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How to know what kind of online newsletter to publish

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How to know what kind of online newsletter to publish

by David Kandler

Editor’s Note: The author of this article, David Kandler, is the founder and president of CompanyNewsletters.com, an Internet firm that produces newsletters for companies throughout the United States. Learn more about how his firm can help your company produce printed and electronic newsletters.

This is the cover of a hybrid electronic newsletter that CompanyNewsletters.com created for the Virginia Medical Group Management Association. It is both a website newsletter and an e-mail newsletter.

This is the cover of a hybrid electronic newsletter that CompanyNewsletters.com created for the Virginia Medical Group Management Association. It is both a website newsletter and an e-mail newsletter.

Online newsletters are gaining in popularity for good reason. Because no printing or mailing costs are involved, online newsletters can usually be published for a fraction of the cost of traditional printed newsletters. And because online newsletters can be instantly delivered to readers throughout the world at the click of a button, these publications are ideal for communicating timely information to readers.

Most online newsletters are distributed to readers in two ways: through e-mail or through a Web (Internet or intranet) site. As you read through this article, keep in mind that a person who has an e-mail account doesn’t necessarily have Internet access. Many people mistakenly use these terms interchangeably. Some people can receive e-mails, but cannot go out onto the Internet and view Web pages.

Each type of online newsletter has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as its own unique software requirements for viewing.

The type of online newsletter that is best for your company depends on your readers’ computer and software limitations. See the table below for a brief summary.


Type of Newsletter
Software Required
Target Audience
Any e-mail program
Anybody with an e-mail account
HTML e-mail
HTML e-mail program
People who have e-mail and, if you want to use graphics, Internet access
Internet browser
Readers who have access to the Internet
Adobe Acrobat Reader
People who have either e-mail
or Internet access

The following is a quick description, along with the advantages and disadvantages, of the most common types of online newsletters: plain-text e-mail, HTML e-mail, Web (including Internet and intranet publications) and PDF.

Plain-text e-mail newsletter

Anyone who has an e-mail account can receive and read plain-text e-mail newsletters. Readers have the newsletter sent directly to them, and they view the newsletter in their e-mail program. However, as its name implies, you are limited to a very plain, simple newsletter. Plain-text newsletters cannot contain color or graphics, and you cannot incorporate any design elements, such as using varying text styles and sizes, or formatting text into multiple columns.


  • Plain-text e-mail newsletters are extremely quick and easy to compose and send out.
  • This is an ideal format for sending out extremely urgent, time-sensitive information.
  • Everyone with an e-mail account can read these newsletters.
  • Because of their small file size, plain-text e-mails are quick for readers to download.


  • Because plain-text newsletters cannot contain color, graphics or other design elements, they are not eye-catching. Readers may quickly lose interest when reading row after row of text with no graphical, visual breaks.

HTML e-mail newsletter

This type of newsletter is distributed through e-mail and is viewed in the reader’s e-mail program. This type of e-mail looks like a Web page. It can incorporate color, photos, graphics and other design elements, such as varying typeface sizes and styles, and text that is formatted into multiple columns. However, only people who have HTML-capable browsers (such as recent versions of Netscape or Microsoft e-mail programs) can view these publications.


  • This is the most attractive type of e-mail newsletter because you can include photos, graphics, color and other design elements.
  • HTML e-mail publications are a good alternative to more expensive printed newsletters.
  • This type of publication is ideal for people who will primarily read the newsletter on screen.


  • People with older, non-standard or Web-based e-mail programs may not be able to read HTML e-mails, and will instead see a confusing array of programming codes on their screens. Recent estimates say that as many as 20% of people with e-mail accounts cannot view HTML e-mails.
  • If photos or graphics are included in the HTML e-mail, readers must have an open connection to the Internet while they read the e-mail to see the photos. This may be a problem for people who view the newsletter at work because many companies restrict their employees’ Internet access.
  • Unlike a Web newsletter, all articles must be put on the same page. That means a newsletter with a large number of articles must be viewed and printed as one super-long page.

Web newsletter

This type of newsletter is one that is hosted on a Web site (either on the Internet or an intranet). It is not distributed by e-mail. Readers must go to a Web site and read the newsletter on their Internet browser. These publications can be designed just like any other Web page, including the use of color, photos, graphics and other design elements. View a sample of a Web newsletter.


  • A Web newsletter can be as attractive and eye catching as any other Web page, and may include color, photos, graphics, etc.
  • If you get your newsletter listed and indexed on Internet search engines, you will likely gain more readers and attract more traffic to your Web site.
  • Ideal for onscreen reading.
  • It’s easy to archive back issues on your Web site. This makes a great resource for your readers, especially if you add a “search” feature to your site.


  • Readers must have Internet access to view the publication. Remember, not everyone who has an e-mail account has an Internet connection.
  • Compared to an e-mail newsletter, a Web newsletter is not as convenient because readers must go to an Internet site to view it rather than have it delivered to them.
  • Doesn’t look as good when printed and read from a hard copy as it does on screen.

PDF newsletter

This type of newsletter can be distributed as an e-mail attachment or posted on an Internet site for people to download. Readers must have Adobe Acrobat Reader, available for free from the Adobe.com Web site, installed on their computers to view or print a PDF newsletter. A PDF publication looks and prints more like a traditional printed newsletter than any other type of online newsletter. Download a sample PDF newsletter (this may take several minutes to fully load).


  • There are fewer design limitations with this electronic format than any other. That’s because PDF newsletters can be created to look like just about any printed publication, including fancy, full-color publications.
  • This is the best electronic format for people who will print and read the newsletter off screen.
  • It’s easy to convert most printed newsletters to a nearly identical electronic PDF publication.


  • PDF files are larger than any other type of online newsletter file. Thus they may take a long time to download with a standard 56k modem. Also, when sending these files as e-mail attachments, some readers may not be able to receive them. That’s because e-mail providers usually limit the size of attachments that their customers can receive. Many e-mail providers set that limit at 5 megabytes. A large PDF newsletter that has lots of photos can easily exceed 5 megabytes in size.
  • Photos and graphics are usually saved in low resolution for PDF newsletters to minimize download time. This means the publication’s photos and graphics may look fuzzy when printed.
  • All readers must have special software — Adobe Acrobat Reader — installed on their computers to view and print a PDF newsletter.

To decide which online newsletter is best for you to publish, you’ll have to know your readers’ software, Internet and e-mail capabilities. Then you’ll have to match up the format that works best for your readers.

This may be easy if all your readers have the same technical capabilities. For instance, if your newsletter is only read internally, by employees within your company, they will likely use the same browsers and e-mail programs. However, if your readership is varied, you may find that you have to publish your newsletter in several formats so that no reader is excluded. For instance, many newsletters are published and distributed in both plain-text and HTML e-mail formats, depending on each reader’s preference.

Read more newsletter ideas, tips and “how to” articles from CompanyNewsletters.com.

To learn more about the author’s firm and how it can produce printed or online newsletters for your company, see http://CompanyNewsletters.com or call 952/892-6943.