How publishers are using newsletters to reach readers and attract subscribers internationally

Newsletters can be a valuable vehicle for audience development — and a pathway to getting readers to pay for a subscription — especially for publishers that want to reach readers beyond the U.S. with global news in a direct way through their inbox.

CNN is working on a newsletter product around the Middle East, after launching similar editions for an international audience on news in China and the U.S. In February, global business site Quartz announced a new membership product focused on covering tech startups, innovators and sectors in Africa. Meanwhile, The Washington Post claimed a 25% increase in sign-ups to its global news email briefing year-over-year — but has taken a different approach by pivoting the focus of its main newsletter product to cover different global events. By contrast, The New York Times has an array of regional newsletters that have helped it to amass 1 million digital news subscriptions outside the U.S.

Quartz tests regional newsletter pricing

After initially taking a global approach to subscriptions — asking people to pay $100 a year to access more of Quartz’s international coverage, including from its Quartz Africa vertical — the publisher found that “there was more price sensitivity and people reading Quartz Africa really just wanted to read Quartz Africa,” said Quartz editor-in-chief Katherine Bell.

Quartz didn’t have regional pricing for its membership, so the team decided to launch a separate membership for those readers, at a lower price point. Quartz Africa costs $60 a year.

The new Quartz Africa membership will give readers exclusive access to Quartz Africa content and a new Quartz Africa Member Brief. (Its Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter will remain free and the over 90,000 readers signed up to that newsletter will get four free editions of the Quartz Africa Member Brief to hopefully persuade them to subscribe to the Quartz Africa membership).

Quartz Africa is the company’s second geographically-focused subscription product, after Quartz Japan. But unlike Quartz Africa, the Quartz Japan newsletter is mainly a translated version of the Quartz Daily Brief and focused on global news rather than the innovation and tech developing in the region. Quartz Japan has 4,400 members. Bell said they are looking at opportunities for a paid product in India.

The Quartz Africa newsletter is created by a four-person team. Editor Ciku Kimeria is based between Nairobi, Kenya and Dakar, Senegal, two reporters are based in Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi and a climate reporter is working out of Cairo, Egypt. The vertical also relies on a “large group” of freelancers, Bell said.

CNN looks to the Middle East

CNN is in the early stages of developing an English-language newsletter for a global audience around news in the Middle East. The audience development team is currently testing the name, tone, content and prototype. The goal is to debut the newsletter this year, said Alan Segal, vp of audience development and analytics for CNN Digital.

“In the U.S. we have many products… but we had to bolster our international product suite, by building out the portfolio of [newsletter] products,” he said.

The upcoming newsletter is inspired by CNN’s “Meanwhile in China” newsletter. The “Meanwhile In…” franchise has two newsletters; the China one launched in June 2021 based out of Hong Kong and the America one in August 2019. (The one focused on the U.S. is intended for an international audience, by taking the time to describe nuances like “what right and left are in U.S. politics and what a Republican vs Democrat is,” Segal said).

CNN also has a “5 Things” newsletter in Spanish that compiles the five biggest stories of the day, and breaking news briefings in Spanish and in Arabic (the latter launched last year). Rather than translations of U.S. breaking news alerts, the Spanish and Arabic teams publish news natively in those languages and also on different breaking news based on the region and the audience. “Something that might impact the U.S. audience — say, a wildfire — might not be as interesting to an Arabic audience, for example,” Segal said.

CNN did not provide audience data on its newsletters by publishing time. Segal acknowledged that its “strongest” newsletter products are in the U.S., and that there are challenges to capturing an audience abroad. “The speed that you gather that audience isn’t always the same. In the newsletter business, it’s one thing to build it, and another to get people aware of it and acquire for it… They have to go hand in hand, and they don’t always develop at the same time,” he said.

The Post shifts its WorldView

The Washington Post has a different approach. Instead of spinning off international editions of existing newsletters or launching new ones, it uses its flagship English-language global newsletter, “Today’s WorldView,” to focus on a major news moment. Last week, for example, it focused on the war in Ukraine for an international audience. The newsletter goes out at midnight in the U.S. – timed to hit Europe in the morning and Asia in the afternoon, a spokesperson said. They declined to share how many sign-ups in total to Today’s WorldView.

New York Times international readers drive subscription growth

The New York Times has taken an opposite approach to the Post by rolling out a roster of region-specific newsletters. In total, the Times has over 80 newsletters and email briefings, with dedicated daily briefings for Asia-Pacific and Europe combining reporting from its overseas bureaus with curated reading recommendations, Adam Pasick, editorial director of newsletters at The New York Times, said in an email. The Times also has weekly newsletters with news, features, opinion and local recommendations for Australia and Canada, and Spanish-language and Chinese-language newsletters. “On Soccer with Rory Smith” covers the sport for European and international fans, and “The Interpreter” provides news analysis through an international lens, co-written by London-based former human rights lawyer Amanda Taub, Pasick said. The Times did not provide a number for how many region-specific newsletters it has by press time.

Last year, the Times hit 1 million digital news subscriptions from readers outside the U.S., according to Pasick. He attributed achieving this milestone, in part, to readers turning to newsletters like “The Morning Briefing: Europe Edition,” which has over 1 million readers, for example. The Times also launched a Russia-Ukraine War Briefing on Feb. 22, available to read for free for people registered to the Times site.

“We’ve had a consistent strategy to drive greater subscriber growth, and a curious, primarily English-speaking international reader is a critical part of that strategy,” Pasick said.

This article has been updated to reflect that a subscription to Quartz Africa costs $60 per year. A previous version misstated that the subscription costs $60 per month.

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