In 1971, MIT grad and computer engineer Ray Tomlinson sent the world’s first official email.
Tomlinson, who passed away in 2016, remarked in interviews before his death that the actual text contained in the body of that message — a test sent between two machines in the same room — has been lost to time. “Most likely [it] was QWERTYUIOP or something,” he once wrote on his website.
Over the decades since, new forms of communication have come and gone: pagers, chatrooms, message boards, blogs, internet relay chats, AIM, SMS, Myspace, BBM. And yet, here we are, the majority of those technologies disappearing in the rearview as the humble email remains king. Sure, the format has undergone some renovations (Outlook and Gmail were both game changers), but the gist as well as the utility are largely intact.
Which isn’t to say that email is still a simple tool for communicating with friends and colleagues, as Tomlinson intended. Brands, as they are wont to do, have co-opted the technology for sales and advertising purposes, relying on email service providers (or ESPs) like Mailchimp and SailThru to blast out communiqués to thousands of customers — or potential ones — in one fell swoop.
For a long time, these were email’s two primary functions: direct peer-to-peer messaging (your friend emails you a funny link or life update) or business transactions (a brand solicits your patronage; a publisher sends you something to read). But in recent years, a third cohort of email sender has cropped up: the individually authored, mass-distributed email. Or, as we’re calling it for our purposes here, the single-operator newsletter. These are entrepreneurial folks going at it alone, independent of media organizations.
This rise of the single-operator newsletter owes to a few factors. First and probably most importantly, there is now technology available that will allow anyone, no matter their technical background, to distribute their own mass emails. This trend started with the likes of Mailchimp (who acquired the Tiny Letter platform — aimed at individual publishers — in 2011), but has flourished more recently thanks to the success of a platform called Substack, which launched in 2018 with Bill Bishop’s Sinocism newsletter about China.
Substack makes sending an email blast as simple as writing a blog post, and more importantly includes a subscription component that allows publishers to collect fees directly through the same platform. Their value proposition is an interesting one: publishers don’t have to pay to use the platform, with Substack simply collecting a small percentage of the dues that subscribers pay.
Dan Oshinsky, founder of email consultancy Inbox Collective, says that “five years ago, before there was an easy way [to distribute newsletters], there was really only one person doing it: Ben Thompson of Stratechery. Now we’re seeing a rise in newsletters because of the rise in technology.”
It’s not just about the new platforms, though. As Oshinsky also points out, success begets imitators: for every writer or influencer who strikes out on their own and makes a living at it, five more will follow, hoping to build something great themselves. (I’ve even started my own weekly newsletter, The Breads, which comments on longform articles and internet trends that exist outside of or tangential to the mainstream news cycle.)
A second reason for the rise of the single-operator newsletter is the volatility of larger media properties. Laying off entire newsrooms at a moment’s notice has become commonplace as traditional revenue streams have dried up, and veteran journalists are increasingly looking to unmoor themselves from the system in favor of self-sufficiency. As Oshinsky says, “so many people are launching these because of insecurity in the industry.”
With email newsletters, the journalist is no longer beholden to the whims of a sales department for revenue, or a social-media platform for traffic. “You can be totally in the driver’s seat,” says Fiona Monga, head of writer partnerships at Substack. “The writing is yours, the payment is yours and the content is all yours.”
Charging readers for subscriptions — rather than advertisers for pageviews — is also in line with a more general shift in digital content. After the mid-aughts clickbait boom that incentivized publishers to prize the volume of their traffic above all, people are realizing that thoughtful content and careful research are qualities worth paying for. Monga points out that “a writer is really only going to do well if their readers feel served.” In the single-operator email space, this ethos has translated to properties that focus on niche topics like the English Premier League, the music industry or climate change rather than broader interest sets like politics, the economy or technology.
The greatest benefit of email to publishers may well be what made it great in the first place: direct contact. Inbox placement doesn’t rely on upvotes or shares or some inscrutable third-party algorithm; all that matters is how recently a message arrived and whether the recipient trusts the sender.
