Magazine article Information Outlook

All the News That's Fit to Transmit: Publishing an Electronic Newsletter

Magazine article Information Outlook

All the News That's Fit to Transmit: Publishing an Electronic Newsletter

Article excerpt

For a number of years, I have been publishing newsletters for various organizations and in various formats: print, e-mail, and on the web. The advantages of digital over paper make electronic newsletter publishing especially attractive when funds are limited. You no longer worry about paper and postage costs. You don't fiddle with printing and pasting address labels. You don't have to learn and use complicated layout and publishing software. Distribution is practically instantaneous. If you already have experience producing print newsletters, many of your skills will transfer over into the electronic medium. However, before you make the decision to go digital, it helps to familiarize yourself with some of tasks that are unique to electronic publishing. Some of the differences you will encounter between print and electronic media include design and layout, distribution, publicity, subscriber list maintenance, and handling back issues.

Design and Layout: "Branding" Your Newsletter

If you are converting an existing print newsletter into an electronic publication, note that many design details that work in print don't translate well into electronic format. For example, colors and graphics can pose problems even for web-published newsletters. Choose colors carefully; colors that look great in printed materials can be unattractive and distracting on the screen. If your newsletter is sponsored by an organization that already has identifying colors and logos, try to match them in your web newsletter. This will provide a consistent appearance and help readers identify your publication with your organization. Do keep graphics and their file sizes to a minimum; readers with slow Internet connections will appreciate graphics that don't take forever to appear on their screens.

There are many basic web design guides (both books and web sites) that you can consult for layout advice. Jakob Nielsen's "Alertbox" is a good source of tips - see particularly the January 24, 1999, column, "Differences Between Print Design and Web Design"

E-mail-only newsletters published as plain text force you to limit your design options even further. However, limited layout doesn't have to mean lousy layout. E-mail newsletters can benefit from even the most rudimentary graphic design: use spaces or other devices to separate articles; break articles up into easy-to-absorb paragraphs; point your readers to a web site where they can view any non-text materials. Line lengths are important in e-mail newsletters - watch out for the "disappearing end of line" when line lengths exceed the width of the reader's screen. It's a good idea to send yourself a copy of the newsletter and then view it on a small-screen monitor so you can get a preview of what many of your readers will encounter. You may find you need to adjust line lengths or line breaks before e-mailing out the final copy.

Distribution: Getting the Newsletter to Subscribers

Before you send out your e-mail newsletter, familiarize yourself with the technicalities of e-mail distribution lists. Unless your subscriber list is extremely small, you will need a distribution system composed of the hardware where the subscriber list resides, the distribution software that gets the newsletter to the subscribers, and the technical staff who keep everything running smoothly. Your organization may have all or part of these components already in place. If not, check out these resources for some suggestions:

Vivian Neou's "E-mail List Management Software"

Tim Tripp's "Overview of Software"

If your organization can't set up a distribution system for your newsletter, there are a few web sites that will "host" your subscriber list, often in exchange for including their advertising. For a list of these services, see Vivian Neou's "Internet Mailing List Providers" www. …

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