How an Email Newsletter Publisher Built an Audience of 223,991 Subscribers

Brian and I have been talking about his new email newsletter lately, and I thought it’d be interesting to have a similar conversation with someone in a completely different topical market.

It’s about one person writing and curating a topic he knows and cares about, building a massive email audience over a period of four years, then turning all that work into a sustainable business.

And hang in there, even if you have no interest in (or understanding of) programming, Javascript, Ruby, or HTML5, you’ll be able to apply the lessons of this episode to your own business …

In this 39-minute episode Peter Cooper and I discuss:

  • How this programmer became a major content publisher
  • Why he switched from blogging to email newsletters
  • How he promoted his newsletters in the early days
  • What he learned from one of the world’s best Tetris players
  • Where the majority of Cooper Press’ revenue comes from
  • The only social network that really works (for him)
  • His approach to opt-in conversion optimization
  • His best two pieces of advice for starting a curated email newsletter

The Show Notes

How an Email Newsletter Publisher Built an Audience of 223,991 Subscribers

Robert Bruce: Peter Cooper of Cooper Press, thanks for coming on Rainmaker.FM. Before we get into the business of your curated email newsletter, which is really the thing I want to focus on today, more than anything, tell me a bit about your origin story as an entrepreneur, publisher and programmer.

Peter Cooper: Man, I hate the word entrepreneur but I’ll go with it.

I guess I had, what would have been in the 80s, a typical male geek upbringing. Unfortunately it did tend to be mostly a male thing at the time. The people I knew had people in their family who had computers and passed them down and I was playing with technology and stuff like that. A great scene in our days. Although it’s a lot more open than it used to be.

So I grew up in the 80s with all the different computers that were around. Working out how to play with them and program them and stuff like that because my parents wouldn’t allow me to have an Nintendo or anything like that. I never had any of that kind of stuff. It was all just normal computers that I was playing with. This was all when I was a teenager.

I got into doing some demo coding and it was just the normal progression, I guess, for someone who was into programming at a young age.

I then got to a point where I was deciding what to do with life and decided I wanted to become a lawyer. A very kind of interesting profession but it didn’t quite work out. I was going to go to college and start training in that side of things but a really good job opportunity came up. It was around the time of the whole new media scene in London, so I took a job there briefly and went on to do some web design/web development related jobs with people. This was somewhere around 1999.

It didn’t work out amazingly well, so I ended up going self-employed because I liked it. It kind of bombed a bit during the dotcom bust era because I was doing work for companies like Internet.com and various companies that have now gone out of business. Actually they went out of business at the time because it was that kind of era.

In the background I was still coding and stumbled across a few different things. The first one being Ruby on Rails in 2004, which I immediately started to use and got on with it really well. I became interested in doing web development again, and at the same time RSS because I’d been into blogging for a long, long time. Even before the term existed, I was doing an online diary and stuff. So I was very interested in doing stuff with RSS and I built a service called RSS Digest, which became Free Digest.

It allowed you to reprocess and repackage RSS feeds in various ways. I ran that for a few years and then sold it. This gave me a runway to mess around and do what I wanted for a short period of time. It wasn’t “Eff-you money” as they call it but it was enough to just think, “What do I want to do?”

So I started noodling around with writing about Ruby and doing some publishing stuff because I realized when I was younger, I had quite an interest in publishing, so I thought I would see if I could make a job of it. And that seems to be what’s happened.

It went from running a blog and the most successful one being Ruby Inside, which was basically the most popular Ruby on Rails related blog between 2007 and 2012. There was various other things along those lines but from that I ran Ruby Weekly. And then from Ruby Weekly came all the other different newsletters that I now have. So I am now principally doing email.

Robert Bruce: So you came from a programming background, which was your interest and you developed those skills. For those listening, I’ll do a little bit of an introduction. Cooper Press is a curated email newsletter. I can’t think of anything better than the word “network” to describe it. It’s a network of email newsletters. Is that fair?

