Thursday, June 19, 2008

Which is the best e-mail newsletter software?

I've been discussing software for distributing regular e-mails and e-mail newsletters recently with various people. We've all been trying to work out which is the best e-mail newsletter software. So, naturally I thought I'd find out even more if I opened up the debate to readers of this blog!

For Dermott
9" x 9", pencil
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is not an invitation for all the vendors to drop by and start selling their wares!

But I am genuinely interested to know the experiences of people who have investigated software for e-mail newsletters.

A basic checklist

This is what I've identified as a preliminary set of questions which should be asked when considering acquiring such software
  • Is it free - or does it cost you a monthly fee? Does the fee vary by the number of subcribers? How open and explicit is the software website about how much it costs?
  • Does it save you money and/or increase your standing? In other words, what's the real cost (in time/effort and presentation) of an alternative which doesn't involve specialist software?
  • Is it reliable? The general view seems to be that if you pay for a service then you get a better service - or at least one which is more accountable. Another view is that this really depends on how mission critical your e-mail is.
  • Does it provide for people to receive it according to their preference? For example, does it have an RSS feed and can be read in a feed reader?
  • Do you need:
    • an idiot-proof solution?
    • lots of time/effort/help to get your newsletter up and running - but it then needs to be simple and efficient for you to operate?
    • a webmaster who does all those fancy tricks with servers and mailing databases?
  • Most importantly, have you considered why you are sending a regular e-mail/e-mail newsletter?
    • Does the information you communicate need to be one-way or could it be interactive (ie with comments and dialogue)?
    • Must it be private - or could it be public?
    • Have you considered what are the other options for what you need to say?
That's far from a long check-list - but it'll do for starters. What do you think are the other questions which you need to ask yourself?

Software providers - and who uses them

I have a simple mantra - which is basically "look at what works" - as opposed to those who do reviews who might have a financial incentive to recommend a particular solution! ;).

Below I've given you a brief overview of a number of alternative possibilities - based entirely on what their websites communicate within the public domain.

My basic premise was to look at what was being used by people who are sending out e-mails on a regular basis for mailing lists which are known to be big. In effect, these are the people who been doing the 'road-testing' of the software for you!

phplist

This is FREE, it's an open source newsletter manager and 'free' by both senses of the word - libre: you have freedom to view it, change it, and redistribute it and gratis: it has zero cost. Got to be attractive! It's sponsored by tincan which is a web solutions company.
  • This is the features page. It looks impressive for free software at the very least in terms of the level of communication of its features (compared to some sites) and web 2.0 readiness. This one has an RSS feed which is certainly an option I'd recommend looking out for as many people now read newsletters in their feed readers rather than as e-mails.
  • You can see it in action here
  • These are the system requirements and here are the FAQs and tips re spam
  • Who uses it? It's used by Julian Merrow Smith, who is one of the very popular and very successful daily painters (Postcard from Provence). He's been sending out almost daily e-mails to his large blog/auction e-mailing list for the last three+ years. I also know I've often seen phplist credited at the bottom of other e-mail newsletters I receive. If you watch the site you'll notice it has references from different organisations who use it in the top right hand corner - I noticed Friends of the Earth who were lavish in their praise.
PatronMail
  • It is specifically designed for use by arts organisations. It has a stepped level of service for different sorts of organisations - charging $25 per month for smaller organisations. Which I guess has got to be cheaper than postage!
  • As some other solutions are free, I guess you have to decide how important this is to you and also how mission critical the software is.
  • Who uses it? It's used by national galleries and theatres in the UK over here (eg National Portrait Gallery).
Constant Contact .
  • You get a free trial for 60 days and unlimited e-mails during that time but a limit of just 100 contacts so you don't get to trial heavy duty mailing.
  • Prices start at $15 per month for up to 500 contacts.
  • This has got a SafeSubscribe facility re spam so it's possibly more suited for organisations which don't have membership arrangements.
  • Who uses this? Constant Contact is used by Robert Genn (Painters Keys) - who sends a bi-weekly newsletter to thousands (and I suspect maybe tens of thousands) of artists and has been doing so for years. His letters turn up in my inbox on a very regular basis. [Update: it's also used by Duane Keiser (A Painting a Day) for his e-mail of his daily painting ]
Sparklist
AWeber
  • These are the features; it also offers a risk-free 30 day trial.
  • This is the pricing (eg starts at $19 per month)
  • Who uses this? AWeber is used and recommended by Darren Rowse of Problogger - a top listed 'paid' blogger according to this blog post 5 Tools that I’m Happy to Pay for as a Blogger. He earns big income from his blogging so has street cred. and income to lose if he recommends something which doesn't work! Darren says
For a long time I used a free newsletter service to send out weekly newsletters to many thousands of subscribers. However I increasingly found that you DO get what you pay for. Emails were not being delivered in greater and greater numbers and I was finding the service quite unreliable. Since switching to Aweber I’ve felt a weight lifted from my shoulders.

It works - every time. Emails are delivered in much higher numbers and the tools that Aweber offer are leave anything else I’ve used for dead. This is one tool I should have paid for years ago. Pricing varies depending upon how many subscribers you have but starts at $19 a month.
Darren Rowse - Problogger - 5 Tools that I’m Happy to Pay for as a Blogger.

