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Aug. 18, 2016, 12:06 p.m.
Aggregation & Discovery

“It’s a little bit of a crazy concept”: Three women’s newsletters on the decline of the glossy magazine

How the perceived lack of authenticity in women’s magazines is leading readers (and writers) to personal newsletters.

With the folding of More and Lucky magazines, layoffs across properties, and more brands focusing their marketing efforts on mobile and digital, it’s not a golden age for women’s magazines in print.

One place at least some of the audience’s attention is moving: email newsletters, that most ’90s/’00s of distribution formats. Alongside fellow throwback podcasting, email newsletters are making a resurgence in popularity, despite the constant flow of content from social media outlets. With 55 percent of email opens happening on phones, it’s an increasingly powerful way to reach readers directly on mobile.

Curious about this strangely digital-forward retrospect countering the women’s magazine, I spoke with people behind three women’s newsletters about how they think the format is changing how women are consuming content: Clover, a lifestyle newsletter aimed at teen girls; READ LOOK THINK, a collective of thought-provoking links; and UNDRRATED, a curation of places and things to visit and use by a different creative every week. (Two of the three were founded by current or former magazine editors.)

These newsletters are standalone, not part of a publishing conglomerate, and pushing original content straight to readers’ inboxes, not primarily to a website. They’re also all building out, in different ways; after five months of publishing, Clover launched an app where readers are able to read past letters, sort content by category, and share articles as well. READ. LOOK. THINK. began as a column, later becoming a newsletter. (UNDRRATED’s Marina Khidekel also told me she has an archive website in the works.) These newsletters seek the authenticity and personal connection that some find lacking in their print competition. Here’s what they had to say, lightly edited for clarity.


Casey Lewis, writer and cofounder:

Liza [cofounder Liza Darwin] and I have always been on the digital side of magazines since we were interns. I worked at Teen Vogue on and off. Liza was at Nylon on and off. We saw digital media, and media in general, transform over the years. In December, we were hanging and talking about the sorry state of online media and traffic and how those things were affecting the overall quality of online media — and how it was terrible for everyone but especially for teenage girls. Because it’s easy for us to see a terrible headline and realize why they published that. Like: “This clearly needs clicks.” When you’re a 15-year-old girl, it’s a little bit different. We were like: There’s gotta be a better way to do this. There’s gotta be a better product or company out there, and there wasn’t. So we started one.

We were both obsessed with teen magazines when we were younger, and when we were teenagers, there were 10 or 15 on the newsstands. You could read Elle Girl, Cosmogirl, YM…there were a million of them. They’ve all sort of fallen away. Even the ones that are still out there are much different than they were back in the day.

We really do take inspiration from those early 2000s magazines, which obviously can’t exist the way that they did back then now. No one’s going to subscribe to a print magazine anymore. That’s just not a viable way to make money, really. That is our hope, that email newsletters will fill that void because, when you think about it, as adults we have all subscribed to an experience of email newsletters, even when we were younger, but teens really haven’t. The only emails they’re getting are from their teachers or from online retailers. They haven’t really experienced the email newsletter as a publication until us.

Adults are interested in paying for extended versions [of email newsletters]. Liza and I both subscribe to Ann Friedman’s. It’s one of those more personal email newsletters. She does, if you pay, an extended version. I feel like people in their 20s and 30s and 40s are like: This is worth it, this is supporting something great. But teens, it’s a little bit different. They’re used to not paying for content. They can get other content elsewhere. There’s no shortage of content. It would be an interesting experiment, but it’s definitely not something we’re really planning to try.

Liza Darwin, writer and cofounder:

When we first decided to do an email newsletter, we knew the first question: Teens don’t use email, they only text and Snapchat. We took ahead of that and figured out the answer to this question so we know we’re on the right track.

Before we even quit our jobs, we talked to every single teen we that we knew in our lives. We [direct messaged] several hundreds on Instagram, saying that we were two former magazine editors from Nylon and Teen Vogue and we were starting this project, it’s an email newsletter. Email us for more details. 80 percent of the time, they would get back to us via email. They were basically our initial sounding board about what they wanted to see, whether or not teens use email, which we confirmed they do. Those people also helped us spread the word before we even launched.

There is something so special about going to your inbox as a teenage girl and seeing a new copy of your favorite newsletter. I think there’s a way to have a similar experience with Clover and other email newsletters, where you open your inbox and it’s actually an email you want to get. It’s not a brand pushing something on you — it’s something interesting. That’s been really great for us.


Jessica Stanley, writer and founder:

When I moved to London and went freelance as a copywriter and content strategist, I thought it was important, brand-wise, to have my own website. But what would I put on it? I didn’t want to write crappy blog posts like “10 ways to create compelling copy.” Instead, I decided to curate work that other people, mainly women, had created that was clever, perfect and inspiring. I started the READ.LOOK.THINK. column on my blog nearly five years ago.

When Google killed its RSS reader, I realized that many people, even though they cared deeply and loved the column, would inevitably lose track of it. So I started a newsletter with MailChimp in 2012 and offered a subscription option.

Sometime last year, I reached a thousand subscribers; now it’s a bit more. I am so lucky to attract a very kind and thoughtful type of reader. If they contact me at all, it is to thank me for brightening their day with something to read, or to suggest something they think I would like. It is one person’s taste, consistently applied across many creative fields for a long time. It is not going to appeal to everyone but the people to whom it does appeal, it really appeals.

I love glossy mags a lot. Every time I read one for free in a cafe, I take a photo of about 10 things. But if I had to choose to consume newsletters or mags, I would probably choose newsletters. It’s just the personal vision that I like rather than a corporate one.


Marina Khidekel, writer and cofounder:

I’ve worked as a magazine editor for over 15 years, and I’ve been in New York for that long, and I’ve always noticed that my favorite things and places are not the things on the top 10 lists, which are the newest and the trendiest. I wanted a place where you could just as easily stumble upon an amazing clothing line, or an adorable hotel, or a beauty product that changes your life, or a cool cocktail bar where you can actually hear your date. I wanted all of those to come from notable, creative people whose opinions I trusted. I couldn’t really find a place that aggregated all of that, so I decided to try to make my own. It’s like a tool for surprise and delight, which are buzzwords right now. It really is what people are looking for from the content that they get, and authenticity too.

There is such a resurgence of newsletters lately and I love that. I love that there is a different outlet for people to get content that they’re passionate about and that they think speaks to them, delivered right to them.

[Newsletters are] so different. It’s a little bit of a crazy concept that they could replace glossy mags. It’s a completely different form of content and the way that people interact with it is so different. Having worked in magazines for so long and having been at Cosmo for several years, our readers always tell us that the way that they interact with the magazine is so different than the way that they interact with anything online. They always talk about taking the time for themselves, having “me time,” shutting the world out and enjoying it. I think newsletters are like the bite-sized version of that, but it’s obviously not on the same scale. A lot of newsletters are not on the same scale and aren’t trying to be. I think that’s great, but there are different ways to enjoy different kinds of content.

POSTED     Aug. 18, 2016, 12:06 p.m.
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