For most, the term “newsletter” likely does not go hand-in-hand with the world of high-tech communication. It’s a periodical for elementary schools and religious organizations, making clear details for PTA meetings and community bake sales, either haphazardly pasted into an email or meticulously crafted on some version of Microsoft Publisher with built-in clip-art and color schemes.
So, how is it, then, that the utilitarian and decidedly un-trendy newsletter became the medium of choice for some of the most popular and talked-about online publications for Millennials, and, as a concept in general, gained a surprising amount of steam as of late?
There are two major factors that make the concept of an email newsletter compelling against the frenzied backdrop of online media in 2015 – the milieu of bloggers and micro-bloggers and Reddit threads and comments-section fights and everything else that one must digest to be culturally literate during the Internet age.
The first element is delivery
Not on-demand, but rather curated. This obsession with having something that seems to be crafted just for you is also reflected in some of the rising stars in subscription E-Commerce – think Birch Box and Trunk Club, and other shopping experiences that remove instant gratification from the equation and replace it with a sense of deliberateness and privacy.
This is perhaps embodied best by The Skimm, the exploding daily publication that delivers news and current events to a subscriber’s inbox in a bite-sized and easy to read format. It’s news that is made for you, delivered to you, and still feels personal even though it is delivered en masse.
Reading something in your inbox as opposed to visiting a heavily trafficked website may not rationally make much of a difference, but it mimics the feeling of enjoying something in your own home versus in a crowded space, and in a society where we live so much of our lives on the internet, that has value.
The second element is the fact it defies the interactivity of the Internet – and yes, that can be desirable
A newsletter, just like those relics of magazines and newspapers, is a one-way form of communication, meant to be created by creators, and consumed by consumers. It does not have a comments section or a “Tweet” button. Newsletters can be read in solace, seemingly far away from the pressure of constant sharing and interaction.
Given this one-way format, it also means that newsletters can be incendiary and subversive without having a built-in space for fighting or trolling. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s recently launched Lenny Letter, a much-talked about weekly feminist anthology with the slogan “There is no such thing as too much information.” It’s a perfect example of why this format is still necessary. The project was borne from Dunham’s experiences on her book tour, seeing that Millennial women were hungry for feminist content in a safe space, which the Internet has been notoriously unable to provide.
Direct-to-consumer media forces readers of such sometimes controversial content to form communities deliberately and through an actual understanding of what they are reading. There is no space for a knee-jerk hideous insult from an anonymous username.
The newsletter phenomenon is growing rapidly in the media space, forcing the blogging boom to share the stage with what many would consider a “throw-back” medium. If the success of publications such as Lenny Letter and The Skimm, as well as the growing number of newsletters that web content giants like BuzzFeed are churning out, is any indication, this format is here to stay. But don’t worry, Internet die-hards – this ain’t your mother’s Church Group Weekly.