The Newsletter Past and Present
Let's first look at how the newsletter arose. It demonstrates how the human mind is anxious to learn - how we all eagerly consume information that is current and reflects changes that impact on how we think, how we relate to others and how we choose to spend our money.
The Origin of the Newsletter
There had circulated throughout Europe during the 17th century letters of a social nature, keeping groups of citizens with a common interest abreast of 'news'. These were private, informal pieces of writing that would be passed on from member to member. Reputedly, the first known example was written in 1631 by English 'expats' giving overseas news to friends at home.
The 'news letter' arose during the 17th century for the consumption of a growing literate elite. These began as single hand-written sheets containing either information of interest to those in commerce, or items of news that would appeal to a more general readership.
The first printed newsletters appeared in the 18th century. They were discrete trade or business publications, issued by a trade association or the company concerned, and were regarded as a swift and convenient means of giving information to the association's members or the company's customers. Many newsletters transformed into newspapers proper, or trade journals, comprising several pages and attracting a wider readership.
The printed newsletter found its pride of place at the very beginning of the 20th century. Advances in technology and manufacturing processes necessitated the dissemination of specialised information. The early shoots of consumerism also generated greater interest amongst the moneyed classes in commercial products. Amongst the first to identify the benefits of newsletter distribution were the financial institutions offering investment advice to their customers. You've probably come across those stock market trading pamphlets predicting the next hot share to take up, or the new company-launch that's predicted to produce a handsome capital gain.
Those newsletters proved very popular, and subscribers were prepared to pay thousands of dollars to receive their insights and tips. Each institution's newsletter was perceived as giving unique information to its readers. In other words, subscribers saw themselves as a select group, the chosen few, who alone were privy to the 'secrets of the market' or the latest 'investment opportunity'; they persist to this day.
The Present Day
Those bodies that see the importance of the newsletter has expanded beyond the business sector. The 'community newsletter' is now commonly published by clubs, societies, associations and religious groups. It encourages member-participation and seeks to reach out to potential, new members. Even local government has entered the arena, and residents may find in their mailboxes a quarterly newsletter explaining their council's initiatives, activities and proposals for change.
The business sector has also seen the benefits of the non-promotional newsletter. In addition to informing the customer of the latest innovation, the company now seeks to bond with its workforce by issuing a regular 'employee newsletter'. The management sees it as an ideal medium to instill the company ethos, to rally team spirit, reward individual endeavour or initiative and to generally connect with those within the company whom they will not meet on a day-to-day basis - shop-floor networking by proxy.
Much of this expansion and development of the newsletter as a tool of communication has, of course, been as a result of the digital revolution. It is now trite to talk of how the computer has transformed society.
What it has done for the newsletter is twofold:
- Firstly, it has facilitated composing, editing and printing. The ease and productivity with which a newsletter can now be compiled has taken its publication out of the hands of the advertising agency into the office or home of the individual.
- Secondly, the introduction of the internet has provided a means of delivery to the reader that knocks the socks off the previous alternatives - the fax and its land-based predecessor, by courtesy of the friendly postie.
The e-newsletter combines ease and speed of delivery, at a low cost. It also offers a flexibility of presentation and design that is light years distant from its printed predecessor. It can now incorporate internet links that draw traffic to the sender's website and enhance search engine optimisation.
It is no exaggeration to say that the metamorphosis of the newsletter of just twenty years ago, into its present form, is no less an advance than Edison's 19th century, scratchy recording of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' compared with Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound' music production technique of the 1960s.
Part II of ''Why A Newsletter Is So Good For Professionals'', explaining the benefits of keeping in regular touch with clients, will appear as my next musing. Nick F.
American Antiquarian Society. www.americanantiquarian.org
Massachusetts Historical Society. www.masshist.org
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