The email newsletter scene is booming, as a lot of people seem to love the idea of getting curated news right in their inboxes.
Some of the best examples include Heated (on the climate crisis), NextDraft (the “most fascinating news” of the day), TLDR (bite-sized tech news), and Morning Brew (an insightful overview of what’s currently newsworthy). We also highly recommend you subscribe to the Popular Science newsletters, so you can get our best stories delivered directly to you.
As well as reading newsletters, you can start your own. Plenty of platforms can help you get started for free, whether you want to do it just for fun or as a serious source of income.
Should you start your own newsletter?
Getting started with your own email newsletter is so simple and quick that it can be tempting just to dive in and get started.
We’d definitely encourage you to think thoroughly about what you’d like to write about and how you’re going to present it, so your newsletter has a better chance of finding success.
Other newsletters are a great place to start. They can give you inspiration for your own emails, as well as an idea of what your competition is. Give them a good read and ask yourself how can you make your project stand out from the ever-growing crowd
Spend some time considering the topics you want to cover as well. You might have some great ideas, but think about whether the same approach will be sustainable in the long run. Keep in mind the more regular and frequent your newsletters are, the more likely they are to attract a following and keep people coming back.
If you’re looking to make money out of your newsletter, it’s important to manage your expectations, as subscribers are not easy to come by. There’s no shortcut to building up an audience, so be prepared to invest time and effort before you see results.
What you don’t need is any kind of technical knowledge or financial know-how—the platforms we’ve highlighted below handle all of the behind-the-scenes engineering on your behalf. All you need to do is write.
Pick a platform
Substack has attracted some big-name journalists and writers, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a polished, professional platform designed to help you make it into the email newsletter market. You can be up and running in minutes, and there’s guidance for you every step of the way.
The actual newsletter editing takes place in a clean, intuitive web app. You supply the text and images, and Substack makes it look aesthetically appealing. You don’t get much in the way of layout or formatting options, but that’s not really the point of this tool.
Where the platform really excels is in the help and support it provides. You can access detailed analytics tools and even a linked app for creating and publishing your own podcast. If you want to go all-in on the email newsletter idea, Substack might just be the best place to do it.
If your newsletter is free, then Substack is free. But if you start charging, then Substack takes 10 percent of every subscription payment for hosting your newsletter and giving you the tools to build it.
Revue is run by Twitter and perhaps Substack’s most direct competitor. As with the previous platform on this list, getting started couldn’t be much easier, and it’s only a few minutes before you’re writing your first newsletter.
All the editing is done in the browser, with little control over the layout—it includes basic text formatting and image import tools, but that’s about it. We do like the way you can quickly load in links from other services, including Instagram, Pocket, and (of course) Twitter.
Substack has a clear edge in terms of the ecosystem you can build around your newsletter (like podcasting) and the depth of its analytics. But Revue lets you use a custom domain and email address for free, which is something Substack charges for.
You can get started on Revue for free, and you’ll only have to pay (at a rate of 5 percent) when you start making money from subscribers. At the time of writing, this is half the price that Substack charges.
As you might have guessed by the name, TinyLetter sticks to the basics when it comes to building an email newsletter. This can be a pro or a con depending on how much time you want to invest in putting your email together.
The composition screen for TinyLetter looks just like a compose window in an email client like Gmail. (If this is something you like, you should know you can actually run your TinyLetter project from your email client if you prefer.) You get a few more choices than Substack or Revue give you in terms of looks and formatting—like more fonts and alignment options—and it’s all very straightforward to use.
What you don’t get with TinyLetter is much in the way of extras, like analytics or podcasting tools. It’s also only for free newsletters, so you can’t make any money through this platform. This poses a problem, as it forces you to start over elsewhere if you want to take advantage of any traction your newsletter might get in the future.
Part of the reason that TinyLetter is so restricted is that it’s run by email marketing behemoth MailChimp. If you want more features, like the ability to charge subscribers, you can switch directly to that platform, though it includes a bunch of business-focused extras that a lot of people won’t need. MailChimp is free for newsletters with less than 2,000 subscribers.
Like MailChimp, EmailOctopus is more of an enterprise email marketing platform than an email newsletter service, so it’s got a lot of features that will likely only appeal to businesses. However, as these bigger platforms go, it’s also one of the more accessible ones for individuals.
You can get started for free, and while the web interface isn’t quite as simple to get around as other services on this list, you get more options to customize the look of your newsletter, including a host of templates you can tweak to suit your audience.
Being an email marketing platform, EmailOctopus gives you a lot of extra tools to play around with. These include the ability to manage contacts in groups and the option of getting detailed analytics on your newsletters, including data on the time of day people open them, for example.
EmailOctopus is free to use up to 2,500 email subscribers, though you will get the service’s branding on the newsletters that you send out. To get rid of these restrictions, you need a Pro plan starting at $24 a month