Personalized newsletters without the 12 person New York Times team

28 Jun 2016 | By Adam Walhout



I read with interest on Digiday that The New York Times gets a 70% open rate on its newsletters. With a total of 33 different versions of them, NYT has apparently found a way to reach people with something for everyone. After having met with hundreds of different publishers I also know that many of them will think that reproducing NYT’s great numbers is an impossible task. Here is how easy it could be.

NYT’s approach in a nutshell

So what is it that NYT really does that delivers these numbers? Easily stated, it is to create those 33 different newsletters along a horizontal and a vertical focus on user interests. The Digiday article says it well:

“Historically, the newsletter has just been based on our sections,” said Dork Alahydoian, executive director of product at the Times. “We realized that’s not necessarily what people are interested in. So we’ve been exploring two ways of looking at it — going beyond sections to lifestyles and different themes. The other approach is going much narrower. It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all.”

So on one side NYT takes its sections and narrows the content down into more specific products, while on the other side creates new newsletters based on themes that stretch across their existing verticals. Considering that most publishers have content for everyone, NYT goes to great lengths ensuring that people can find what they are looking for, without going further than their inbox.

Not for you

Most media executives that read this probably think to themselves that “this is not a bad idea – is there any way I could do something similar?” Without being a mind reader I also think many of these same executives would be discouraged by the fact further down in the article:

“To keep its newsletters competitive, the Times has a 12-person dedicated newsletter team.”

Ouch. That sounds expensive, and very few media companies can afford the staff to keep things alive. This is where I believe Cxense could make a difference, as we can help you do it automatically. 

Getting hipsters

While Cxense makes it possible to set up a targeted newsletter based on vertical interests (for instance users interested in content within the section “World”), what if we wanted to do something stretching across the newssite’s content?

Whether you like it or not, hipsters are growing in numbers. Let’s say that we wanted to target hipsters and increase their engagement and loyalty towards the site. Let’s ask ourselves one question first – what would hipsters love reading about? Let’s for example’s sake say it was:

• What beard balsam can do for your facial hair.
• How to identify people that drink instant coffee, and how to avoid them.
• How to show off your Apple products in public in a nonchalant way.

Now, the content we are looking for could be found in at least three different verticals: Fashion and Beauty, Food and Drink, and in Consumer Technology. The way we can easily gather the relevant stories regardless of sections is simply through a combined keyword search that surfaces the right articles across the entire article inventory. This way we can automatically populate emails tending to hipsters’ love for facial hair, hand roasted coffee from Kilimanjaro’s east side, and personal branding using Apple products.



By building several segments in addition to the (probably very small) hipster segment, publishers can quickly expand its personalized newsletter offering portfolio without adding massive investments into human resources. Rather, the publisher can keep focus on high quality content production in general, and leave to the technology to get the right content to the right people.