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Beyond Journal Paywalls & Tweets: Launch A Newsletter (Part 1)

April 4, 2024

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Empower Your Research: Why Scholars Should Launch a Newsletter (Part 1)

This is part 1 in a series on how to launch a newsletter. You can read Part 2 – Launch a Newsletter: Building Your Audience & Content Strategy – here

Why Launch a Newsletter? 

The traditional academic publishing landscape, with its lengthy peer-review processes and its paywalls, can feel isolating for scholars who want to share their research and findings with a wider audience. And social media platforms, once promising spaces for open exchange, are becoming (have become?) a cesspool, increasingly fractured and incapable of nuanced discussion (though, was this ever the case?).

In terms of sharing your research to a wider audience, building a community, and making research more accessible – newsletters are an under appreciated outlet. 

While there may be some grumbling about this approach due to the front-end labor, newsletters offer a powerful alternative to social media or blogging. It is with newsletters where you can cultivate a dedicated community of readers genuinely interested in your area of expertise. This direct connection allows you to:

  • Engage directly with your audience: Newsletters foster a two-way dialogue, enabling you to answer questions, receive feedback, and spark discussions around your research.
  • Promote open access: You can share your research findings and related research directly with a wider audience, democratizing knowledge dissemination and access.
  • Establish thought leadership: Curate and discuss other relevant research, news, or commentary, positioning yourself as an authority within your topic and field. 
  • Build a community: Newsletters help you build a dedicated following of interested readers and potential collaborators. Unlike a blog, you can collect email addresses, which can help you create a relationship with your readers.
  • Sharpen your research focus: The act of regularly writing a newsletter can push you to continually refine your thinking, explore new avenues of research, and stay at the forefront of your field.

Whether you are an individual scholar, a research lab, a unit within your college, launching a newsletter empowers you to take control of your research dissemination, build a vibrant community around your research and propelling you towards becoming a thought leader in your field.


Related Post: How to Launch a Blog for Scholars, Academics, and Scholarpreneurs


Examples of Newsletters

I love a newsletter. I even pay for a few! I enjoy getting information I am interested in delivered directly to my email inbox. I love a newsletter that introduces information and is full of links giving me the option of further investigating, or not. Here are a few newsletters written by scholars:

Glory Days by Steve Dittmore, PhD

Palestine Nexus by Zackary Foster, PhD

The Audacious Roundup by Roxane Gay, PhD

Cal Newport, PhD

Granted by Adam Grant, PhD

Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson, PhD

The Elephant in the Room – LinkedIn, Substack, Medium, and the Likes 

While established turnkey platforms like LinkedIn, Substack, Beehiiv, and Medium offer a seemingly easy option to launch a newsletter, they may not be the best choice for academics seeking to build a lasting and impactful presence. There are many ‘from the ground up’ free newsletter hosting options like MailChimp and Mailerlite.

Here are some advantages of opting for the turnkey platforms to launch a newsletter:

Built-in Audiences

The major advantage of turnkey platforms is the built-in audiences. These platforms boast existing user bases, which may lead to faster audience growth. Lots of cross-newsletter promotions and an audience that is eager to read interesting work is easily accessible. 

Monetization 

Another major advantage is some of them offer seamless monetization (though they may take a piece of the cut) options. I’ve seen this function in Substack, where you may receive 1-2 full newsletters a month, then the writer will parse out a bulk of their higher quality content for paid subscribers. But, buyer beware…monetization may add an additional layer responsibility and dedication that you may not be interested in embracing. Do you want to do this for fun or do you want to do this for work?

Community 

Newsletters are a great way to build a community. And many of the newsletter platforms offer unique chat and discussion board functions (another way to add value and monetize your newsletter through exclusive community development). 

Here are some of the disadvantages and limitations of the turnkey platforms to launch a newsletter:

Limited Customization

Branding and design flexibility are often restricted or may cost you a bit. This can make it challenging to create a personal and visually distinct newsletter. On the other hand, this could also be helpful for those of us who are creatively challenged who can lean into ‘less is more’ mindset. 

Algorithm Dependence

Content reach is heavily influenced by platform algorithms, which prioritize user engagement over basically anything else. You gotta play the game, unfortunately. And the game can end up leaving you feeling worse off. Plus you have to take some time to learn about how to play the algorithm game. 

Data Ownership Concerns

You may not have complete ownership or control over your subscriber list and content on these platforms. This may limit your ability to directly connect with your audience. It also can hinder long-term audience development strategies if you decide to switch platforms down the road.

Overarching Business Model

Recently, Substack saw a mass exodus of writers from the platform after The Atlantic uncovered some less than savory content coming from its platform. As a writer on Substack and other platforms, you have little to no say on who else is on the platform, whether you agree with their content or not. The line between sensorship and free speech is fraught, and I am in no position to make a case one way or the other. You do you. But opting to build your own newsletter separate from these platforms takes the guessing game out of who and what you might be associated with.

Conclusion

In essence, while the turnkey platforms offer a convenient starting point, they ultimately act as a rented space, not a home for your content and research.

From a consumer perspective, I love Substack for its ease in commenting and engaging with the writer and other followers. I thoroughly enjoy being an insider and chatting with random strangers over this one thing. I am less inclined to LinkedIn newsletters. They feel more corporate and less community-driven. I also think they need to get a bit more flexible with the templates and a lot less aggressive with the notifications.  

At the end of the day, you must think about your goal as your guiding post on deciding what platform you go with to launch a newsletter. Many researchers like Heather Cox Richardson have seen wide success using Substack. And LinkedIn newsletters can make a lot of sense if that is where your audience is.

Here is a smart article featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education that asks should you start a newsletter? The question is for you alone to answer, but I hope this post and the Chronicle article provides you with the information you need to make an informed decision.


If you are interested in launching a newsletter, schedule a free strategy session with me, and I’ll be happy to talk out some ideas with you.

 

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Alicia Cintron, PhD

Research Public Communications Trainer & Coach + traveling Scholarpreneur

Welcome! Here you’ll find insight, musings, and thoughts about research, public engagement, communication, travel, and higher education. Have an idea for a topic for us to cover? Shoot us a note
 

Alicia Cintron, PhD

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