“Can I Get Your E-Zine Without Your Ads?”

June 18th, 2006 by Bob Bly

RS, one of my e-newsletter subscribers, recently sent me a note that said: “You don?t give people a way to unsubscribe from just promos, so it’s either get everything or nothing. ”

RS would prefer that I give two options to my e-zine subscribers: (a) e-newsletter only or (b) e-newsletter plus promotional e-mails.

Should I offer this choice? Do YOU do it for your e-list?

If you answered “yes,” let me ask you: if someone wants my free e-newsletter but is not willing to receive my promotional e-mails, what is my incentive to give it to them?

“Nobody but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” said Samuel Johnson.

I write for money — it’s how I support my family.

So if someone doesn’t think my free e-newsletter is worth what I ask in return for giving it away — which is her willingness to receive a few e-mails from me each month, mainly letting her know about my books, tapes, and other information products — why should I want her to continue to subscribe?

Or, as actors are fond of asking the director — “What’s my motivation?”

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 18th, 2006 at 10:27 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

83 responses about ““Can I Get Your E-Zine Without Your Ads?””

  1. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:


    The only motivation would be if you think the reader could be a potential client or source of referrals.

    On the other hand, you are walking a tightrope. It depends on people’s perceptions (and we’re in a business that favors perceptions over reality). If people perceive your newsletter as hustling them to buy products or sign up for seminars, you might turn them off.

    You have achieved a nice balance of information and selling. (And after all, your information is about selling!) So nobody should complain. But my concern is more about the ones who won’t complain… but will just stop reading. Those are the ones you have to watch out for.


  2. Peter Davis said:

    Guess I’m missing something, are your “promos” sent separately? All of the newsletters I read seem to have the ads within the newsletter email. Is he asking for you to remove the ads from the newsletter just for him? Could be an opportunity there, just tack on a subscription fee for people who want an ad-free newsletter. Calculate how much ad revenue you lose for each person getting the ad-free version, quadruple it and round it up to the nearest $10. Charge that much for an ad-free version.

  3. Chui said:

    How about finding out what their objections to having promos? Perhaps they don’t have money, or are just learning, or couldn’t be bothered to hit the delete button? Perhaps the reader is a hopeless seminar-addict, and the sight of any promos make him pull his wallet out every time?

    I would have thought promos are win-win service. After all you are referring businesses that you endorse.

  4. AN (user) said:

    If a subscriber is against promo-letters, does he actually read them? I’m not sure. If so, can promo-letters make this particular reader buy?

    Again, what’s the motivation? Well, such subscribers may tell your future clients about you, write testimonials or become your clients even without promo-letters.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    PD: I suppose I could do two versions — free with promos or paid without promos — but it’s an administrative headache, and I really don’t want to be in the paid subscription newsletter business.

  6. SpongeBob Fan said:

    Poor RS – their computer obviously does not have a delete button.

    Or maybe RS does not have the use of their arms!

    Geez, to have to go through life, being unable to take what one needs & ignoring the rest … that’s tough!

    Little wonder under-computered, arm-impaired free-will-challenged RS is cranky!

  7. John Withers said:

    To answer your basic question, I personally wouldn’t offer the choice without a LOT of testing – and even then I’d have to decide whether the results would be worth the costs (not just the financial costs).

    As an aside, I personally find your promotions just as valuable as the information in your newsletter. When I read one of your promotional emails, I think, “Here is a master copywriter sending me a current example of his craft. What can I learn by studying this email?” And that’s even before I check out the offer!

  8. AN (user) said:

    Just a few words about “Delete” button from the usability consultant: users dislike to do more than they really need.

    Users have the “Delete” button and they use their arms but they use them only if interested enough. Deleting promo-letters is neither interesting nor necessary — so that’s why RS dislike it.

    On the decision making: how much readers really dislike or hate your promo-letters? I suppose there are only few. If most of your readers are neutral or positive to your promo-letters, better keep them.

    If your promos are separate letters — mark their “subject” lines so readers will be able to filter them automatically.

  9. Bob Bly said:

    JW: I feel the same way about e-promos I get as you do, but we have to recognize that many people are so busy, they just don’t want more stuff in their inbox. However, people who just want free content and give you nothing in return are marginal in value, and is it worth your time to serve them — or is there an easier, cheaper way to serve them?

    AN: While your suggestion is logical, I guarantee you that putting “this is a sales message” in the subject line, although it may please your subscribers, will reduce your click through and conversion rates to nearly zero.

  10. Chui said:

    Bob… Being a one-guy operation makes it difficult for you to put segment your market and putting them through a sales funnel.

    What if in the mailing just before the promo, you let them know there is a promo mailing coming up. If they aren’t ready to buy anything, they should keep it in their swipe file. Alternately, they should take the opportunity to open their eyes to the potential of promo mailings.

    It would be cool if it was possible for subscribers to ‘temporarily’ take themselves off promo mailings for a couple of months, and the computer automatically putting them back on the promo list afterwards. This allows them to continue your relationship with them. Hey, they might eventually buy something?

  11. Robert Rosenthal said:

    You could always test different opt-in and opt-out permutations and calculate lifetime value and all that, but it would be a bitch to pull off. Personally, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for you to only supply your excellent content to people willing to receive your promotional emails. You give the vast majority of your readers way more than they’ll ever give you, and they need to understand that you’ve gotta leverage your revenue opportunities to justify the time and energy you put into this free stuff. I suspect a lot of the complainers simply don’t know what they don’t know.

