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Interactivity and the Small Publisher

By: Azriel Winnett

Azriel Winnett is senior staff writer at Sling Shot Media LLC, which offers a wide range of hosting solutions for email lists of all types and sizes, as well as many other services for email marketers and list owners. Visit our site at: or e-mail us at:

To maintain a qualitative and competitive edge is something we all want for our electronic publications.

We saw last week that in order to achieve this happy state of affairs, we have to develop a mindset of innovation and leadership. This in turn, presupposes that we have our fingers on the pulse of our subscribers' likes and dislikes, habits, goals and desires.

Depending on the nature of our stated and hidden goals as publishers, information about our subscriber community is valuable to us for one or more of a number of reasons. The most obvious one is that if our readers don't like what we publish, or our discussion group members don't like what their peers are discussing, we'll soon run out of subscribers altogether.

If we are aiming to generate income through third-party advertising, the value of having our audience's "vital statistics" at our fingertips is also pretty obvious.

The cleverest ad in the world doesn't do much good if it doesn't reach the intended market. If the purpose of our product or list is to promote products or services of our own, we need the data for much the same reason.

If our income-producing strategy is to find suitable joint ventures or affiliate ("reseller") programs, then at least we have more room to manoeuvre. If our subscriber profile turns out to be not what we expected, all we have to do is to look out for a program or opportunity that does match it.

But here, too, knowledge is power; there's no short cut for knowing not only who our subscribers are, but what they are as well. And the list of reasons goes on and on... 

So how do we lay our hands on the info we need - and with the full consent of the people it refers to?

We are fortunate if we have web interfaces that allow for the posing of a few key demographic questions to new subscribers at the moment they sign up. (We have to be careful, of course, that the number or the complexity of the questions doesn't deter the prospects.) If our sites are equipped with personalization technology which allows us to make deductions about our visitors' interests, so much the

But what can the small publisher or list owner do? Interactivity is the key.

Interactivity - more correctly termed "two-way communication" -  has long been a buzzword among aggressive website designers competing fiercely for the attention of a picky surfing public.

The more e-publishers apply these principles, the more they will learn about the communities they serve.


Here are just a few examples of how you can apply interactive principles to your own publication.

Each one of them, and many others that we do not mention here, should increase your knowledge of who and what your subscribers are. But they will often yield other valuable benefits as well - such as promoting a sense of community and loyalty to you and your publication.
  • Ask your readers to send in feedback on your articles and features. Many newsletter publishers have a standing footer requesting such feedback at the end of each issue. In most cases, such generalized requests are not particularly effective, but you're bound to have better results if you call for comments on particular items.

    Even better, ask specific questions, and try to relate them to your readers' everyday experiences, daily challenges and desires. If you promise to print a selection of the replies, many people will relish the exposure.

  • Conduct opinion surveys. (But don't ask too many questions in any single survey session.) Make it easy for your readers to respond. You could set up, for example, different autoresponder addresses for each of the possible answers to a specific question.

  • Contests can be useful here, if subscribers are required to answer certain questions when submitting their entries.

  • If you are promoting a product, ask readers to share their experiences with it - how they use it, how it makes their lives easier, etc. The benefits of such a strategy are obvious.

  • According to the particular theme and purpose of your newsletter, ask your readership to submit facts, observations, insights - anything that benefit their fellow readers or enhance their enjoyment of the publication.

  • If you run a discussion group, your subscribers, or a portion of them, will already be interacting with you and with each other. There are always some who are reluctant to participate, however, or who have complaints about how the list is run. Encourage these people to at least communicate their concerns or suggestions to you privately, off list.

© Copyright 2000, Azriel Winnett, Sling Shot Media, LLC

Other Articles by Azriel Winnett

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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