is now the prime site of book spam, trolls, and harassment campaigns." [Counter Craft]
A cool oral history of Paper Magazine. [NYT]
I find it incredible that Shane Smith steered Vice into one of the biggest implosions in modern media history, and yet he still gets to keep his job post-acquisition. Meanwhile, laid-off staffers are struggling to get reimbursed for thousands of dollars of business expenses they incurred on behalf of Vice. Smith built his entire fortune on the backs of underpaid, exploited workers, and he went to great lengths to mislead both investors and advertisers in order to generate that fortune. He's truly one of the worst people in media — Carlos Watson without the pending prison sentence. [The Media Mix]
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