William Knight is a founder of not just one newsletter business but two: Industry Slice, which publishes ad-supported newsletters across dozens of verticals, and Early Morning Media, which offers subscription newsletters for business intelligence.
Together, Industry Slice and Early Morning Media reach nearly 250,000 daily readers. Both are based in the UK. Knight has been operating these businesses since 2011, bringing a decade’s worth of experience to today’s newsletter boom. Here, he shares his insights for launching and running newsletter businesses. His answers have been lightly edited and condensed.
Why separate the ad supported newsletter business from the subscription business?
"We’ve got different models to monetize our newsletters because it’s a process of evolution to create each one.
When we started Early Morning Media, we didn't have any money to burn through. We couldn’t launch a newsletter and wait six months to monetize. We needed to monetize right away. So we started with bespoke work for companies: We offered to write executive summaries of a company’s news coverage, its public perception, and a bit of context about the wider industry. We found companies would pay good money for this. My partners and I thought there was a wider market for executive summaries—the forerunner to B2B curated newsletters, with news in a concise, readable form—and we thought we could take it to the masses.
The two things we needed to scale were excellent writing ability and really good content aggregation—a level above scanning Google feeds. We aggregated hundreds of thousands of sources from all around the world. It’s quite important to have that competitive edge, because with a lot of curated newsletters you see the same stories again and again because they’re coming from the biggest publications. But often, stories develop outside of the main publications. You want to be ahead of the news.
So we started doing bespoke work to get some money in, and then launched our subscription newsletters in the accounting sector, the legal sector, the property sector, and one in the education sector for teachers. That one took off. At the time, head teachers in the UK (the equivalent to principals or superintendents in the U.S.) were gaining more power. Previously, the only information they had access to was the free trade press or national publications. So we gave them access to a wide range of information. When that product launched, our price point was £250. We offered a three week free trial, and at the end of the trial, we picked up about £100,000 pounds in subscriptions.
At the same time, we never wanted to be a solely subscription business. I’ve always believed in the opportunity for newsletters to attract sponsorship in the B2B space. So we started rolling out free newsletters, and that’s when we launched Industry Slice. We wanted the ad business to be separate from the subscription business, and the white label work we were doing from other companies, since they are such different models. That’s how we got to where we are today."
What have you learned about developing different business models for newsletters?
"People don’t maximize their content enough. They just put it into newsletters. But are there other revenue streams you could consider? Could you white label a product, etc?
Our teams of editors are very well versed in the content they write about. Take our newsletter about the HR industry for example. The key to it is really spotting the news specific to that industry. There might be an article in the Financial Times that mentions HR, but our editors will be able to take that quick mention and turn it into a full story for those professionals. Those are the sort of stories your readers will typically miss, so you’re adding value by doing the work for them.
The first place you’re going to put that article is in your HR newsletter. But what else? We know people are looking for content for their Twitter feeds. We set up a function that offers a short summary of any article from the newsletter and an easy button to tweet it.
Another thing we do is we index everything we write into databases. Those databases then become off-the-shelf products. If you’ve been running a newsletter for four or five years, think about how you can tag and sort your archive to make it valuable.
For budding newsletter creators, you should really look at what you’re writing about and think: Who else can I give this to? Who can I sell this to? It’s important for earning revenue right away, but it's also helpful to learn more about the world you’re operating in."
What's the biggest mistake you see newsletter writers make today?
"One thing is poor grammar. Before you send anything, print it out and read it. Also, I see people run advertisements which have nothing to do with the content of the newsletter. I think that’s a big turnoff.
Last, I think it’s important to think about how you can make it easier for your reader to engage with your writing. From the reader’s perspective, it’s helpful to break things down with headlines, subheadings, and subject areas."