Newsletters are the new blogs. And that's a good thing.

I used to be a newsletter hater. My email inbox is a wasteland of work, spam and things I don’t care about. It’s not the place I go to when I want to be entertained or delighted. And why would I use email when I have RSS?

For those that don’t know, an RSS ‘feed’ is essentially a plain text version of a blog that an RSS ‘reader’ will then process and nicely display for you. It’s an ad-free, dedicated reading place with no tracking, offline functionality (once synced), and customisable font size, text width, etc.

It’s great. And during the heyday of blogging it was a popular way to read blogs as you didn’t have to visit a site to get new posts. But when Google Reader, the most popular RSS reader, shut down in 2013, it effectively killed off RSS for mainstream users. Its usage has been declining ever since, and blogging declined with it.

Meanwhile social media rose and people shifted from writing on blogs to Twitter. Gone were the days of a chronological list of blog posts, neatly organised in folders, and in its place was an endless feed, organised by opaque algorithms designed to maximise engagement at any cost. It was sad.

So when I started comparing newsletters as an alternative to social media rather than a replacement for RSS I began to see them more fondly – and even root for them. Because to encourage people to consume higher-quality writing and spend less time on social media, there needs to be a good, easy alternative. RSS isn’t it. Email is.

In many ways, email is similar to an RSS reader. Both have read/unread flags, folders/labels, less ads and tracking compared to the web, and customisable font sizes if you’re using an email client.

Then there’s the matter of writers getting paid. For years writers struggled to make money on the web. They could maybe make a bit of money via ads, sponsored posts or membership schemes. But they needed a lot more than 1000 true fans support themselves because there wasn’t a system or a culture for those fans to pay them. Email newsletters solve this problem, as every newsletter platform allows writers to charge subscribers. And with the rise of Substack and paid newsletters in general, people are more accustomed to paying.

Older web users like myself may still pine for the RSS glory days and look down on newsletters and email as a poor alternative. But the fact is they are a practical way for people to read and a viable way for writers to find an audience and get paid for their work.