Nick Martell and Jack Kramer, co-founders of MarketSnacks, a daily finance newsletter that was acquired by investment platform Robinhood to become Robinhood Snacks in 2019, explain that newsletters are so valuable because they “allow you to build a routine with your reader, which ideally evolves into a ritual. That’s the power, stickiness and habit-forming uniqueness of the newsletter game.”
With thousands of talented writers and creators now trying their hand at the newsletter, the medium is set for a boom. Oshinsky only wonders how many newsletters will pop up before a bubble is inevitably breached: “Is this something for a large number of people to fully support themselves? Or just a select few, and for most others it’s a side hustle much like the blog and podcast industry?”
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, you should start to familiarize yourself with the offerings that are currently available. Below, we’ve rounded our 80 favorite newsletters run by individual curators and creators. They run the gamut from business to tech, politics to sports, and everything in between. Most are free (though some of them have a paid component) and will hopefully give you plenty of goodies to read while you’re stuck in the house being a responsible and socially distanced adult.
Probably the most important newsletter on the internet. Dave Pell is the human eating the algorithm’s lunch. Every day, he rounds up the 10 most important topics in the news cycle and presents them with quippy, informative context and relevant links for further reading. His email signature is “Managing Editor, Internet.” He’s not wrong.
A daily newsletter from FiveThirtyEight alum Walt Hickey rounding up important news stories through the lens of statistics and numbers. It typically stays away from the biggest stories of the day in favor of more liminal, news-adjacent ones.
The brainchild of tech reporter-turned-venture capitalist M.G. Siegler, 5ish was started with the intent of providing five interesting links at around five o’clock each day. It has since transformed into a broader and less heavily regulated place to share great content.
The Ann Friedman Weekly
Journalist and consultant Ann Friedman gives her thoughts on the current state of the world along with a curation of what she’s reading and listening to. Plus: one of-the-moment hand-drawn pie chart every week.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Pome, Matthew Ogle’s daily poem. It is really seeing me through these difficult times, and it’s curated so that the poems are mostly short enough to fit on a single phone screen without scrolling.”
-Ann Friedman, The Ann Friedman Weekly
No Grass In The Clouds
Ryan O’Hanlon, a former Senior Editor at The Ringer, focuses on European soccer in this one. Readers definitely need a base level of knowledge of the beautiful game to take full advantage of the insights he delivers through his humorous musings.
Impartial and in-depth analysis of MMA via Jeremy Botter, including trends, previews of upcoming events and post-fight commentary. If you’re into UFC, this is for you.
Good Morning It’s Basketball
A newsletter about everything that the NBA universe touches, from actual commentary on games to what players and organizations do off the court. Publisher Tom Ziller has published the newsletter since it was on SB Nation, and has garnered praise from a virtual who’s who of NBA reporters.
Extra Points with Matt Brown
Matt Brown, another SB Nation alum, discusses all of the forces — especially the off-field ones — that influence NCAA football. A few times a week, you’ll get deep insider knowledge on what makes the college football go.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Oversharing by Ali Griswold. Ali is a reporter for Quartz who cracked very early on how best to do an engaging newsletter about your beat in a way that illuminates the work and supplements her main focus. It’s also a compelling and candid look at the sharing economy, one of the most dynamic and complicated beats out there. Her coverage of how labor’s evolved in this new economy has been stellar. I really enjoy it.”
-Walt Hickey, Numlock
Music Journalism Insider
A peek behind the scenes of the music industry from longtime music journalist Todd Burns. It includes industry news, information and interviews with buzzy artists, producers and the like.
From well-known music critic Dan Ozzi, Reply Alt covers all things rock, punk and alt alongside other pop-cultural happenings with a heavy dose of snark.
The Lefsetz Letter
Music attorney Bob Lefsetz has been publishing his “Letter” for over a quarter-century, originally distributing it as a physical mailer before going electronic. It’s all over the place and full of unhinged screeds about the music industry. If that’s not enough, maybe this quote from his About page will intrigue you: “His intense brilliance captivates readers from Steven Tyler to Rick Nielsen to Bryan Adams to Quincy Jones to EVERYBODY who’s in the music business.”
