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April 11, 2018, 9:19 a.m.
Reporting & Production

The Dutch newsletter platform Revue, with around 30,000 users, is opening up subscription features

Revue pitches an easy-to-use authoring interface with many small but useful additional features, all developed together with or as requests from its users.

For people interested in a no-frills way to spin up a new personal newsletter, there are more alternatives to Mailchimp-TinyLetter than ever.

Prominent newcomers like U.S. startup Substack or the Netherlands-based Revue have focused on simplifying writing tools and streamlining software for the entire newsletter management process, from writing to sending to maintaining the subscriber list to handling paid memberships.

Revue, co-founded by Martijn de Kuijper and Mohamed El Maslouhi, pitches an easy-to-use authoring interface (the company suggested Medium or Tumblr as reference points), with many small but useful additional features like video embeds or Facebook content integrations, all developed together with or as requests from its users. It’s a service centered entirely around longer, editorial newsletter writing, so significant work went into template design and email readability. The tiny team handles all technical issues and feature requests itself. There’s also some language flexibility: the profile page for readers who’ve signed up is translated into 10 languages.

For those benefits, Revue charges individual writers based on the total number of emails they send out, starting at a rate of $5 per month (users with fewer than 50 subscribers can send emails for free). As of last year, it began offering a publisher plan, used by which allows for multiple newsletters, multiple team members and roles, and approval workflow (custom pricing, starting at a base of $2,000 a year).

The company is currently three people (de Kuijper, El Maslouhi, and Mark Schiefelbein, who is helping Revue grow its user base) and has around 30,000 users on its platform, about 2,000 of whom are paying to use Revue, according to de Kuijper. Most of these paying users fall into the $5 range, with a couple of hundred subscribers per newsletter. It began as a tech-content-centric service; around 60 or 70 percent of its user base is from the U.S., according to Schiefelbein.

On Thursday, Revue is opening up its subscriptions feature, which it had been testing in private beta with around 50 writers, to anyone using its platform. Interested newsletter authors can set their own rates and mark specific issues of their newsletter as paid or free; non-paying subscribers to a paid newsletter can see the free issues, but paywalled ones will be greyed out for them. The feature connects to Stripe for payments; Revue takes a 6 percent cut of what the newsletter writer makes.

“We take a lot of pride in the fact that we are focused on support for our users, and that we’re really fast to respond. We have an on-site chat people can use, and we’re always available there,” de Kuijper said. “We’re super flexible and can develop new features really fast — the publisher plan, for instance, we’d been developing with a publisher in the U.S. who came to us and asked for an approvals feature and those sorts of things. The whole reason we’re now talking to you about subscriptions — that came from our users.”

Other features from a laundry list de Kuijper and Schiefelbein touted when we spoke ahead of the launch of the company’s paid newsletter option include an quick, visual way for readers to give feedback at the bottom of each email, a clean Twitter embedding function, integrations that let a newsletter writer link to or pull in content quickly from outside the newsletter, and an easy way to port over Mailchimp subscribers if you’re switching newsletter services.

“A year ago the whole idea of a newsletter was pretty novel to me, so there was a lot of trial and error. When we decided to do a newsletter we did very thorough research. We had several platforms to choose from, but Revue seemed to give the best value,” Arjen van der Horst, a reporter at a Dutch public broadcaster who writes a weekly summary of goings-on in Trumpland, wrote to me in an email. Van der Horst began writing it as a personal project and a resource for other Dutch reporters looking to catch up on the firehose of Donald Trump–related news, but his organization adopted the project formally and began paying for it (“Back then our pricing only went up to 10,000 subscribers, and it seemed like almost daily they were emailing me, ‘hey, we need more,'” de Kuijper told me). The Trump Weekly newsletter, still written and sent by van der Horst directly, is up to 33,453 subscribers.

“You don’t need any tutorials; it all speaks for itself,” van der Horst said. “They keep developing the application and keep adding new functions and features to it. For instance, originally I wasn’t happy with the way YouTube links were embedded in the newsletter. They changed it to a much better-looking version. I was missing an certain edit function in the mobile version that only existed in the desktop version. I requested if they could add that function to the mobile version as well. Within a few hours they had done just that.”

Casey Newton, Silicon Valley editor at The Verge, came across Revue via ProductHunt, noting that it emphasized editorial features, not marketing ones. His newsletter, The Interface, is up to 2,884 subscribers.

“The key thing that makes it work for me is very nerdy — it offers a browser extension and an iOS share sheet extension for saving links,” he told me via Twitter DMs. “That means whenever I see an interesting link, whether I’m on my laptop or mobile, I can save it to Revue with two taps. It makes organizing a newsletter that can have 40 or more links in a day manageable.”

“We have a whole long list of other features we want to implement and obviously a lot of other requests, which are mainly around customization, integrations, and analytics: people want to have more data, they want to integrate with, for instance, Google Analytics,” de Kuijper told me. Subscriber management tools in the pipeline include features to help newsletter owners handle subscribers who haven’t opened any emails for several issues.

Revue raised around €300,000 (USD $369,345) toward the end of 2016, and is aiming to break even by this summer, Schiefelbein said. He hopes to see around 50 percent of Revue’s revenues by the end of the year coming from larger publisher accounts. The paid newsletter offering will add a small but new revenue source for the company.

“We see some of the more professional ones set the price point accordingly, but we also have seen people treat it more as, if you enjoy my writing, please support me for $3 or $4 a month. It’s the equivalent of a latteccino or something — that seems to be the analogy to persuade people to pay for creative work,” Schiefelbein said. “At the end of the day it’s just what enables these writers to keep writing and be funded fully by their readers rather than by sponsor or advertiser.”

What about custom support from Revue for advertising?

“Right now we don’t have any specific features that allow our users to add sponsored content, although they’re free to run sponsored content if they want,” de Kuijper said. “The first thing we’ll do is paid subscriptions — we believe in the paying members model more than sponsorship model. But I’m not trying to say we don’t ever, ever want to do it, if it fits within our goal to help our users monetize their work.”

POSTED     April 11, 2018, 9:19 a.m.
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