Peter Cooper: Yep.

How This Programmer Became a Major Content Publisher

Robert Bruce: Your focus is still on technical, programming type languages and the news, and you are curating things around that. But this is really going to be interesting for our audience and the shift I would like to make now is, you are this accomplished programmer and you are also an accomplished writer and publisher.

I heard you tell a story a while ago about where the idea for publishing newsletters came from, maybe not that specific to start, but publishing in general. You don’t see a lot of crossover from programmer type folks into wholesale publishing, so how did that happen?

Peter Cooper: It was by accident really. I’ve always been a big believer in blogging and the whole idea of using blogging to build up a business, build up your profile and stuff like that. But as I got into doing it, I realized that a lot of it came from when I was a kid.

When I learned stuff about programming, math or whatever, I would often write my own guide to it and I don’t know why. It was an inbuilt thing that I just did and enjoyed doing.

Robert Bruce: You wanted to write a book?

Peter Cooper: Well exactly, yeah. Not proper books as such but that same idea of, “I’ve got this knowledge. I need to get it down in some way and potentially it could be useful to other people.”

I realized I had a habit of always doing this through life in various different ways. In the mid 90s, I did run Basic, like QBasic type programming and I ran a fanzine for basic programming on a news group, for about 10 or 11 issues. It came out monthly. It had code in it and people’s emails they would send in and stuff like that.

I remembered how all the stuff I had done was so natural to me and I just got to this point in my life where I thought, “Well hang on. I should probably just start doing the things that are still natural to me, rather than fighting against stuff.” Even though I had always written software for a living and didn’t mind do it, I didn’t quite enjoy doing it for other people.

So I thought, “Let me do something that I do enjoy doing for other people,” which is the publishing side of stuff. I just connected those dots in my head and that’s what made me get into this. It wasn’t a big plan of “How can I make some money?” It was, “Yeah, I know I am inherently good at doing stuff like this. Let’s just give it a go.”

Robert Bruce: And folks can find you at
cooperpress.com. At the current count, I think you’ve got eight different newsletters. Is that right?

Peter Cooper: There are more. It’s just that site is hideously bad. I’m like the builder with the ramshackle house.

Robert Bruce: You know, we can talk about fixing that up for you but that will be for later.

Peter Cooper: Exactly. The best way is to go to a site like JavaScript Weekly and then at the bottom, we automatically add links to all the different things that are pre-populated there.

Robert Bruce: Yeah. I want to talk about JavaScript Weekly just a little bit later but to give people an idea of what you are doing here with the multiple curated email newsletters, which are focused in and around programming type topics, how many email subscribers in total do Cooper Press serve right now?

Peter Cooper: As of this very second, 223,991. Let’s just round it up to 225,000.

Robert Bruce: That is very impressive. Does one, two or three stand out way more than others?

Peter Cooper: Yes.

Robert Bruce: Or are they pretty fairly evenly distributed?

Peter Cooper: No. It’s quite large gaps between some of them. We have quite a few smaller ones, which are more recent ones and we are trying to build up. But in terms of the really big established ones, it’s pretty much Ruby Weekly, which was our first one but it’s now the third largest. The first two are JavaScript Weekly and HTML5 Weekly.

JavaScript Weekly eclipses the others but HTML5 Weekly is pretty big as well. JavaScript Weekly is about 75,000, HTML5 Weekly is like 55,000 and then Ruby Weekly is like 32,000.

Robert Bruce: Crap.

Peter Cooper: And then it drops off quite a bit. Then it goes into Node and various other topics, which are sort of coming up behind.

Robert Bruce: How long have you been doing it?

Peter Cooper: I believe the first issue of the first newsletter, which was Review Weekly, would have been in very late 2010. So just over four years. It was very amateur for quite some time. It didn’t make any money for the first year or whatever. It didn’t really intend to. It was more of an addition to the blogging stuff that I was doing but now the blogs have pretty much died.