A newsletter from content strategist Ernest Wilkins meant to keep business folks updated on culture and culture folks updated on business. A great blending of two industries that are often divided, each newsletter features some combination of information on culture, music and marketing.
A daily newsletter that sends you two hours worth of music that is great for working. Each day features selections from one — sometimes two — obscure artists from all over the world. A great way to discover new musicians outside of the algorithms, care of a “semi-anonymous guy based in New York named Marcus.”
A newsletter all about hip-hop and culture from the chief content officer of Tidal, Elliot Wilson. He spends each newsletter deep-diving on a particular topic or person and follows it up with tons of additional links and thoughts. Essential reading for hip-hop heads.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Former Clarity. My friend David Anthony used to be the music editor of The AV Club. He started a personal newsletter once he realized, like most media people eventually do, that traditional publications are not long for this world. Like every newsletter writer, he was trying to figure out how to fill the page, and then very soon after launching, he got sick. He underwent a very scary and very costly operation and the newsletter became a unique blend of music coverage and a document of fighting with our crooked and exploitative healthcare system. That combination probably wouldn’t make sense for an article in a publication, but I think for an ongoing newsletter it’s a good reading experience. It’s a journey that a person can follow from their inbox.”
– Dan Ozzi, Reply Alt
A short, quippy newsletter from Margot Boyer-Dry featuring bright colors and snarky commentary on all the important pop-culture developments of the day. It also features a great new song each week.
Comedian Samantha Irby runs a daily newsletter breaking down what happens on Judge Mathis everyday. Niche? Absolutely. Funny as hell? Double absolutely.
Longtime Hollywood insider Richard Rushfield writes a newsletter about and for the entertainment industry. Expect both analysis and gossip for anyone looking for more than what the tabloids offer.
A weekly newsletter about fun and good stuff on the internet from Ryan Broderick. And given that it’s the internet, those things usually end up involving some esoteric, digitally native subculture.
The Daily Respite
An important newsletter for the times: each morning, Clara Parkes sends out a single great thing. The contents of the newsletter might be a tweet, a video, an article, a recipe or anything else she finds online that will make you smile.
Now I Know
A daily newsletter from WarnerMedia honcho and Sesame Street alum Dan Lewis that dissects a specific idea or topic each day. Such as: how turkeys got their name, the story of Abe Lincoln creating the Secret Service on the day he was shot, and many more things you didn’t think you needed to know but are glad that you now do.
Screenwriter and film and television nerd Drew McWeeny publishes articles and analysis on trends in the industry along with essays about specific shows and movies.
Something I Saw
From Kimberly Rose Drew, an accomplished author and curator of Black art, this newsletter presents one piece of artwork a day with information on what it is and who it is by. The newsletter doesn’t focus exclusively on Black artists, but certainly features more than your average art newsletter would. A super quick, easy and fun read each day.
Sex and Relationships
Here’s The Thing
GQ sex and dating columnist Sophia Benoit does what she does best, answering write-ins from forlorn lovers, self-proclaimed casanovas and curious fornicators.
Very entertaining autobiographical comics from writer and illustrator Edith Zimmerman. They often deal with the banalities of daily life, but in a quirky and insightful manner. Plus she includes links to related topics at the bottom of the email.
My Sweet Dumb Brain
Essays examining difficult moments and situations in our lives and how we can grow and learn from them, penned by journalism consultant and “reluctant expert on grief” Katie Hawkins-Gaar.
From John Paul Brammer, the description on the About page says just about everything you need to know “Originally pitched as ‘Queer Latinx Dear Abby Huffing Poppers,’ the column has gone on to tackle questions from readers around the world.” It’s profoundly funny, insightful and heartbreaking all at the same time.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Trapital by Dan Runcie has been a really appreciated addition to my media diet. Dan does a great job of taking larger stories in rap and popular culture and applying C-Suite level analysis. It’s also a podcast that has interviewed big names in the world of marketing and advertising, like Steve Stoute and Matthew Knowles. Worth your time, even if you don’t work in music or entertainment.”
