Home Science CommunicationOutreach & engagement Mixture (the newsletter) got an overhaul

Mixture (the newsletter) got an overhaul

by Eva Amsen

microscope image by freepik

Even though I don’t regularly update this blog anymore, I have still been sending out newsletters every month. That’s what this update is about: the newsletter. You see, I changed a few things, and it got pretty complicated to explain why I did that and how things would change for people, so I thought I’d write it all down here rather than take up unnecessary space in the newsletter.

The merger

A few months ago I merged my monthly newsletter with the quarterly “musicians and scientists” newsletter, so that effectively the monthly newsletter turned into the music/science one four times per year. I was able to do that because Mailchimp made it possible to segment the audience into “people who want a newsletter every month” and “people who only want the musicians and scientists newsletter”. That way, I could send everyone what they signed up for, without having to double up and send two newsletters every three months. With this move I was able to cut back from writing 16 newsletters per year to only 12, and that was a bit more manageable. However, the newsletter still managed to be extremely time-consuming and stressful.

The problems

Problem 1 – schedule

By specifically stating that I was running a monthly newsletter, I forced myself into sending something out monthly. In practice, this usually means a rushed scramble at the end of every month, where I gather links to the things I made and other things that I think you will like, and I slap them in a newsletter and send it out. I wanted to not be forced to say that the newsletter has to come out every month. I should be able to skip a month, or even send two in the same month if there is a lot to say.

Problem 2 – layout

I spent a long time setting up the template newsletter in Mailchimp. On the one hand it’s useful, because I can use the same layout every month (even though I still end up spending a lot of time gathering images to fit in all the places where I once decided images need to be). On the other hand, it’s really limiting, because I had to use the same layout every month. I had to add a book recommendation every single month because it was there and I felt that I had to, but here’s the truth: I don’t always have a new book to share. On many occasions I went through my bookshelves on the last day of the month to desperately find something to add, because I tricked myself into thinking I had to.

Problem 3 – still the layout, but also the history

The monthly newsletter started as a way for people to get updates from this blog, and as a way for me to encourage people to read the newest blog posts after people stopped using RSS feed readers. Then I stopped blogging, and I converted the newsletter to instead feature other things I wrote. But wow, why would anyone subscribe to that, right? I write all kinds of things, for different audiences, and you’re not likely to enjoy all of it. You had to scroll past this Eva-fest to get to the more interesting parts of the newsletters — and I can tell from the newsletter stats that you did. The most popular content in the newsletter wasn’t the things I wrote, but the fun things I found online – the “interesting links” at the bottom of the email.

A solution

I still like sending the newsletter, but I wanted it to be more fun and less rigid, with less focus on me and more on things that you actually care about. I want it to be a newsletter that people look forward to receiving and reading. So I’ve rethought how I’m sending out Mixture:

  • Still sort-of-monthly, but not on a fixed schedule. Maybe I’ll skip a month, maybe you get two in a month sometimes, but I’ll only send newsletters when I have enough great content to send you, not because I have to.
  • Not using a template that forces me to add the same type of content every month. You’ll still get book recommendations, and occasional “music by musisci” videos, but also other things, and maybe less of me. And I’ll put the things I think you’ll like at the top, instead of where the template says they should go.
  • Moving the whole newsletter from Mailchimp to Substack. Basically, Mailchimp is great for business newsletters (or even for blog newsletters, which is how this one started) but Substack is geared towards writers. It made a lot more sense. It gives me the chance to create that more fluid layout I’m planning, and to reach a new audience.

The new format Mixture is now on Substack. If you received the old one, I’ve moved you over.

A new problem – no more quarterly special editions

Substack solved all of my problems, but it created a new one in the process. With Substack, it’s not possible to split the audience into “people who want the monthly-ish” newsletter and “people who only want the music and science newsletter four times per year”. There were only just over fifty people who had signed up for the quarterly emails but weren’t receiving the monthly ones. I had a look at that list, and a lot of them were people I knew. I made the decision to move all these people over, so that they now also get the monthly-ish Mixture as well as the quarterly one. As a compromise for the extra email, there will now be more music-themed content in the monthly newsletter.

The only additional audience segment I can create in Substack is a paid audience, but at the moment I don’t have anything to offer that I could reasonably ask money for. Maybe in the future!

What about GDPR?

Everyone who was subscribed to the newsletter had ticked a box to agree to receiving my emails, but not explicitly said that they only wanted to use Mailchimp, so I was able to move everyone over to Substack without breaking any GDPR rules. I will remove everyone’s email address from Mailchimp before the end of this calendar year. As usual, you can unsubscribe from the newsletter at any point.

So that’s the long update about the new newsletter. If you just randomly came across this, check out Mixture. It’s a LOT more fun than this admin post suggests.

Image by freepik

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