TinyLetter, a newsletter service beloved by writers, is disappearing into MailChimp.
This fall, once Inc. identified MailChimp as a potential 2017 Company of the Year, I started asking every entrepreneur I met what they thought about the email-marketing company. I also tried it out myself. In fact, reporting on MailChimp gave me an excuse to launch a long-planned newsletter, a feminist weekly roundup of business news called Lady Business.
I initially played around with both the main MailChimp software and TinyLetter, a free, writer-focused newsletter tool that the New York Times last year declared "a small-batch brew tailored to the creative class."
Phil Kaplan created TinyLetter in 2010 and sold it to MailChimp a year later. At the time, MailChimp said, "TinyLetter is for people what MailChimp is for business: we help you have engaging conversations with your followers." Co-founder and CEO Ben Chestnut sporadically used TinyLetter himself.
But now TinyLetter's days as a standalone entity are numbered, Chestnut told me in October. When I met with him in Atlanta and mentioned my newsletter plans, Chestnut advised me to stick to a basic MailChimp template instead of a TinyLetter, to avoid any potential headaches when MailChimp swallows up TinyLetter.
He wasn't specific about when that would happen, and MailChimp declined to provide much more detail. "TinyLetter's functionality will be enhanced in its migration to MailChimp," a spokesperson later said by email. "It will still have the same super-simple newsletter building functionality, but it'll be refreshed and updated for improved user experience, and there will be better reporting and more insight into how newsletters perform and who the audience is."
I initially tried to follow Chestnut's advice and stick to the main MailChimp software. But I very much wanted to use block quotes in my newsletter, and I couldn't figure out how to format them in MailChimp. Google and MailChimp's FAQ pages didn't help. After a couple of days, I gave up and switched over to TinyLetter, where block quotes were easy to find and the rest of the formatting options were pretty similar to both Tumblr and Inc.'s internal CMS.
Overall, my experience using MailChimp's various types of software confirmed much of what I heard from the company's small-business customers: It's very easy to sign up for free accounts, to upload email addresses, and to start sending out nice-looking, professional emails. But detailed customization can sometimes be tricky, as other longtime MailChimp customers told me.
"It's super easy to create various templates, subgroups, and social media campaigns," says Christine Onorati, the owner of indie WORD Bookstores, which has locations in Brooklyn and Jersey City. "So when we send out our newsletter, we can also put it on Facebook and Twitter and help get more eyes that way."
Onorati started using MailChimp five years ago, switching from another email-marketing service that gave her more formatting problems. She adds that MailChimp is "not always the most intuitive, but I'm sure we could be using it better."
Meanwhile, from a business perspective, most entrepreneurs I spoke to were happy with the results MailChimp brought them. Scott Marquart of Stringjoy Guitar Strings was one of several entrepreneurs to tell me that MailChimp was the best use of his marketing dollars. According to Marquart, his Nashville business earns back about 200 percent of its spending on Facebook ads and about 1200 percent of its (lower) spending on MailChimp.
"It's absolutely the best ROI of anything in our marketing budget," he says.
That's MailChimp's main selling point to paying customers, who are largely entrepreneurs and small-business owners, as I report in the Winter issue of Inc. But Chestnut and his employees also have long cultivated artists, writers, and many other members of that TinyLetter-reliant creative class, who may be less than thrilled with any changes to the newsletter service.
As a now-loyal TinyLetter user, I'm just hoping I get to keep my block quotes.