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Jan. 10, 2018, 9:17 a.m.
Audience & Social

With its new newsletter director, The New Yorker wants to experiment with standalone and international-focused products

“Email is kind of like a living room. It’s a very personal space. You let in your friends, the coworkers you like, and a couple of brands you really trust — like this one.”

For The New Yorker, newsletters have become so vital to its digital strategy that the magazine decided that it needed someone to run them exclusively. Dan Oshinsky, formerly director of newsletters at BuzzFeed, joined the magazine last August with a simple, albeit vital mandate: to centralize its newsletter operation, launch new newsletters, and help the overall email audience grow.

Oshinsky has quickly made his mark on the operation, both by experimenting with new products and by tweaking existing ones. In October, he converted the magazine’s weekly cartoon newsletter into a daily humor product, hoping to capitalize on a mounting appetite among readers for a lighter take on political news. Other emails, such as the Borowitz Report newsletter, have undergone extensive A/B testing to make them more sticky with readers.

At the same time, much of Oshinsky’s work has been behind the scenes. The director of newsletters role sits between give of the core teams at The New Yorker — editorial, product, consumer marketing, audience development, and sales — and part of the role is to ensure that all of departments are on the same page with current products and new launches. (Federica Cherubini, head of knowledge sharing at Condé Nast International, wrote about the rise of these kinds of “bridge roles” for us last month.)

Oshinsky said that an intense focus on newsletters makes sense for The New Yorker, which has long enjoyed significant brand cachet among readers. “This has always been a loyalty type of business. You don’t last that long without building strong relationships with readers. Email is kind of like a living room. It’s a very personal space. You let in your friends, the coworkers you like, and a couple of brands you really trust — like this one,” he said.

Newsletters are already a significant referral source for NewYorker.com, representing around 12 percent of traffic to the site. (Its daily newsletter alone has over 1 million subscribers.) That traffic is in service of the larger goal of turning casual and regular digital readers into paid subscribers. Last year, Condé Nast’s data science team built a model to predict which factors best determine whether a NewYorker.com reader will become a subscriber. Whether someone was a newsletter subscriber was the No. 1 indicator. Thus, The New Yorker can draw a straight line between the quality of its newsletter readership and its bottom line: more newsletters subscribers, in turn, means more paid readers. (The New York Times has noted similar behavior among its own readership.)

Michael Luo, named editor of NewYorker.com since last February, said that this is why he made Oshinsky one of his first big hires after taking the helm of the site, and why The New Yorker was the first Condé Nast property to hire someone in such a role. The previous New Yorker staffer in charge of its newsletters, managing editor Amanda Cormier, was also responsible for a variety of other editorial, administrative, and audience development roles, which made it hard to focus resources on new projects. “I knew that there was so much more that we could do with the newsletters by having someone focused on them,” Luo said.

Newsletters also represent a viable entry into another one of The New Yorker’s strategic priorities for this year: increasing its number of international readers and subscribers. The New Yorker is considering how it can develop new news and culture products designed for readers in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, which are “huge markets for us,” Oshinsky said. “There’s a real opportunity to dig in and build some new products for our readers here.”

Luo said he is also interested in experimenting with ways for the magazine to develop self-contained newsletter products that have their own exclusive content and which that aren’t designed to send readers to NewYorker.com, which has been the central mission of the site’s newsletters so far. It’s a new venture for The New Yorker, and one that it’s still in the early stages of developing. “The most successful newsletters nowadays treat email as its platform. They’re thinking about how people consume information in email. I think that there’s more for us to do on that front,” said Luo.

POSTED     Jan. 10, 2018, 9:17 a.m.
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