    P.S. It would be fascinating to know what those promotional email opt-outs would be worth if they stayed on as readers of your content. This direct marketer’s guess? Not a whole lot.

  12. AN (user) said:

    Rovert Bly: of course, putting “this is a sales message” in the subject line will reduce click through and conversion rates to nearly zero. You’re right.

    Maybe it’s not necessary to put there “this is a sales message”? Just “SL” :-) Those, who know what does this mean, will sort emails if they really want to.

    And how about putting “E-Zine” in the subject line of a newsletter and not putting “E-Zine” in the subject line of a promo-letter?

    I wonder how many readers dislike your promo-letters and how many are neutral or positive to them? Maybe there’s no problem?

  13. Dianna Huff said:


    I always thought you were a B2B direct mail expert . . . so I’m always a little surprised when I get emails from you touting your B2C expertise and pushing products and services on how to write landing pages for consumer items.

    To be frank, I enjoy getting your e-zine. It’s informative and interesting to read. I don’t enjoy getting the emails pushing consumer B2C writing. They aren’t relevant to what I do.

    If I were you, I would segment your list. You have a number of audiences: B2B and B2C corporate marketing types who hire you to write copy; students who have purchased or will purchase your AWAI courses; and people who need or want your writing boot camps and viral marketing courses/books.

    You should read Jakob Nielsen’s excellent exec summary for his new report on E-newsletters: http://www.nngroup.com/reports/newsletters/summary.html.

    His latest newsletter is also very good: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/newsletters.html

    And ExactTarget’s Response Rate study talks about segmenting:

  14. Bob Bly said:

    DH: I started out in B2B. Today, my work is 70% B2B and 30% B2C. I would suggest that the products I sell on B2C landing pages and Internet marketing ARE relevant to your work: B2B marketers can learn a lot from consumer marketers as far as making sales online is concerned. Reason: B2C marketers do much more testing, and only testing shows what works and what does not.

  15. Craig Hysell said:

    Why would anyone want to put in the time, effort and (perhaps) money into case studies on a project they dole out for “free”?
    There is one maxim I feel copywriter’s love to forget; although they cast about the term “FREE” in many a package they produce- whether b2b or b2c- there is nothing in life that is free. Paying a price is mandatory to consumerism, without it the entire structure of capitalism would fall.

    Promising “free” is, and always will be, a loophole tease to product purchase. Expecting “free” is foolishness. Especially for copywriters.

    And, while Mr. Bly continually encourages copywriter’s to become an “expert” in a certain field, expertise consists of not only knowing your product but what will- in general, as well as specifically- further the product’s success. Why not learn how to sell your product to anybody- consumer or business- in order to become as efficient and professional as possible in the areas we have chosen?

  16. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:


    If you segment your lists, please put me on all of them! And forget what I said about worrying about people dropping out. What was I thinking? The more I think about it the more I realize, anybody who doesn’t like your emails–in all flavors–should never have subscribed in the first place!

    And thanks, Dianna, for those links. Great stuff.

  17. SteveZissou said:

    I run digital strategy for a division of a company with multiple email lists. We do have separate lists for our eNewsletter and Promotions ad-hoc emails. We include some promotional placement in our Newsletter (enough to at least cover our mailing costs) and this has worked well for us. We mail to a very high number of users who have opted in to our lists, so we prefer to not waste resources paying to deliver promotional emails to customers who don’t want them.

    To answer your question – “What’s my motivation?”, to me it seems that your motivation should be pleasing your readers. Even if some of them aren’t willing to receive your promotional emails, if they are reading and enjoying the content of your Newsletter, the next time they need a copywriter or want to read up on copywriting in book form who do you think they are going to consider first? If you run them off because they aren’t interested in your promotional emails will the answer to that question be Bob Bly? In your field it seems especially relevant to look at your Newsletter as an advertisement for your abilities and knowledge. It seems that it might make good business sense to allow your readers the flexibility to interact with you in a way they see fit – from the outside looking in (which I know can distort the view sometimes) it seems that you win with both types of customer instead of just one.

  18. Lynn Roberts said:

    Quite honestly, I’m one of your biggest fans and aspiring copywriter. I appreciate your writing; I read everything you write that I can get my hands on. Since you do such a good job writing, I like to know what you recommend and why. This includes your promotions in your e-zine. If I don’t want, I delete. It’s actually quite simple.
    Lynn Roberts, Lawyer-turned-Copywriter!

  19. Cristina said:

    If I submit my name and e-mail address to a newsletter, I EXPECT to get promotional information from the author.

    What really turns me off are promos I receive from the author (one in particular, but I’ll be nice today), not for THEIR product or service, but in “behalf of” someone else (usually one of their affiliates). What’s worse are reminders for products/services I’m not even interested in… UGH! If I get more than 2 e-mails from someone a week (especially if they are BOTH promos), I unsub immediately and make sure that everyone knows of my displeasure…

    If I get your newsletter plus an occassional promo for your OWN stuff, that’s fine; that’s what I signed up for. But don’t take advantage of my tolerance… That’s just how I see it.

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