Monthly Archives: September 2007

Effective E-Mail Newsletters: More Can Be Better

I recently heard a story from a program manager of her debating (fighting) with her web developer about how she wanted to send more focused newsletters while he wanted to send fewer, more broad ones which in turn got me thinking about how e-mail has changed since it first started and what is really effective these days. In the “old” days I would have said he was right, people are overwhelmed with e-mails, reduce their load by giving them less to deal with but now I’d say she’s absolutely right.

These days people are conditioned to quickly scan subject lines in order to weed out spam, see if there is any urgent news or check if Amazon has shipped their order. During this quick skim most people are mentally or even physically flagging their e-mail as important, trash or the dreaded “I’ll deal with it later”. It’s that last category that’s the kiss of death for a newsletter because that “later” never seems to come or if it does it’s usually weeks if not months later. If you can help a user decide if they should read or delete your e-mail that is much more effective then getting put in the “wait for later” category.

A perfect example is two different event newsletters I get. One newsletter sends me a monthly list of all up coming events and any special promotions that may be available. Guess how often I read it? Almost never because when it first lands in my inbox all I see is, “Your Colorado Concert July Update” and mentally I say, “That’s not business, urgent or even personal, I’ll read it later during lunch or when I’m looking to kill some time.” Of course that never happens because other things pile on top of it and by the time I actually do read it months have passed and it’s worthless.

On the other hand the other event newsletter sends me a single e-mail for every event that’s about to go on sale. That may seem like a lot of e-mail, and some weeks it is, but the key is that the subject is usually something like, “Event Update: 6/15 - Flogging Molly - Red Rocks, Tickets On Sale Monday!”. I now have enough information to either delete it right then or mentally flag it as important instead the limbo of “I’ll deal with it later.” Since I deal with it right then I actually end up with less e-mail than the event digest/summary form of the first one.

On a related note, don’t try to force people to your website by keeping your newsletter vague and mysterious. All too often I’ve seen this cute ploy, “Exciting TechEvent Coming to Denver! Click Here to Learn About the Special Guest!”. Give people the information to make their own decision instead of trying to trick them to your site.

Now to geek out I have to say the whole debate reminded of the old CISC vs. RISC CPU design debate.

Amazon MP3 Sets the Pace for Digital Downloads

Amazon just entered the digital music download fray and they’ve just set the gold standard. The price is right, the quality is great, and since it’s straight MP3 you can use it on pretty much every digital music playing device ever made. Downloading Ministry’s “Rio Grande Dub(ya)” was a snap and the required download manager is simple and unobtrusive. It may not be the closed-loop system of iTunes+iPod or Zune+Marketplace but it’s close enough that I think a lot of people will dip their toes in the water, especially with the Amazon name behind it.

To be fair has been offering DRM-free MP3 downloads for years but their biggest weakness has always been satisfying the Top 40 crowd. While you can find great albums like Beirut’s “The Flying Club Cup” you won’t find Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape“. EMusic is closer to that great indie record store that sometimes has Top 40 albums but you know the real focus is the off-the-beaten-path gems tucked among the aisles.

My biggest question is where is Microsoft in all of this DRM-free loving? Even Apple has conceded that users may want less restrictions on their music by offering to over-charge customers for DRM-free tracks yet the Zune Marketplace still staunchly holds onto the DRM model of business. Microsoft is the new kid on the block in terms of online music yet they already seem like an anachronism without any attempt so far to really embrace “the social”. The rumor is that October is going to see a new crop of Zune players and they had better update more than just the hardware. Unless there is a major update to the Zune ecosystem then they’re going to fail.

Amazon has a winner on it’s hands and it’ll be interesting to see both where they are headed as well as the industry’s reaction to this bold and welcome move.

EMusic, Zune & Audiobooks

One of my favorite uses for my Zune is listening to audiobooks and one of my greatest disappointments with the Zune was the lack of support for the Audible format. Audible’s proprietary format has always been a thorn in my side because unless you’re using a major MP3 player the chances of it supporting Audible are slim. I used to be able to work around this by converting the .aa format into straight .mp3, as it should be, but Audible seems to have patched that hole.

Well, I can start listening to audiobooks once again because is now offering them in addition to their usual music catalog, and just like their music, it’s in straight MP3, no DRM to fuss with. Their audiobook catalog isn’t nearly as extensive as Audible’s but I’ll gladly trade a large selection that I can’t listen to for a smaller one that I can.

I just picked up “Indecision” by Benjamin Kunkel and it’s “A hugely funny satire that effortlessly captures the confusion of privileged and educated twentysomthings…”. I couldn’t agree with the reviewer more.

Now I just have to see if the Zune ever gets it’s act together when it comes to setting bookmarks because currently the Zune gets a big fat “F” when it comes to listening to audiobooks. With no ability to set bookmarks or even have your paused location persist between syncs it makes remembering where you last left off a pain in the arse.