Robert Bruce: Interesting.

Peter Cooper: This has now become the main thing.

How He Promoted His Newsletters in The Early Days

Robert Bruce: So you’ve been doing this a long time and we’ll get into the details of what you do every week for each newsletter a little bit later, but tell me about the early days of publishing that first newsletter and as the other ones came along.

How do you go about promoting your stuff? Did you have a built in audience? Obviously you have been publishing and doing things online for quite a while. How did you go about promoting these email newsletters?

Peter Cooper: In the early days, it was pretty much down to the fact that I already had the Ruby Inside blog, which was very important as a way to launch. It had like 30,000 RSS subscribers at the time, which at the time I thought was absolutely huge but now looking back, it’s funny how things go. So I had that.

I also had a site called Ruby Flow, which I’ve just relaunched in the last couple of days. It’s more of a community kind of blog, where anyone can post stuff.

I’d had these different outlets to the Ruby community anyway, so as soon as I put it out there that I was doing this, within a couple of days I had over 1,000 subscribers straight out of the gate. Just people who were curious. You know, quite a few detractors. People saying, “It’s a bit old fashioned doing email, blah, blah, blah” which you hear less and less now. But in 2010, it wasn’t very trendy to have an email newsletter whatsoever, so it was almost like blogging was in the early 2000s.

Robert Bruce: Is it trendy now?

Peter Cooper: I think it is.

Robert Bruce: I think you’re right.

Peter Cooper: Because every time I go to a company, do a podcast or whatever, everybody is trying to get me sign up for email. I’m almost kind of getting sick of it. It’s very funny to be in this business and seeing that happen.

Robert Bruce: You had a little head start with about 1,000 immediate sign ups but it sounds like after that point, it was really natural growth.

We’ve talked a lot about the email forward being the early social sharing. Did you see a lot of organic growth then from forwarding, from people talking about you online? Obviously, the programming community is a rabid community in terms of interests in the topic. People are close knit and it probably had a lot to do with that. But was it mostly an organic growth from that first point?

Peter Cooper: Almost entirely organic growth. Just a couple of things that I would say that have been big influences is getting mentions by people that are very prolific or well known within the scene. In Ruby Weekly’s case, early on we got a mention from Chris Wanstrath of Github. He mentioned that he liked it and so on, and I believe Paul Irish also mentioned JavaScript Weekly when it was very new. Those types of referrals are worth a lot. You get a certain amount of boost off of those.

The other thing that really helped is, quite a few people seemed to build those lists of things you should read, or things you should subscribe to in certain topic areas and we seemed to turn up on those lists quite often.

Those lists become really popular on things like Reddit and Hacker News. We seemed to get a ton of people coming through. When we have queried subscribers on how they found us, often these types of posts have come up. People said, “Oh, I found this post of useful resources and you were just included in it.” So that’s become important as well.

Robert Bruce: Yeah and I’ve heard you talk about, or write about, elements of conversion on the one page sites as well, that we’ll talk about a little bit later but before we do that, Rainmaker.FM is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform. If you are looking to easily build a powerful sales and marketing website that drives your online business, head over to RainmakerPlatform.com right now, and sign up for a free 14-day trial to see if it might be a fit for you.

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Why He Switched From Blogging to Email Newsletters

Robert Bruce: Okay Peter, we’ve touched on the history of your email newsletter empire and you had mentioned blogging before that, and doing more kind of traditional content websites before that, so why did you shift to this email curation model? Why did you not keep publishing articles on a blog? What was the thought process there?

Peter Cooper: A couple of things. One is we used to have reasonable success with doing roundups of other people’s content but it was never like a really huge thing on the blogs. It tended to be original content that worked a lot better on the blog, rather than leaking out elsewhere, which is why we ended up creating the Ruby Flow site as a way that other people could promote their own stuff. But what I found with email, once I got going with it, because it was just an experiment, it was just a case of, “Someone else is going to do this. I better do it first.”

