In praise of the email newsletter format

[Subscribe to the gapingvoid newsletter here.]

This made me very happy- Austin Ray from Mailchimp interviewed me about my “fantastic open rates”.

Mailchimp, as you know, is what powers my daily cartoon newsletter. With email newsletters, at least with Mailchimp, the average “open rate” is around 6%-8% i.e. for every hundred people you send out to, six to eight people actually open it and read it, as opposed to just sending it to the trash.

Our newsletter is 40%+. That’s amazing.

We were impressed to find out that Hugh MacLeod‘s MailChimp campaigns consistently maintain a fantastic 40%+ open rate. What does a cartoonist know about email marketing? Well, as it turns out, he doesn’t worry about all the typical “email expert” stuff like A/B testing, sending at different times of day, experimenting with subject lines, etc. Instead, much like Email Inspiration, he just sends a fun image, and the people love it.

“I think it’s because we keep it simple—a nice cartoon to brighten your day, delivered to your inbox every morning,” Hugh tells us. “People like getting that a whole lot more than, say, a daily, long-winded spiel about why y’all should give me your money, make me rich, yak, yak, yak…”

I highly, highly recommend doing the newsletter thing. More than the blog, more than Twitter, Facebook or Google+, these are the people who who REALLY WANT to support your business, who REALY CARE about your brand, who really want to interact with it. What Seth Godin calls a “Permission Asset”.

And best of all, with a good list, these people- the people who REALLY allow you to do what you do- are easy to identify, This makes your marketing A LOT easier, because the people who REALLY matter to your brand are RIGHT THERE in black & white, on your list. Nobody subscribes to a newsletter unless they really want to, unless they really think what you’re doing is important. Life is too short.


P.S. Yes, I highly, highly recommend Mailchimp as the service provider. They kick ass, they’ve been very good to gapingvoid. Thanks, Mailchimp!


  1. Saw your interview with Austin on the Mailchimp site yesterday.

    It’s awesome that you’re having such fantastic open rates with your newsletter. I think it’s a combination of your loyal following and that you consistently share stuff that’s truly worth opening and reading.

    Like you, I use and love Mailchimp.

    Keep up the great work, Hugh

    • Thanks, Russ…. Yeah, I kinda expected the newsletter to do well… well enough, at least…. What I don’t expect was JUST how important a part of my operation it would become. In commercial terms, I get 10x the pickup than I do on the blog or Twitter.

  2. I also use Mailchimp, because I luv their branding and message – email marketing always carries that dirty flavor, but Mailchimp makes it fun and entertaining.

    My current rates are about 30 -35 %, and I’m putting my soul into achieving 40%+

    • Hey Mars…. Yeah, 405+ is pretty amazing. Especially when you think how it’s sent out, 5 times a week.

  3. Congrats, Hugh. That’s wicked.

    I signed up with mail chimp 2 yrs ago, but I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do with it, especially as I was all over the place on my blog, with no products available for sale.

    Definitely did not want to be another, “Sign up to my fanletter and get a free download!!” No.

    It’s only been in the last month that I’m putting it together with ideas that I think will engage subscribers and offer value beyond the “Free (f*cking) MP3 download!”<< the "u" key got stuck, there. 😀

    • Hey Ryan, yeah, newsletter work well if first, you REALLY know what you want it to actually do….

  4. Not sure about others… but I would prefer to get my emails during the work day. I tend not to read emails during the evenings and by the next morning you are competing with 10-20 (or more) other emails.

  5. Hugh: I remember way back when you started your newsletter, I couldn’t understand the reasoning of doing that as opposed to just sharing content on your blog. It’s more clear now, thanks.

    Did you have a compelling reason to choose Mailchimp instead of another service like Aweber?

  6. I find MailChimp and email marketing a giant pain in the A**E!

    But i also know its essential and have been doing it for 8 years.

    I want to get rid of the email service and use rss via email as email marketing takes up so much time which i could be using writing content.

    I don’t care about the money anyway you look at it, i so care about building subscribers. The only problem is a an autoresponder which i could add easily as a WordPress plugin.

    Use both Aweber and MailChimp. Both great but its the time wasting.

    Any suggestions appreciated

  7. I love the newsletter, I’m glad it’s doing so well! It’s a little daily ray of sunshine in my email inbox. Thanks Hugh!

  8. […] Hugh MacLeod shares why a simple e-newsletter is a beautiful thing with In Praise of the Email Newsletter Format. […]

  9. I never newsletters as I thought of them as a pain also. However the word onthe net is itdoes nothing but good if used properly. I’ll give it a go.