-Ernest Wilkins, Office Hours
Politics and Policy
Judd Legum, the founder and former editor of the now-shuttered progressive political site ThinkProgress, publishes a weekly newsletter looking to cut out all the noise of social media and TV punditry with regards to political conversations. It is left-leaning, but everything is well researched and meticulously framed.
A newsletter from environmental reporter Emily Atkin on all things climate change. She angrily takes down the forces driving global warming with original and informative reporting. A must read if you’re concerned — as you should be — with our descent into the rising seas.
Every week, writer Pat Garofalo covers all the ways that corporations are convincing state and local governments to give them tax cuts. Straightforward and informative intel on all the ways your taxpayer money is benefiting corporate America.
What The Fuck Just Happened Today
A daily update on the “shock and awe in national politics” from policy wonk Matt Kiser. It’s an extensive roundup of everything you could possibly want to know that’s happening in our country at any given moment.
The newsletter that launched the Substack platform, Sinocism comes from Bill Bishop, who has over a decade of experience living in and reporting on China. A handy brief for anyone who is plugged into — or simply curious about — what’s going on in the Middle Kingdom.
Notes on the Crises
Twenty-eight-year-old Nathan Tankus is the economics guru that the people who run the economy turn to: a recent Bloomberg profile noted that his newsletter has subscribers who work for the Federal Reserve and the Department of the Treasury. Essentially a self-taught economist, Tankus uses complex accounting tools and a deep knowledge of the internet to predict and analyze trends within the Federal Reserve.
Letters From An American
Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of American history, writes a newsletter about current American politics as it relates to and is a product of all the other driving forces of American society: the economy, the media, technology and more.
From Fiza Pirani, winner of a Carter Center Mental Health Journalism fellowship, this newsletter covers both immigration and mental-health issues, especially with regard to the intersection of the two.
Black Men’s Book Club
From Jordan Coin Jackson, BMBC is a newsletter meant to supply the Black community with book and content recommendations meant to inform and inspire, especially from an entrepreneurial scope.
Tyler Harris’s newsletter connects “the dots on the nuances of Black contemporary life and today’s current affairs” via insightful analysis and explanatory articles. A great read that shines a light on issues frequently faced by the Black community.
Author Austin Channing Brown publishes an incredibly varied newsletter with musings on current events, cultural touchstones and racial inequality. She even gives homework to subscribers to help them think through many of these issues.
Run It Back
Victor Luckerson runs a newsletter about neglected Black history that runs as an informative, episodic read. He’s currently focusing on the history of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Black Tech Pipeline
Pariss Athena publishes a newsletter about the oft-overlooked black members of the tech community. The newsletter publishes opportunities and resources along with interviews and pertinent information to the community.
Productivity and Creativity
From The Curious Mind of Jocelyn K Glei
This newsletter from the productivity expert and host of the podcast Hurry Slowly focuses on recommendations and ideas for how to be more creative and intentional in your daily work routines, no matter the discipline.
Barking Up The Wrong Tree
A weekly newsletter from Eric Barker that leverages science-backed research to formulate strategies and advice for “how to be awesome at life,” as he puts it. Expect advice on everything from how to be more persuasive to how to overcome imposter syndrome.
A weekly from Austin Kleon, a NYT bestselling illustrator and author who writes about creativity and productivity specifically as it relates to the digital age. His newsletters are a little all over the place; the one constant is his weekly roundup of 10 things worth sharing: artwork, articles, ideas, etc.
My favorite newsletter is …
“The Whippet. I love how McKinley (Valentine)’s curiosity about mundane, everyday things always makes me learn something useful and fun that I can use in conversation with friends.”
-Kai Brach, Dense Discovery
Welcome To Hell World
A fever dream of a newsletter from Luke O’Neil. It is a random assortment of political musings, links, information and some of the messiest style and syntax — in a good way — you’ve ever seen in a professional product. It’s a lot to handle, but it’s great.
From Shelby Lorman, the voice behind satirical Instagram @awardsforgoodboys, this newsletter is an extension of that idea: exploring why we as a society celebrate people and celebrities who don’t actually do impressive things. Sometimes delves into rant territory, but always funny and insightful.