I discovered that the engagement was very different to the sort of engagement you get on the web. I’d become quite familiar with how readers who found certain things interesting on the web, found different things interesting when it came to email. And just the way they engaged with it would be different and the way we could track the engagement would be different. We knew how many of our subscribers actually came along and actually did something with an item, rather than counting page views and stuff like that.

I really liked the engagement model and obviously the other tempting thing, after a certain period time had passed, and I decided to make it a lot more into a business, is the advertising situation. And certainly in my case, it’s very different in email, as opposed to the web. In terms of the amount you can make, it’s just totally different for the amount of effort that’s expended. You can spend ages writing fresh content every single month, like I did, and make a certain return, or you can spend relatively less time doing email, and make more. So there was just a business equation to be done as well.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, that’s very interesting. And as the Rainmaker audience knows, an email subscriber is a different thing in terms of audience, than a blog or RSS subscriber and obviously a Twitter or Facebook follower. It’s a much more valuable person.

Where The Majority of Cooper Press’ Revenue Comes From

Robert Bruce: You mentioned engagement and then also in terms of responsiveness to either advertising or product, which leads into my next question, which is, what is your business model look like these days, as it relates to the newsletter business?

At the bottom on CooperPress.com, I see online training that you have for sale, which I’m assuming you have developed yourself. There’s a little bit of consulting. And then you’ve just mentioned advertising. Is that about right for the mix?

Peter Cooper: No, it’s not actually. This is what I mean by the site being so radically out of date.

Early on, one of my original plans with this was that I would keep the newsletter to myself and I would use it to promote things that I had created, like ebooks and things like that.

Robert Bruce: Your own stuff.

Peter Cooper: Yeah. I had this dream of getting into that whole side of things, which I know a lot of people have had success with but I thought, “If I’ve got an audience of let’s say, 10,000 people, and I can promote ebooks to them and say 500 people buy it, and I can get someone to buy that amount of stuff each week, I’m going to make loads of money.

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Peter Cooper: So that was my original idea but keeping up the capacity and keeping up the quality is a lot of work.

Robert Bruce: Yeah. Producing newsletters themselves, plus producing the product or service.

Peter Cooper: Yeah. So then I thought, “Okay, I’ve seen all these people like Amy Hoy and Marc-Andr√© Cournoyer and people like that, do online training. So people would pay $400, $500, $600 and they’d get to spend time, almost like a webinar experience really, spread across a few days and learn something new. So I thought I could do this for Ruby. They were doing it for Rails, JavaScript and other things.

I set it up, gave it a go and it worked really well. Each time I did it, it made about $10,000 and I think I ran five or six of them but they do take a lot out of you. Especially since I wanted to redevelop the curriculum every time from all the things I had picked up and I just couldn’t leave it alone.

I found it quite an exhausting thing to do and I suddenly started having all of these potential sponsors coming out of the woodwork saying, “We really like your email and we’ll give you loads of money to put stuff in it.” They didn’t quite put it like that but that’s what they were kind of getting at.

So I started to do it. I thought I’d just fill the gap with advertising, until I figured out what I was doing but advertising has become 90 whatever percent of the business. The remainder of it is actually producing newsletters for other people. This is something that has gone a little up and down over time and something that I am looking to getting back into and doing properly again.

For a couple of years, we ran a newsletter for a company but unfortunately they are no longer in business but we are working with another couple of clients now and we also have a partnership. We have rack space on one called DB Weekly. So we’ve got a couple of things like that going as well. It is pretty much advertising or being supported by companies that want us to do similar stuff.

Robert Bruce: That’s very interesting. Let me ask you this. On the advertising, did you go and pursue advertisers or is it something that happened naturally as the newsletters themselves grew, people found you, advertisers found you and contacted you?

