New Email Subscriptions

New Email Subscriptions


I had been researching static site generators and looking for ways to significantly reduce my web hosting costs for months before I converted my WordPress blog into static HTML hosted on Amazon S3 earlier this year.1 One of the primary concerns I had was how I would handle email subscriptions.

I added the ability to receive email updates from my blog (via FeedBurner) back in May 2008 after only five months of blogging. And then in 2013 I created my own email subscription system which I’ve been using ever since. Naturally, I’ve amassed a considerable number of subscribers over eight years.

I was leaning towards moving my email subscriptions to MailChimp earlier this year when I got the idea to develop my own solution using Amazon Web Services.2 MailChimp would probably have been a suitable solution but I instinctively try to reduce my reliance on third parties as much as possible and this seemed like a good opportunity to orient myself with AWS.

Technical details aside, I’ve also been wanting to make a major change to my email updates by moving to a periodical digest of content instead of sending an email every time I publish a new post. Why? For three reasons:

First, I personally hate it when I sign up for email updates only to get bombarded with countless emails a week. Consequently, I ended up blogging a lot less than I wanted to (around once a month) just so that I wouldn’t flood people’s inboxes with so many emails. Obviously the better solution isn’t to blog less, it’s to email less often.

Second, I blog about a wide diversity of topics from dogs, to food, to technology, to music, to life in Toronto and on and on. Not only do I not expect everyone to be interested in everything I write, but I also know that recently most people sign up for email updates from my blog hoping to hear mainly about music and charts. Receiving emails only about dogs or only about food, consecutively, likely tempts these people to unsubscribe altogether. I’ll admit that I could (and probably should) write more about music-related topics but I can also give subscribers much more of what they’re after — while still allowing myself to blog about whatever topic I want — by moving to a newsletter-like format.

Third, given that the email subscriptions on my blog have been so popular, I’m surprised I hadn’t created an email subscription for my music website years ago. But after thinking about it long and hard these last couple of months, I’m glad I never did. Two separate email subscriptions would be less than ideal for subscribers and too difficult for me to do really well on an ongoing basis. I’m just one person after all, so it makes sense to move to a single multifaceted digest of new charts, upcoming events, blog posts, news, etc.3

Of course, I have other reasons for wanting to change the format of my email updates but those are my top three. The only thing is, I’m very reluctant to call it a “newsletter”. Perhaps it’s because I only mean newsletter-like in terms of the emails being about more than just a single piece of content and not in terms of design. I want to keep things a lot simpler than your average e-newsletter.

While writing the code to get this working with AWS, I got the idea one night to add exclusive content to my email updates, both as a way to encourage more signups as well as to dissuade cancellations and retain subscribers. The nature of this exclusive content will change over time but the first idea that occurred to me was to occasionally send out a free chart now and then. Given how many inquires for charts I still get on a weekly basis (even though I took my music website down months ago), I expect this will be immensely popular with my subscribers.

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I learned a ton from setting this up on Amazon (Node.js in AWS Lambda is pretty neat) and even though it was a lot of work, I’m glad I did it. I could potentially put everything up on GitLab if enough people are interested in learning more about the technical aspects of my implementation…

Under normal circumstances it would have been very difficult to find the time to complete this, but with my wrist in a cast for so long I’ve been forced to take a break from music for a while… Now I just need to find a way to make money from all this!

  1. Actually, I’m still using a local copy of WordPress on my Mac to generate static HTML pages for now until I get around to converting everything fully. I haven’t decided on whether I should create my own custom solution (either using AWS or locally on my mac), or just modify Jekyll to suit my needs. ↩︎︎

  2. I’m using Amazon API Gateway which calls an Amazon Lambda function; Amazon SES to send emails and DynamoDB for persistent storage. ↩︎︎

  3. I realized that some subscribers, however few, might question why they’re getting email about music and charts all of a sudden when they used to only get email about my blog posts. So I made sure to send an email to all verified subscribers in advance to give them a heads up about the upcoming changes. You gotta respect your subscribers! ↩︎︎