Bad Sandwich Chronicles Beyond Thunderdome
From punk-rock musician Brendan Kelly, this is a wild newsletter of rambling lists and thoughts filled with profanity and sexual allusions that is as hilarious as it is keenly observant of the times. Worth the read even if you’re not into punk rock, because the newsletter doesn’t actually have much to do with the musical genre beyond personal anecdotes from Kelly.
A weekly set of musings from intellectual Maria Popova about everything she has read over the past week. She is a newsletter OG, having run Brainpickings for over a decade.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Watching from the NYT. They do two things well. First, they take an overwhelmingly large pool of content and give me an idea or three a night of what TV show I might want to try out. I can’t stand the internet lists that give you 35 movies you need to see this fall or the top hundred shows on Netflix. How is that useful? Second, they take an overwhelmingly large brand and give it the personal voice of an indie brand that feels like it’s shared by people who are just as into TV as their readers. That ability to make a large pool of content and a large brand both feel personal and email-ish is what draws me to that newsletter.”
-Dave Pell, Next Draft
LZ Sunday Paper
Lauren Zalaznick has a storied career in the film and television industry, having worked as everything from an award-winning feature film producer to an EVP at NBCUniversal. Her weekly mailer covers everything in the business world that is important to and about women.
VC investor Sarah Nöckel highlights news on the growing number of women founders and influencers in the venture capital world. A great resource for learning about important new companies and collecting advice from some of the best in the business, regardless of gender.
Sports reporter and host of the Burn It All podcast Lindsay Gibbs publishes a thrice-weekly newsletter exploring the discrepancies between men’s and women’s sports. Power Plays looks at the structures in place that serve to create the divide and advocates for how best to go about making change. A surprisingly fun read for such heavy topics.
The Single Supplement
A newsletter for single women from Nicola Slawson, who was fed up with the way that most publications were talking to single women — i.e., as if their only goal should be to no longer be single.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Tom Tunguz answers key questions facing startups with a lot of focus on fundraising and SaaS benchmarks. He uses frameworks and data to address topics like The SaaS Marketing Scorecard and The impact of the corona virus on software valuation multiples.“
-Sarah Nöckel, Femstreet
Media, Technology and E-Commerce
A self-proclaimed “daily-ish” newsletter from Buzzfeed Editor Delia Cai that sends you one link every morning on a newsworthy happening in the media industry. It also features interviews with writers and editors every Friday.
From Benedict Evans, a veteran analyst of the technology, media and investment industries, this newsletter tackles just about anything tangential to those arenas and why they matter.
A few-times-a-week newsletter from Paul Munford focusing specifically on newer commerce brands and direct-to-consumer companies, analyzing their position from the POV of both the industry and the consumer. Very informative and great for discovering newer brands.
Big Technology From Alex Kantrowitz
Kantrowitz started an earlier iteration of this newsletter — Tech Giant Update — while working as an editor at Buzzfeed News. He left his post at the digital media giant earlier this year to focus full time on his newsletter, which is the de facto newsletter of record for all goings-on in the world of realm of America’s biggest tech companies.
A beautiful and colorful newsletter from Kai Brach, publisher of print magazine Offscreen, that examines how tech, design, culture and the environment all fit together through a series of highly curated and useful links, products and apps.
Alex Danco’s Newsletter
This eponymous email covers the innovation economy, talking you through news and trends that you probably hadn’t quite pieced together yet, but will regard as obvious and intuitive by the time you finish reading.
From Kevin Indig, this weekly newsletter provides insights into the digital-marketing world: some super technical, some more macro, all helpful to building a more comprehensive understanding of the industry.
A random assortment of content from Patrick Tanguay, a “Thought Partner” (aka ideas man) for various high-profile leaders and organizations. He’s basically an academic but for the internet, so you’ll find some really interesting, unique takes on our collective digital condition in here.
My favorite newsletter is …
“The Kick: Written by Outside Magazine editor Molly Mirhashem, The Kick digs into the world of women’s running. I’m a lapsed competitive runner and while I no longer compete, I’m still interested in and excited by the sport. The Kick is how I keep tabs on what’s happening; it’s more about running culture than races or competition. American women are dominating distance running right now, and it’s great to see someone peek behind the curtain to understand the forces at play rather than just summarize race results.”