Peter Cooper: It was 100% totally natural. As I said, the plan was to do publishing and all that type of stuff and products, so these people came to me. And pretty much that has still been the case. I can’t even think of the last time I actually sent an email to someone to try and solicit them. Everyone has just turned up on my doorstep, which has been quite a nice position to be in.

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Peter Cooper: It’s very different to if you were deliberately going into this and thinking “I want to run a newsletter about X and I want to make loads of money or whatever” then you’d have to start thinking of “What’s my plan here?” Where with this, I just did what I wanted and people reacted to that. So yeah, I’ve been very lucky in that regard.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, I don’t know if luck has much to do with it because here, like you said, you’ve done four years. I’m sure it happened well before the four year mark, but you are producing real value to an audience that is valuable to these advertisers. I mean, you did the work and it’s interesting that even in, what is seemingly a closed system, like email, it’s much more powerful than that system in a lot of ways, these people approaching you. That’s fascinating.

The Content Curation Strategy

Robert Bruce: So tell me a little bit about your content curation strategy, like how are you finding good stuff week in and week out, for these multiple email newsletters? You’ve got a lot of content going out, you are finding links, you are also writing and the last time I checked, I think there were 25 links in one issue of a newsletter.

Peter Cooper: With the first one, which was weekly, I found it very easy. I already had the blog, I was already very much into the community, I was actually in the Ruby community, I knew people, and I went to events. It was very easy. Stuff just came to me and obviously I was working with Ruby all the time, so I already knew, “Is this BS or is it not BS? Is this person talking sense or whatever?” So I found that very easy and I still do to a certain extent, even though I am not quite as deep into the community as I used to be.

But when I started branching out to other topics, that’s perhaps where the question becomes more relevant, because for example, I had been working with JavaScript for a very long time but never like a proper professional developer, just more of a side interest or something that I tolerated because I had to use it on various projects.

So when I launched JavaScript Weekly, I wasn’t particularly a super-duper expert of JavaScript, I just knew the lay of the land. It’s actually funny because I over the last couple of weeks I have watched a video of a guy learning to play Tetris The Grand Master, the Japanese arcade game and he practiced for years and years and after 10 years of playing this game almost nonstop, he has finally got this Grand Master status in it. And to do this, you have to play it at a ridiculously fast speed and then you have to actually play Tetris on an invisible level at the end, so you can’t even see where the blocks are going. You have to remember it in your head.

Robert Bruce: What the?

Peter Cooper: Well, exactly. But the thing is, I have seen so many people do things like that and the Rubik’s Cube, and I can’t even comprehend how that works.

Now I don’t want to put myself on their level, but I have been doing this whole kind of look at content, and summarizing it. You know, is it good or is it bad? I have been doing it so much, with some many thousands of items now, that perhaps to someone watching me, they might think it’s a similar thing going on. I can come across a piece of content very quickly, add it into our system, summarize it, tag it, look at it, change the title around, whatever. Sometimes I can often do that within like 30 seconds. I’ll often come back to things because there are certain things that actually look better on the surface, than they really are but I tend to get a gut feeling for stuff like this very quickly.

So it’s down to lots and lots of practice, which is part one and number two, is having really good sources for information. A lot of our stuff comes in by emails, so I get to talk to people first, or I look in places that are trusted or that have a social proof element. So Hacker News, Reddit, and Echo JS. There is a whole bunch of people doing smaller scale curation as well, that I monitor and lean upon. Of course, they do the same thing back with me. I often see things that I’ve mentioned, come up in their stuff.

Podcasts as well. If you have an interesting guest on, I can tell if they are talking sense or not and I will look at their stuff and link to it.

It’s an interesting skill but it’s pretty much a skill that you repeat and you repeat, and you get better at.

Robert Bruce: One thing that really fascinates me in that is, and you mentioned people sending you stuff, could you make a percentage out of it? What percentage of the good stuff you find to publish, is sent to you by others?

