Protecting email privacy could hurt small newsletter publishers


One of the new privacy features included in iCloud + is what Apple calls Mail Privacy Protection. While this is designed to protect Apple Mail users from overly intrusive marketers, there are concerns that it will seriously harm small email newsletter publishers.

This is because it will deny them access to a key metric used to sell the advertising that makes many of these newsletters viable …

A quick introduction to email newsletters

A growing trend in recent years has been for individual writers to leave large publishers and instead deliver content directly to readers in e-newsletter form. This has given writers greater freedom and independence, and allowed readers to support writers they value.

Some websites also offer newsletter content, sometimes as a way to drive traffic to their site, sometimes offering bonus content only available to newsletter subscribers.

There are two ways to make a living from email newsletters. First, charge a subscription. While this is viable for some, these subscription costs can quickly increase, meaning only a minority of readers are willing to pay. The second and most popular approach is to sell newsletter ads. In this case, readers get the content for free and the writers or publishers make a living from advertising revenue, which is the same business model that funds most editorial websites.

But in order to sell ads, there is no point in publishers pointing fingers at their subscriber numbers. Advertisers don’t care about the number of people to receive a newsletter, they care about the number of people read this.

Tracking pixels

A tracking pixel is a link to a small image (usually a single pixel) embedded in an email. When the email is opened, Apple Mail (or another email application) retrieves this image from a server. By using a unique link for each subscriber (usually linked to their email address), the publisher can know when the email has been read because the unique image has been uploaded.

For email newsletter publishers, this provides them with a vital metric called Open Rate: how many people open the email. It is this metric that advertisers want to know when deciding which newsletters to sponsor.

Mail Privacy Protection blocks tracking pixels

Mail Privacy Protection blocks these tracking pixels, which means publishers will no longer know their open rate. As NiemenLab explains, it’s a huge deal because Apple users dominate email subscriptions.

Apple Mail, the dominant platform for email in the United States and elsewhere. According to Litmus’ most recent market share figures, as of May 2021, 93.5% of all emails opened on mobile come from Apple Mail on iPhone or iPad. On the desktop, Apple Mail on Mac is responsible for 58.4% of all open emails.

These numbers are incredibly high – far higher than the market share of Apple devices, as Apple users spend significantly more time receiving and reading emails than Android, Windows, or Linux users. . Globally, 61.7% of all emails are opened in Apple Mail, on one device or another.

Mail Privacy Protection is also the first prompt you see when you open the Mail app in iOS 15. Most non-geeks won’t know what it is, but any privacy option offered will sound great, so we’ll probably see. a repeat of Application Tracking Transparency, where 96% of users choose to enable protection.

Small publishers will be the most affected

Matt Taylor, Product Manager at Financial Time, says the biggest damage will be done to smaller publishers. The reason is that sending mass email newsletters costs money, so if a subscriber fails to read one, it makes financial sense to remove them from the database.

Where previously you could unsubscribe readers who didn’t open your newsletter to save money, now you don’t know if they are loyal or not. […] A larger publisher can afford to keep 20,000 recipients on a list that never opens an email. A little outfit can’t.

However, not everyone is so pessimistic. Casey Newton, who himself lives off an independent newsletter, says there are other metrics available.

Alex Kantrowitz, author of the free, ad-supported newsletter Big Technology, told me his ad inventory was depleted for the first half of the year, thanks to a premium audience he identified not by pixel-based tracking. but by a good old survey of readers. (The Markup also used reader surveys to get a feel for its user base) […]

Writers can triangulate reader engagement by many metrics that are still available to them, including the views their stories are getting on the web, the overall growth of their mailing list, and most significantly of all, the growth of their stories. their income.

What is your opinion? Are you going to enable message privacy protection? Let us know in the comments.

Photo: Stephen Phillips / Unsplash

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