The World’s Oldest Paid Newsletter has 3 Lessons for Authors

Would you have written a paid newsletter 300 years ago?

Matthias Bohlen
6 minutes reading time

Happy Saturday!

This is News Bundler, it’s about innovative ways for paid newsletter authors to make more money from your newsletters. My name is Matthias, I’m the founder of the News Bundler platform.

3 valuable things for you this week:

  1. The News Bundler platform is going live on Tuesday
  2. The oldest paid newsletter of the world: What you can learn from it
  3. The week’s 15-minute activity that will change your newsletter’s life!

Making progress with News Bundler

This week, I prepared News Bundler so that it will open its doors and go online this Tuesday (April 12th, 2022). The last missing feature was “the great Unsubscribe”.

Whenever a subscriber cancels a paid newsletter bundle, News Bundler must stop forwarding all the newsletters contained in that bundle, and: It must tell Stripe to stop charging the subscriber as well!

I wrote code for both tasks, and now Stripe dutifully cancels the subscription. I could even make it send a closing invoice to the subscriber, with a prorated refund for the unused portion of the current payment period. Nice feeling of closure!

The rest is now a matter of thorough testing and polishing, to make News Bundler ready, live and kicking by Tuesday afternoon. As an author, you’re invited to come and sign up, together with your buddy author(s), and sell your first newsletter bundle as early as possible. I’m so excited about this Tuesday!

And now for something special:

The Oldest Paid Newsletter of the World

Well… not really “the world”, but more specifically in Massachusetts, at the time when the British Empire had colonial territories there. We wrote the year 1704 when The Boston News-Letter came hot off the press. The British government heavily subsidized this newsletter, and all copies had to be approved by the Royal governor before publication.

The Boston News-Letter was first published almost 318 years ago, can you imagine that? It published weekly, sometimes semi-weekly, and lived for 72 years until it ceased publication on Feb 29, 1776. The Library of Congress still has copies of it.

Wikipedia says:

The News-Letter’s first editor was John Campbell, a bookseller and postmaster of Boston. Campbell had been actively writing and sending “newsletters” of European occurrences to New England governors for a year or more and thought it would save trouble to print them for all.

The newsletter started out mostly by covering English politics and the details of European wars, but starting from the first issue, it also contained fascinating stories that were interesting to read. Imagine: News was a rare good at the time – people had no internet, radio, phone, nor TV!

For example, the authors wrote in great detail about the fights between trade ships and pirates. Read this one (I have tried to preserve the original writing style and orthography, especially with the ‘ſ’, it’s not an ‘f’ but the Latin small letter “long s”, Unicode U+017F):

Boston News-Letter Pirate Story

Capt. Toungrello has taken Five Prizes off of Curraſoa, one of which is come in to Rhode-Island moſtly Loaden with Cocco, Tobacco, Liquors &c. She is a Curraſoe Trader, as all the reſt were. One of the five was one Larew a French-man, a Sloop of 8 Guns & 8 Patteraro’s, 76 Men, Fought him Board and Board three Glaſſes ; Captain Larew was kill’d, and 20 of his Men kill’d & wounded. Capt. Toungrello wounded thro’ the Body, and five of his men, but none kill’d, he had but 40 Fighting Men, when he took Larew.

The old way of writing English is fascinating, isn’t it?

By “Curraſoa”, I guess they mean Curaçao, the Lesser Antilles island country in the southern Caribbean Sea, about 65 km north of the Venezuelan coast. And I guess that the Frenchman named Larew would have better been written as LaRue, right?

For me as a native German speaker, it was fascinating to see that the nouns in the English of 1704 began with a capital letter. In today’s German, we still write every noun with a capital letter!

Three things to learn from the oldest paid newsletter

What can you (a paid newsletter author) learn from the Boston News-Letter? Three interesting lessons:

  1. A newsletter which survived for 72 years started very small: One half-sheet, 8 by 12 inches, with one page on the front and one on the back side. So, don’t be afraid to start small and prepare for the long run!
  2. Tell intriguing stories, like the one about pirates and trade ships fighting each other. Write about things your readers care about. They want to learn something new, and they want to be entertained.
  3. The end of your newsletter is important. Look at the end of the Boston News-Letter, and you’ll find this gem here:

Boston News-Letter ad

Advertiſement. This News Letter is to be continued Weekly ; and all Perſons who have any Houſes, Lands, Tenements, Farmes, Ships, Veſſels, Goods, Wares or Merchandizes, &c. to be Sold, or Lett ; or Servants Run away ; or Goods Stoll or Loſt, may have the ſame Inſerted at a Reaſonable Rate ; from Twelve Pence to Five Shillings and not to exceed : Who may agree with Nicholas Boone for the ſame at his Shop, next door to Major Davis’s, Apothecary in Boston, near the Old Meeting-Houſe. All Perſons in Town and Country may have … News-Letter Weekly upon reaſonable tearms, agreeing with John Campbell Poſt-Maſter for the ſame.

This is a classic call to action, saying “People, please insert ads for 12 pence to 5 shillings, when you have things to be sold or let, about servants who have run away, or about goods that have been stolen or lost.”

It is a clear description of the audience and a list of concrete use case examples for situations in which they should insert ads in this newsletter. Isn’t it amazing that they had calls to action already 300 years ago?

Your 15-minute activity to do right now

Take a break and think about who is your audience, the people for whom you write your newsletter. Write down who they are, what their goals and aspirations are, and don’t forget about their challenges and the pains they might have.

Then, add a similar call to action to the end of your newsletter, just as you saw in the Boston News-Letter above! Speak to them specifically and ask them what you think they should do or stop doing.

Thank you so much

Thanks for reading News Bundler Weekly. Please give me feedback, ask me anything about what you read here, and share this newsletter with your friends and colleagues. I need your support to grow this, together!

Cheers, Matthias

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