Peter Cooper: It’s not a huge percentage. I get a reasonable amount of email but I definitely get much less email than I had space to fill. The problem is that so much of the big news comes from Google and Facebook and big famous libraries of people, who would never get in touch with me because they are too famous, or they just don’t need to reach out because they know that I am watching.

It tends to be independent bloggers that reach out to me, who have written tutorials and posts, that I wouldn’t necessarily come across usually or perhaps they haven’t submitted it to Reddit, or they are not big on Hacker News or whatever. So I get a lot of people like that and libraries that people have not heard of. I would say that about 10% of an issue comes from submissions but you do build up a lot of relationships through those emails as well. Some people come from really not doing a lot, to actually becoming successful in a niche and if you help them get that leg up, they sometimes give you exclusive things later on. I wish I could cite some examples but there’s just been too many names.

Robert Bruce: We’ve seen it in all kinds of topical markets. It’s very true.

Peter Cooper: Yeah, there are just so many people. It’s really fun actually to see how people come up and surpass other people in an industry.

Addy Osmani is one I can think of in the JavaScript and HTML5 world. I remember when he was starting out. I think he was a developer for many years but when he started having a social presence. We linked to him all the time and now he’s like this extremely famous person in the scene. It’s just very cool to see that happen and also how people go about it.

Robert Bruce: One quick last question on that is, is Twitter a factor at all in driving traffic to you or spreading the word?

Peter Cooper: Yes. We don’t really exist on Facebook. I think we have an account but it’s got 10 likes or something like that. So we don’t use that. But Twitter is very, very important.

For example, we have a JavaScript Daily account, so we’ve gone from JavaScript Weekly to JavaScript Daily.

Robert Bruce: You’re crazy man.

Peter Cooper: The reason we created it was because eventually we had too many items per issue.

Robert Bruce: Oh, wow.

Peter Cooper: We have about 100-150 things that technically go into an issue now.

So what I do instead, I still have them. I don’t summarize them. I just literally push them into a Twitter queue. So they go up onto @JavaScriptDaily.

Robert Bruce: Headline and a link.

Peter Cooper: Yeah, just the headline and the link. And sometimes a picture as well because we’ve found that works really well. But now we have, well I can’t remember exactly, like 117,000 followers or something. It’s been even more successful than the newsletter in a way. The engagement isn’t quite as high and the exposure isn’t quite as high but it really has come in useful. It really is a nice place to be.

Robert Bruce: And of course, the point there being the newsletter is much, much more valuable here to your long-term business.

Peter Cooper: Yeah, having the exposure just across lots of different types of media works really well. I’m kind of starting to buy into this whole idea of what Gary Vaynerchuk keeps bringing up, which is “You shouldn’t be afraid to create a Medium account and start writing on there and create a Vine account and start Vining.” Just spread out your message all over the place because the fact is, it’s all going to come back to you in some way or another, even if you can’t technically link back and track everything.

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Peter Cooper: You are just expanding that footprint.

Robert Bruce: I think it’s great advice. I mean, depending on the type of person you are, if you are able to function in that fractured way, I think it’s great advice because it all points back to the newsletter. Anything you are creating out there, as long as it’s pointing back to the newsletter, the place that you own, then you are good.

His Approach to Opt-in Conversion Optimization

Robert Bruce: Last thing here, let’s talk about conversion on the actual newsletter sites.

Your sites are relatively simple, one page jobs. I love them. But take us through the elements you’ve got. Let’s go with javascriptweekly.com and why you have chosen to lay things out the way you have.

I’ve got one particular question about something that I have heard you talk about, which is the image. You did some testing and I don’t know if you have any more recent ideas on this, but using the image versus not using the image. Take us through the elements of the JavaScript Weekly page.

