Email newsletter publisher BetterGolf started out in January 1999, they had 1,244 opt-in subscribers and as CFO Jason Campbell puts it, "We didn't start the company with millions in our pocket so we had to be pretty resourceful." BetterGolf.net knew they needed tens of thousands of loyal opt-in subscribers to get advertisers with major budgets interested in working with them.
The Company decided against spending millions to drive traffic to an expensive Web site. Campbell explains, "Our site is really secondary to newsletters."
Instead, working with partners such as LifeMinders, L90 and Netscape's USANet they placed subscription offers on general Web sites and services their target audience was already visiting. Campbell explains, "We self-select in our offer. If you're not a golfer you won't want a golf tip of the day."BetterGolf.net paid sites a negotiated amount per new opt-in subscriber. The rate varied from 50 cents to $2 per name depending on name quality and how much demographic information the site could also provide per name.
Campbell notes, "You have to be careful putting limits on names people can give you. If you leave it open-ended a lot of people will dump huge amounts of names on you fast, which is bad if you can't afford it."
Campbell also advises, "There are major differences in the quality of subscribers. We've done business with some people who've given us completely worthless subscriptions where people contact you and say, 'How did I get on this list?' -- and it's not just small players, you have to be careful of big players too! That's why we do a lot of testing. We don't sign big contracts with anyone until we've tested the retention rate of the program. It doens't do me any good if someone opts-in for a week and then decides to unsubscribe. When you are testing, look to keep about 60% by the end of month three. If you can do that, you've got a pretty solid list. Then obviously you have to work out the pricing equation -- it's pretty scientific as far as numbers."
Since email newsletter advertising is still so new, BetterGolf decided to collect as much demographic information as possible on their subscribers in order to strengthen the sales pitch. The newsletter began to run a series of contests for golfing equipment and holidays. Subscribers had to answer demographic questions to be entered to win.
BetterGolf now has more than 750,000 opt-in subscribers. Campbell notes the best quality names came from Netscape's USANet. BetterGolf's newsletters enjoy an average 50-60% open-rate which is about double the industry average for consumer newsletters. Campbell says, "We've got a really loyal subscription base." This gives the Company a substantial edge against potential competitors.
BetterGolf's contests to acquire demographic information were huge hits. Campbell says, "We'll give away three free golf balls to the first 200 people that sign up and everyone rushes!" Over time the Company has used these tactics to gather information on 50-60% of its opt-in readership. As an added bonus, contest entrants will also opt to refer the newsletter to friends. Campbell says, "If 10,000 people sign up, we'll have another 15,000 referrals, 30-40% of whom come back and become members."
The Company is now so successful that it's seriously considering replicating the business model in other consumer verticals such as skiing. Campbell says, "We're really creating a publishing conglomerate here. The publishing business has done it forever -- owned several types of niche magazines."
NOTES: Campbell added that he's open to other publishers (including those from the print world) contacting him for consulting help on newsletter publishing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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