Mailman
  • This is free software
  • Who uses it? I don't know anybody who uses it - but you do see people who use phplist saying that phplist is better than Mailman. I do know people who have tried it and had problems.
Feedblitz
  • Completely free - but includes some minimal level advertising. You pay for the premium service.
  • It can be used to develop e-mail marketing newsletters even if you don't have a blog - but do have an RSS feed.
  • Who uses it? People with blogs to send e-mails of blog posts to people who like to subscribe via e-mail. I used to use is an it as an option for e-mail subscription on both blogs. Given my recent problems with feedburner I'm thinking about putting it back as an option. It allows me to provide a daily e-mail newsletter for my blog and to provide automatic links to past blog posts.
Google Group
  • Google Groups are free and can be closed with just one person posting and lots of people subscribing. It's free.
  • Who uses it? This is used by a lot of people to send out regular e-mails about daily art and is used by Duane Keiser and many other daily painters. I'd rate as suitable for non-confidential stuff.
Over to you. Here's what I'd like to know - and I guess quite a lot of other people and arts organisations would too!
  • When would you use an e-mail newsletter rather than a blog - and why?
  • What do you think are the key questions people need to ask themselves before getting/buying a specialist software package?
  • Which e-mail newsletter software packages have you had experience of using - and what was your experience?
  • Which e-mail newsletter software package would you recommend? Please say if you are an Associate making this recommendation!

12 comments:

Deborah Paris said...

Hi Katherine. I use an email deployment service called Emma- (www.myemma.com). Its similar to Constant Contact but I think better. Inital set up fee includes your unique stationery design, then a low monthly fee thereafter depending on how many emails you send. Its spam law compliant with opt out features. Great tools for managing your list as well as statistics to tell you who received, opened, and what they clicked on. I highly recommend it!

Lara Kulpa said...

Hi Kathryn,

I just wanted to link you to some of Darren's posts, one about how he's recommended Aweber based on his actual experience with it (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/01/18/aweber-a-first-impression-review/), and the other about how he's "un-recommended" Zookoda (http://www.problogger.net/archives/2007/12/01/zookoda-i-dont-recommend-them-anymore/), which was the service he used prior.

I know that recently he'd sent out a newsletter to ProBlogger subscribers (those who had subscribed when he was still using Zookoda), VIA Zookoda, but it was mostly to announce that he's bringing back the newsletter, and in it he said he's switching it over to a "new service" (which I happen to know is Aweber).

Just in case any of your readers got that newsletter, and were wondering! :)

(For what it's worth (and for full disclosure), I work for Darren, and am currently handling the site while he's out on paternity leave.)

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Thanks Lara - and congrats to Darren on the birth of his baby boy - and for having the good sense to take paternity leave! ;)

Lara Kulpa said...

Just one more thing, for clarity - Darren has been using Aweber for one of his other blogs, Digital Photography School, since January of 2008 - so his recommendations are based on that, as is his decision to use Aweber for ProBlogger's newsletter from this point forward.

Tina Mammoser said...

One worry to me is that the very first html email I sent to my list apparently ended up in people's spam folders (as you told me, thanks!). That's actually a HUGE issue, so what if the opt-ins went to my list's spam folders? I would never know. I won't use a service until I'm sure that they can reassure me about this.

As for blog vs email I consider them very different. I email specific invitations to events, announcements of sales, and really newsy news! I probably do an email about 6 times a year.

And most importantly - not all my mailing list reads my blog. How do I know? My blog subscriber numbers are not as high as my actual mailing list numbers. Plus I can't assume all my customers are as familiar or comfortable with blogs, rss and online formats.

I few other services I have bookmarked but *not* looked into in depth yet, I've just been collecting suggestions:
VerticalResponse.com
Your Mailing List Provider (ymlp14.com)
iContact
CampaignMonitor.com
MailChimp
NotifyList.com

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Thanks Tina - helpful as ever!

Good comment about the distinction between the types of reasons why one might want to use a blog AND an e-mail and reasons why e-mails (or blogs) might not work!

Stacey Peterson said...

Thanks for this post Katherine - it's been useful to read the post and the comments!

I have my portfolio website through fineartstudioonline.com, and it comes with a built in email system. There's a page on my site for people to sign up for the newsletter (and choose html or not), and it manages the list for me. It's easy to send out my newsletter using the service, but it's lacking in the formatting department (not a lot of options), so I might start looking at some of these options. The again, it's so nice that it's seamlessly tied into to my website that I might just stick with it!

Dermott said...

Everything I know about email newsletter software could be written on the pinhead that I am.

I do know, though, that I have just looked into the eyes of the Devil ...

... shudder ...

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Dermott and Cosmo have a 'thing' going on!

Click Dermott's link to find out how just how furry he is.........

Dermott said...

The only thing I've got going for Cosmo is a chainsaw.

colorspeaker said...

Hello Katherine.
I got here through your "ArtBiz" post on newsletters-this a wonderfully unbiased and informative list of companies, etc. Thanks for sharing.
Julianne Richards

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Thanks for the comment Julianne! :)

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