Reader Survey: Should True E-mails Be HTML?
Both the Premium (paid) subscribers and the Free edition subscribers were asked:
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What is your reaction to the idea of This is True changing from a "plain text" e-mail to simple HTML e-mail, which would allow nicer fonts, bold/italics, perhaps even an occasional photo?
The two (Premium and Free) surveys are now closed. Thank you to those who weighed in!
The Premium subscribers have been asked similar questions informally in the past, and while there has always been support, there were always some rather vocal folks who definitely did not want HTML e-mails.
Because of my own background, I let the vocal naysayers gave me the impression that the majority wouldn't want it, but after thinking about it again recently, perhaps the "strong no" crowd might be drowning out the readers' real desires. Thus, it was time to do a "real" survey to get some actual numbers. The Premium and Free edition readers were asked separately, to see if there was a difference in their replies.
The response was pretty unambiguous. Actually, it was overwhelming! First, the Premium readers -- an amazing 26-plus percent answered the survey:
Summary: only 1.5 percent was a strong no. "No but could live with it" was 12.7 percent, neutral was 17.9 percent. But the yes? More than two-thirds -- 67.8 percent! Or, to look at it another way, 98.5 percent are along the continuum of "can live with it" to really, really prefer it.
Then there's the Free edition readers:
Summary: just a little less support here, but the response rate was much smaller than Premium's 26-plus percent (just over four percent of the Free subscribers responded). The "strong no" more than doubles to 3.7 percent. "No but could live with it" was a similar 12.2 percent, neutral was a similar 17.7 percent. And again the yes was two-thirds -- 66.4 percent. Or, in summary, more than 96 percent are along the continuum of "can live with it" to really, really wanting it.
The Free edition has outside (third party) ads, which make the free distribution possible. Would True use HTML to enable big, fat, motion-intensive ads grab your attention? No! I personally hate those kinds of ads. Such ads distract terribly from attention to the content. True never lets advertisers have a say in what goes in the issues -- they never get a preview of the stories their ads will run near, nor have they ever had the ability to even request that their ad not run near a certain kind of story. And they never will. Similarly, True will not allow advertisers to use flashing or movement to draw your attention away from the content -- period. The publication does obviously lose money because of this stance (and for refusing to accept ads for for porn sites/services, alcohol and tobacco products, gambling, and any service or product which is, to our knowledge, illegal in the United States.) But my business practice is this: I treat my readers the way I want to be treated. So, very simply: it won't happen.
If you don't want third-party ads at all, there's an option for that, too: the Premium upgrade, which has never had outside ads, and has a lot more stories plus other benefits and special Premium-only features.
With Numbers Like That...
The Free and Premium editions are distributed with different software for complex reasons (read: that won't change anytime soon), but each has the ability to send both HTML-formatted and plain-text in the same e-mail message (using Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions or MIME encoding).
If you cannot clearly read True because of this upcoming change, and cannot (or will not) upgrade your mail software to do so (note that webmail systems like Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc. do already have the capability of showing even complex HTML, let alone the simple HTML that's planned), I'm sorry -- we're still going to do it. It's almost 11 years into the 21st Century now, and it's time we stopped holding back from the capability that modern e-mail programs provide.
Since the Kindle e-book collections planned for release this year also use simple HTML for layout, I've delayed changing the newsletter until after I'm completely done setting up the books -- I can reuse a lot of that work for the newsletters. Thus the new timetable is Spring 2012.
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Ah, the challenges of software and schedules: the publication didn't switch to HTML until Issue 1000 in late summer, 2013.