The idea of an attention economy has been around for decades, however it can feel like it was developed to describe this very moment. Every day, for most of the day, we are met with app notifications, emails, social media alerts, text and whatsapp messages. As newsletter creators, you are trying to cut through the noise to genuinely connect and communicate, not simply to grab a few seconds of attention as a way to generate revenue. It’s a much harder task. Newsletters can feel like they are a return to the art form of the letter, where someone has taken the time to discuss a topic at length, from their unique perspective. It’s personal and intimate. But times are different, there’s a solid chance a newsletter is overlooked in a quick scroll through email or flagged to be read later, only to be forgotten. It’s not the fault of the letter, it’s that there is too much to take in and not enough time. As consumers, we’re trying to figure out how to silence and unsubscribe and turn off notifications so that we can prioritize the writing and media that brings true value to our lives. It’s a lot of trial and error. Newsletter creators are navigating this with subscription levels, frequency of emails, and exploring other mediums, like audio.
Meet Daniel Lewis
Alongside his co-founder Nick Rubin, Daniel Lewis has introduced a new way to connect with your audience. In 2021, the recent college grads decided to pivot their news app Winno, where they had been curating and summing up the top stories for subscribers since 2019, to an SMS-based creator tool that would let anyone do what they were doing: share short-form updates with dedicated fans. The new iteration of Winno launched in February 2022 and is an easy-to-use platform that facilitates sending media through text to subscribers, a “paid Twitter feed, without the noise,” as Daniel puts it. Subscribers can reply to a text and a creator will have access to that message in the platform and can even respond. It’s a new way to connect, maybe to simply to redirect a reader back to a newsletter issue or perhaps to exclusively communicate. As consumers seek balance in their media intake, newsletter creators can be considering the options available to them to engage with their readers and surveying subscribers about how they might respond to new information delivery options. We chatted with Daniel to learn more about how an SMS-based platform fits into the newsletter ecosystem.
Tell me about Winno.
Winno lets creators launch paid text message communities with their top fans. With texting, creators can do everything they would with a newsletter and more: including live, short form updates, images, videos, podcasts, and long-form blogs that are paywalled for subscribers only. It's completely free to use and takes less than ten minutes to get setup.
Why text messages? How did Winno evolve to become a creator tool?
There are two major ‘open protocols' for communication in today’s internet: email and SMS. Email newsletters have been around for decades and Substack’s rise has given them new luster, but we franky believe that email is a poor medium for communication. Inboxes are overwhelming. You can only send a few long-form pieces a week before you start to annoy subscribers. And it's not a medium that younger generations are keen on using.
SMS has 4x higher open and 8x higher click through rates than email, supports long-form and short-form content, is flexible and conversational, and is a better fit for younger generations with shorter attention spans. And SMS as a means of communication was directly connected to Winno as it was originally conceived as an app - but instead of us being the publishers, we built a tool that let anyone have the same sort of connection with their fans and followers.
Building a Creator Tool
What value do you see this adds to the newsletter space?
I like newsletters - even pay to subscribe to a few - but rarely do I have the time or energy to read them and more often than not they just got lost in my inbox alongside grocery store ads and shoe discounts. For thousands of writers and creators, email is a poor medium to transmit their expertise and insights. Winno opens up the creator space to writers and non-writers alike who want to be able to engage with their biggest supporters more than just a few times a week in the inbox.
Do you see Winno replacing a more traditional newsletter space like substack, or being more of an additional engagement tool?
For the most part, Winno and Substack serve different niches. If you want to exclusively write longform content, there’s little reason to use Winno over Substack. Substack’s tools are well suited for longform writers and we don’t want to compete with that. If you want to do a mix of long-form, short-form, multimedia, and conversational content - Substack, and email writ-large, is never going to be able to provide that type of connection. So there are some spaces where we compete - but largely, Winno will open the creator market to a whole host of writers and non-writer who are inadequately served by current tools.
What kind of data are you collecting?
We collect growth and retention data but are not a data company. The info subscribers’ provide is only used to let creators communicate with them.
How does one get started with Winno?
Anyone can sign up and it takes about five minutes. To sign up and start sending text messages, all you need to do is go through the onboarding flow at the link here, choose your price point, connect your bank account and voila - you’re good to go.
Sending texts is done entirely through a creator’s dashboard and not connected to their personal phone number. We built Winno to make sending a text as simple as sending a Tweet.
What writing techniques are effective for text messages?
We tell our creators to think of Winno as Twitter+, you want a text to be more than a Tweet, but less than a paragraph. Texting allows for off-the-cuff communication, live reactions, and timely recommendations in a way that you can’t do over email. Winno also lets creators share images, links (to podcasts, videos, articles, and more) and long-form blog posts that are sent as links hosted on Winno and paywalled to subscribers.
What’s coming up for Winno?
At the moment, our main focus will be building new tools that help creators grow their subscriber base including referral programs, discount codes, marketing materials, and more.