Peter Cooper: Okay. We basically have the main title of the publication in the middle, with the description of what it is. In this case, it’s a free, once a week email roundup of JavaScript news and articles. We have a preview of the issue below that and then a sign-up box. There are some other things on the page but those are the main things. If I wanted to make the page really minimal, then I would keep those items.

The original design was actually very similar to what you see now, even though it’s a complete redesign. I just wanted to keep it simple. I’m not a web designer by any stretch of the imagination. I just wanted to keep it simple and effective.

In the early days I thought, “What do I need on the page? What’s going to work?” And I knew from my blogging days that images are really, really important. In the developer scene, I was one of the first people to do this back in 2006, when I launched Ruby Inside. I had this idea that I wanted every single post to have an image of some description. I think it was quite a key thing in it’s early growth because no one else in the Ruby scene was doing that type of stuff. It hadn’t really caught on.

People have this psychological feeling of “I’m already familiar with what this is, before I have even signed up to it.” The fact is that they can see an email preview on the screen, so they think, “It’s almost like I am already subscribed to it in a way.” I don’t know, I was just trying to play the psychology of the situation.

I also set up a tour which I no longer use unfortunately, just because I ran out of time but a system called Visual System Optimizer to do split testing. I would do things like change the color of the button. I would make the title bigger or smaller. I would get rid of the image or put the image back. Or I would say how many subscribers there were or not. So over time I gradually worked out what kind of order the elements, and the size and all that sort of stuff worked the best and none of the things had a huge impact.

Early on, the only thing I would say that did have an impact, was not showing the subscription count. It actually helped. So this actually runs contrary to what a lot of advice is given that, “Oh yeah, you should use social proof.” But I realized that social proof under a certain amount of proof didn’t work that well, so that was really the only statistically significant thing that I found. We got rid of that count for a long, long time. It didn’t come back until we had 10s of thousands of subscribers.

Now we are at this point where it’s just growing on its own, we don’t do any of that testing and I know that’s really, really bad. It’s just a case of lack of time and manpower and so on. But I think it would probably have a big effect, which it’s in it’s point now, where we can actually cross-promote our newsletters and stuff like that, so the growth isn’t as difficult to come by. But those are the basic page. It’s very simple. You just put in your email, subscribe now, you receive an email and you have a thank you page. That’s it. Keep it nice and simple.

We also have all of our archives online, just because I didn’t like the way that it was hooking into other people’s archives systems. I wanted to have it all under my control, so I could track everything.

Yeah, so that’s it.

His Best Two Pieces of Advice for Starting a Curated Email Newsletter

Robert Bruce: Two more questions Peter. Number one, if you could give one piece of advice to somebody who is wanting to start a curated email newsletter on any topic, obviously it’s going to vary topic to topic, what advice would you give them?

Peter Cooper: Man, that’s tricky. I have technical advice and I’ve got almost psychological advice. I guess if I was just going to give one short piece of technical advice, it would be it’s actually very useful to append Google Analytics parameters onto the end of your URLs that you link to.

The reason for this is because if you link to people, they suddenly start getting loads of traffic off of you, they don’t know where it came from, if it’s in an email but people who are using Google Analytics, if you put those parameters on the end, you can actually say what the name of the newsletter is. They can then Google it and find you, promote you and stuff, which has happened to us all the time. I now see a lot of other people doing this idea. There are loads of tutorials about this, although I’m sure many of the systems do it automatically now.

If I was going to give more general advice, it would be to really think about the psychological aspect to your publication. It’s very easy to come up with an idea and immediately run with it but try and think, “Well, if I was presented with this from scratch, how would I react to it? If I saw something called so-and-so weekly and it was presented in such-and-such a way, would I subscribe?” Or if there isn’t something not quite right about it.

I really find this hard to describe but it’s something I do a lot. I’m always thinking about what people feel when they reach a page necessarily, than how practical or how useful the page is. I’m thinking, “What are the psychological aspects? Does this look like a company that is going to spam me? Is it a company at all or is it a person? Am I going to get a relationship with a person that I could possibly personally email at some point?”

