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Dec. 2, 2016, 9 a.m.
Business Models

Could email newsletters be a partial solution to magazine companies’ problems? (Toronto Life thinks so)

Following the success of Twelve Thirty Six, Toronto Life is looking more closely at email newsletters as standalone products.

When Marc Weisblott launched Twelve Thirty Six, “Toronto’s lunchtime tabloid,” about a year and a half ago, it was really an experiment — a “fairly eccentric, self-indulgent idea of mine,” Weisblott told me. But the experiment has paid off: Twelve Thirty Six (which goes out at that time) now has around 7,000 subscribers and 35,000 opens a week (with the open rate consistently between 55 and 60 percent since launch). And St. Joseph Communications, which owns Twelve Thirty Six as well as properties like Toronto Life magazine and Torontoist, is starting to see email newsletters as a more formal business opportunity.

One might think of email newsletters as a more successful, much cheaper alternative to tablet apps, Weisblott suggested, pointing to the high-profile, expensive standalone tablet apps that a number of Canadian newspapers have tried — including, most recently, The Toronto Star with its Star Touch. (Indeed, over the summer, David Topping, digital strategy and product manager for Toronto Life, Twelve Thirty Six, and Torontoist, published a Medium post making this argument. “When you have what you think is a good idea for something, there’s no shame in starting meagerly and a little messily, which we did when we launched Twelve Thirty Six,” he wrote.)

Toronto Life had long had a collection of email newsletters that it sent out through the week. “Our attitude at Toronto Life, and I think a lot of other publications like ours, was that our email newsletters served our website, and so they were pretty much always a collection of links to articles that people could read elsewhere, on our site,” said Topping. “That made some sense when we had a certain number of display ad impressions we needed to serve advertisers.” Now, though, the company has begun to embrace the idea that an email newsletter can be a product unto itself (not least because some advertisers have started paying $300 a day to have their ads featured in Twelve Thirty Six; St. Joseph Media includes newsletters in its list of advertising products.)

Toronto Life has launched two new editorial newsletters: The Hunt, which focuses on real estate and includes both links to real estate stories on the site and original content, and Best Bets, a list of things to do in the city. Best Bets is a good example of not letting content go to waste, Topping said: “We produce, for our print magazine, monthly event listings, which we then repackage into the weekly listings that we publish once a week on, which we then strategically promote on social media both when we first publish it and then again to catch people closer to the weekend, when more events we’re writing about typically happen, and as that’s happening we repackage them one more time into in the Best Bets newsletter and hit ‘send.'”

The framework is in place, Weisblott said, for the company to be able to “take the Twelve Thirty Six approach and apply it to somebody else — theoretically, we’re developing a structure that would allow us to take on other writers and reporters and personalities that don’t have another outlet, and reach their own audience through email newsletters as the main product. The newsletters promote each other and create this newsletter sphere. Maybe this is the app that breaks through all the social media clutter.”

Photo of mailboxes by Dave Wilson used under a Creative Commons license.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Dec. 2, 2016, 9 a.m.
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