Email Marketing

Why People Unsubscribe Newsletters And How to Avoid It

April 9, 2021

Go on Twitter and type in "unsubscribe" and you'll find that it is a hot topic these days.

With more and more content and newsletters being created every single week, we are all overwhelmed by the flood of information that goes into our inboxes.

And people are unsubscribing, including me.

Last week, I went into a clean-up mode and unsubscribed half of my newsletter subscriptions. I didn't have room for all these emails, it was time to get the peace of mind back.

I went through all of them and paid attention to what I threw out. It was clear:

  • Marketing emails from companies
  • Curated newsletters with a list of links

These two types of newsletters were the first to go, and surprisingly I kept a lot of the ones that were written by one single person.

I started to think about what drove me to unsubscribe for some and retain the others.

Curated newsletters are middlemen

If there is one thing lacking from our world, it is definitely not content. We have so much of it!

The more content we have, the harder it is for most people to reach the good ones.

And this is where content curators come in to help filter content based on their judgment, and readers trust their curation because of their credibility.

Curators of newsletters are extremely helpful to keep people focused on the best content. A selective curation can save readers tons of time.

But when I zoomed out to look at the role of a newsletter curator. I am a little worried that it is easily replaceable by another person or even AI.

Curators are essentially middlemen. And middlemen are always the first ones to go as the experience is improved.

Then, a question that comes to my mind is, "how can curated newsletters stay relevant?"

How popular curators do it

There are a few newsletters I remain subscribed to. And they have a common theme that retains me.

Let me show you two examples.


Janel runs BrainPint, a curated weekly newsletter for curious people. I love it because the newsletter is simplistic and concise. What I love the most is how personal she is. At the start of each newsletter, she updates her readers on what she is up to, including a recent burnout and the launch of her new product.

She has also built up an authentic brand on Twitter, and I read her tweets all the time.

I decided her newsletter was worth keeping because I had a feeling that I know her. She has been letting me take a peek at her life.

To me, it is the personal connection that keeps me around.

Monday Musings

Then I got to another weekly newsletter I read each week curated by David Perell. The newsletter is called Monday Musings.

In this weekly newsletter, he shares a series of articles he finds online during the week. On top of that, he also takes the chance to update readers on his latest work and how his projects are going. He even has travel photos and "Photo of the Week".

He is sharing personal life, but it is at the right level that I don't feel awkward.

When I look back at these 2 curated newsletters, I can see why I'm still reading them. It is not the links or content that keep me around. It is the person that I enjoy reading from.

I've built up my trust in their ability to bring together awesome content, and I get to learn a bit more about their lives.

Having a familiar voice

What I truly value is the connection to the author. I want to learn about their lives, how they think, and what they're learning.

The curation is only a representation of their minds during that week. And being able to access and read into their minds gives me a superpower.

Without an actual two-way conversation, I'm developing relationships with the authors.

It could be difficult to know what to write about if you're planning to add a bit of personality to your curated newsletter. Here are some examples of topic areas you can cover:

  • What are you, the author, currently up to?
  • What is one lesson you learned in the last 2 weeks?
  • What gets you excited in your weekly routine?
  • How do you keep yourself motivated?

A twist for company newsletters

Now I can see a question popping in your head:

What if I'm not creating content as an individual but for a company?

This is obviously going to make adding personality tricky. The newsletter person can be changed from one person to another anytime.

But I'm a firm believer that people follow people. People understand that there is a person behind this curated newsletter. For that, I'd still advise pursuing it because it makes the reading experience more authentic and personal.

Time for a mindset shift.

Instead of seeing one of your team members as a newsletter curator, let's make her the newsletter author. She has the superpower to inject her personality to make the newsletter lively.

If you're this person, I have some ideas you can share in each newsletter:

  • What are you going through in your life or role?
  • What is the team's current focus?
  • What is one new thing you just picked up?

Use transparency to create an authentic narrative

Inspired by the spirit of #BuildingInPublic which is a hot trend on sharing in a transparent and authentic way, you can also adopt this approach:

  • What is one lesson learned by the team that week that can be shared with readers?
  • What is one mistake made by someone on the team and how did he/she recover it?

When you're bringing behind-the-scenes stories into your curated newsletter, you're instantly making it engaging for all your readers.

With a voice like this, I am confident your readers will feel connected and stick around.

Kevon Cheung

Kevon is the author of the Building in Public Definitive Guide & Founder of Public Lab. With a passion to use transparency to influence people, he structures his writing with his "mind library", which includes building, storytelling, and interacting in public. He also writes a weekly newsletter, Sunday Beam, to share his fresh thoughts and ideas.

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