There’s always questions that I think run through people’s heads when they hit web pages, that they don’t necessarily ever tell you about or that you really know, so I’m always very aware of what I feel when I reach other people’s web pages. So I try and apply those questions to what I do.

Just think about each aspect of your page. Why is it there? And what kind of vibe is it giving off? This sounds very new age now but I’ve found that it works for me.

What is the Future of Cooper Press?

Robert Bruce: And finally, what is the future of Cooper Press?

Peter Cooper: Well, I don’t have a Ferrari or anything yet. I must admit, I don’t want a Ferrari anyway. I’m already very, very happy with cars.

I think growth is a little bit too celebrated by the Hacker News type crowd. You know, “Oh, you must grow like 10% every single month” type thing. But I do want to grow. I will be very, very happy when I reach a million subscribers or whatever but it is a case of working out how to get there, because once you reach that level of a business, it’s very easy to have numerous people working with you and almost become the Rupert Murdoch of email I guess. But I’m not quite at that point yet.

So there is growth but I don’t want to grow to be some multi tens of millions dollar business. This is pretty much for me people consider it a derogatory talent 3515 but like a lifestyle business. I’m very, very happy, as long as it makes a certain amount of money and helps me live the way I want to live. Goofing off on the Internet and messing around on Reddit and sending email. So as long as it keeps doing that, then great. Currently it does do that for me but I like to have a bit of an insurance policy by making it somewhat bigger and bringing some more people on board.

It’s a very broad overview and a very unadventurous overview but I’m thinking more long-term. I think people are perhaps going to start fatiguing of email newsletters. Obviously, this isn’t exactly what you want to hear, given what you are involved with but I think eventually, there is going to come a point where something else becomes cool. So I am always aware of keeping an eye out for what that is and I have a few very vague ideas of some of the things that will come along. For example, if you look at podcasting. It seems to have had a renaissance, so I think there are cycles with these things and I need to be aware of what’s going on. So keeping an eye on the horizon is also a massive part of my job.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, it’s a very interesting question. You know, better than anyone probably, the yearly pronouncement that email is dead, along with whatever else is dead this year. You know, certainly technology changes. Things are always changing. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when?” But you look into the future, and I’m not a futurist or a visionary, but there probably will be a time when email is taken over.

You can’t not say that but it’s hard to imagine with the way that email has permeated, for better or worse, our lives online, every account we sign up for, everything that we do, one-to-one and one-to-many, it really is kind of the bedrock of what goes on in these businesses and our lives online. So I think it’s probably the safest bet there is now, and for the foreseeable future, but yeah, you are right, it is good to always keep looking. The beauty is too, if something like that were to happen, some catastrophic email thing, you’ve got the audience to be able to switch them over and a certain number of them will, if and when, that time comes.

Peter Cooper: That is something that I am always thinking about. And this is something that people I know in the software, as a service space, say to me, “Perhaps you should be trying to come up with your own subscription kind of thing. Whether it’s software or whether it’s a publication people pay for.” Just some other way of getting frequent income off of people and building up other businesses off the back of what I’ve got, but then I start to think about all the work I’ve still got to do, so I never actually get around to doing it.

Robert Bruce: That’s right.

Peter Cooper: I think this is a good problem to have though.

Robert Bruce: Well, Peter Cooper, of CooperPress.com, thanks for coming on man. I really appreciate it. This has been really interesting. I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a while, so thanks a lot.

Peter Cooper: Yeah, it’s been great. Thanks.

Robert Bruce: Thanks for listening everybody. This is Rainmaker.FM. If you would like to get these episodes delivered to you by email, the best way to do that is to go to Rainmaker.FM and underneath the headline there, you will see the green button, just click that, sign up and get the latest episodes as they come out, plus a free 10-part course that will likely change the way you think about online marketing.

We’ll see you next week everybody.