-Emily Singer, Chips + Dip
Another of the OGs, Ben Thompson has been providing thoughts and updates on the strategy behind technology and media for nearly a decade. He offers a free weekly newsletter as well as a subscription-based daily brief.
Operating Partner at Bain Capital Darren Herman has extensive experience in the digital marketing, advertising and investing worlds. His weekly newsletter offers insight into those industries as well as a few others, including ecommerce and data.
Drinking from the Firehose
From Alex Taussig, Partner at Lightspeed Ventures, a weekly newsletter in which Taussig uses his analytical mind to dissect relevant topics in science, tech, investing and pop culture. A smart newsletter from a smart man.
Check Your Pulse
Touted as a “tech and startups newsletter to make you feel human.” Translation: writer Sari Azout focuses on the more positive and aspirational sides of the tech industry, providing a welcome reprieve from a news cycle that often tends toward the cynical and greedy.
No Mercy / No Malice
Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern Scott Galloway (he’s also a bestselling author) waxes hilarious and poetic in his weekly newsletter on of-the-moment topics as they relate to tech and the digital economy. He also provides some great illustrations throughout.
The Sociology of Business
This newsletter from Ana Andjelic, a strategy exec and sociologist, is pretty straightforward: she explores the various sociological factors that impact business strategy and decisions.
Packy McCormick investigates what’s going on in the world of business and technology through humorous essays and pop-culture references, like using Hey Arnold to illustrate modern supply-and-demand problems.
My favorite newsletter is …
“I love The Profile by Polina Marinova. It does one thing and does it very well: finds the best longform stories on people and companies. Humans learn through stories, and the stories The Profile curates are always captivating, entertaining, educational and human.”
-Sari Azout, Check Your Pulse
A New York-based food newsletter from Nick Greenberg about the best things to eat in and around the city, all categorized and broken up with fake superlatives and funny contests. The best ongoing one is “Worth the schlep?”, which determines whether a place at the far reaches of the city is … worth the schlep.
A biweekly newsletter from Cook’s Illustrated contributor Andrew Janjigian all about bread baking. Each issue shares a recipe along with other insights into the bread game. (Note: Wordloaf is temporarily on hiatus, but Janjigian hopes to have it back up and running soon.)
Cooking in Quarantine
Writer and author Sam Koppelman talks to some of the world’s best chefs on what to cook at home with limited ingredients … as well as how to maintain hope and sanity in these trying times through the practice of cooking.
Stained Page News
Paula Forbes has been a cookbook critic and reviewer for the better part of a decade. Here, she uses the email format to write about anything and everything related to cookbooks: recipes, reviews, news, recommendations and more.
Paul Caputo’s Wine Journal
Wine writer and consultant Paul Caputo covers trends and news related to the wine industry. Everything from producers to rare grapes to macro trends in the industry.
A very useful and interesting newsletter from Maggie McGlinchy that explores one new grocery store item each week. In each newsletter, she goes in depth on the history of an item along with how to pick it, how to prepare it and how to store it.
My favorite newsletter is …
“Trendslates eCommerce Newsletter. Eric [Fader] does a phenomenal and timely job of curating and adding color to very timely happenings in the e-commerce world.”
-Darren Herman, Operating Partner
A Continuous Lean
Soon to relaunch as a newsletter, ACL is the seminal menswear blog from style writer and publicist Michael Williams. Expect it to extoll on all things menswear along with other adjacent cultural touchstones.
Culture journalist Jonah Weiner documents streetwear and fashion trends, talks with influential people in the industry and highlights little-known but worthwhile brands. A must read for anyone interested in the new age of style.
A mostly weekly newsletter from attorney and watch writer Tony Traina, Rescapement Weekly publishes thought-provoking articles on modern watches, vintage watches and all things horological.
The Daily Thread
From Ryan Sneddon, this newsletter picks one piece of gear or clothing to highlight each day along with some notes on what it’s best suited for, along with stories from the worlds of adventuring and outdoor sports. It’s short and easy to read, and will highlight a lot of brands you’ve probably never heard of before.