Starting your photo newsletter begins with an email marketing tool or email service provider (ESP). These software tools will power your email list, designing and sending your emails, and more if you decide you take it further.
My focus in this article is around free or affordable options that make it easy to get started. I’m basing my recommendations off of these assumptions:
- You’re just getting started with a photo newsletter and aren’t up to speed on this type of software and how to use it.
- You won’t have a huge email list to start with (10k+). Every option I recommend below starts with a free plan.
- You just want to send emails. I’ll mention briefly, but won’t dive deep into, all the other functionality some of these services provide that photographers could take advantage of. But the focus is on sending emails.
If you’re new to email marketing tools here are some things you should know going in:
- Do not pay for an email marketing tool when you’re just starting. So many of these tools have free plans now that it doesn’t make sense to pay for one when there are plentiful free options.
- When considering pricing, look at contact/subscriber count and sending limits if you might go over the free limits. Sending limits are the number of emails you’re allowed to send per month. So while you may have 100 subscribers, if your sending limit is 1,000 that means you can email your full list 10 times in one month for free.
- Look for easy email builders and easily-designed signup forms as your main functionality. You want to focus on the content of your emails, not the process itself.
With all those considerations in mind, here is my list of recommendations.
6 email services I recommend for photo newsletters
- Gmail/Outlook (hear us out!)
- Your website builder (Squarespace, Format, etc)
Gmail or Outlook
Pros: Free, no onboarding time needed to learn, you’re likely already using it.
Cons: No email designer, no signup forms, manual outreach, tough to scale.
Chances are you already have a personal Gmail or Outlook account. It’s not fancy, there’s no signup forms or email designers, but if you just want to get started right now sharing some images with friends and family then use your existing email account.
Send an email to your contacts, text your photographer friends, or call your mom and tell them what you want to do. Ask them to reply if they’d like to get your photo newsletter. Build the list manually that way and before you know it you’ll have a small email list of folks to email.
Yes, everything about this is limited. But this is the no-excuses-get-started-right-now-option, the guerilla-underground-secret-photo-newsletter option. My point here is: Don’t make technology your excuse.
Cost: Free up to 1,000 subscribers. Starts at $49/mo or $41/mo if buying annually for up to 3,000 subscriber after that.
Pros: Easy email and form builder, generous free plan, no sending limits
Cons: Expensive once you break 1,000 subscribers.
Convertkit is tabbed as the email marketing tool for creators, and they’ve shot to the top of my list due to the addition of their generous free plan. For our purposes, Convertkit has everything you need to get a high quality photo newsletter up and running. You can even build landing pages on their free plan to give yourself a place to gather email subscribers.
Once you break 1,000 subscribers it doesn’t remain the cheapest option, but take their ease of use combined with creator focused features for expanding your operation once you’re beyond the free plan, and you’ve got a great platform.
Cost: Free unless you make a paid newsletter, then they take a cut of earnings.
Pros: Couldn’t be easier to get started. Possible growth opportunities within their network
Cons: Platform ownership could be a question moving forwards, some formatting limitations compared to other platforms.
Substack is a newsletter-specific software tool aimed at writers. For our purposes, it could be a great, no frills option for starting a newsletter quickly and easily. While newsletter/post formatting may be a bit limited compared to other tools, you need exactly zero technical know-how or even your own website to build a home for your newsletter, which is fantastic.
One of my favorite photo newsletters, Process by Wesley Verhoeve, lives on Substack, which is proof enough to show you how well it can work.
The only reason Substack isn’t at the top of my list is because your content and subscribers are their platform and they can decide to change their strategy at any time. They do make it clear that you own everything:
You will always own your content and your relationships with your subscribers. We make it easy to import and export your archive, email list, and payments information to and from other platforms.Substack’s website
But in the world of venture-backed software things can change quickly, and while Substack presents a fantastic option currently for getting started quickly and easily, the future of the platform presents a question mark. This is not currently an issue, which is why I recommend Substack so highly, but coming from the tech world myself I’d be remiss not to mention it.
If you don’t have your own photography website already on which to build your newsletter, Substack could be the best option for you to get started quickly and professionally.
Cost: Free up to 2,000 contacts, monthly send limit of 10,000 emails, daily send limit of 2,000 emails. Paid plans start at $34/mo for 2,500 contacts after that.
Pros: Generous free plan, solid email builder, every tool you’d ever need to scale or use for other purposes.
Cons: Slow, difficult sign-up form design
Mailchimp was the darling for small businesses for a long time, and it’s still a great option to get started with their generous free plan. I’ve used Mailchimp since 2016 for simple email newsletters and overall had a good experience.
However, recently I’ve run into a few annoyances that, while not gamebreaking, don’t make Mailchimp the best option for photographers looking to get started with newsletters. Their embeddable signup forms are not easy to design, requiring you to know code to customize them and put them on your website. There are custom plugins for sites built on WordPress, but overall its a less than optimal experience.
I’ve also noticed the app simply slowing down over time. Again, not gamebreaking, but delays when adding blocks to emails and odd formatting issues when it comes to editing your text add up to annoyances over time. Annoyances that will likely not be addressed in such a large platform.
Mailchimp is still a fantastic choice and won’t lead you astray, but a few quality of life issue moved it down on my list.
Your website builder (Squarespace, Wix, Format, etc)
Pros: Use a platform you’re already using, integrated sign-up forms, Squarespace has very nice design templates.
Cons: Email is not the main focus of these platforms so creative options may be limited if you want to start multiple photo newsletter projects.
I don’t use tools like Squarespace, Format, Wix, etc. for my website projects, but I have photographer friends who use tools like Squarespace for their portfolio sites and use the email functionality.
Squarespace has top notch design templates, and their sign-up forms are easy to integrate onto your site since it’s all in one platform.
Your creative options may be limited using these built-in tools if you want to have multiple newsletter projects or audiences, and their pricing may be a limiting factor as well since most customers using email on these platforms are trying to sell products directly, which makes it an easier feature to charge for on top of the website functionality.
I struggled to find if Format offers this type of email option for their sites, they offer a custom email through Google Workspace, but not necessarily the email sending tools that we’re looking for here.
If you use these tools already for your website, I can recommend them to get started, just be aware of the limitations going in.
Cost: Free up to 1,000 subscribers, and 12,000 monthly email sends. Paid plans start at $17/mo billed monthly ($15/mo if on annual plan) for 2,500 subscribers and unlimited monthly email sends.
Pros: Generous free plan and one of the cheapest paid options available
I don’t have direct experience with MailerLite but from my research into both their site and reviews it’s a simple yet powerful platform that offers one of the most competitive prices for a larger number of subscribers. Their sign-up form customization seems easier than Mailchimp’s and email builder drag and drop like most modern email marketing tools.
Based on reviews and the product overview MailerLite could very well be one of the best full email marketing options available if your list starts to grow in size. However, since I don’t have direct experience I can’t speak to it firsthand.
Due to the free plan MailerLite could be absolutely worth a try for your newsletter.
If you’re a photographer with firsthand experience in MailerLite, reach out to me and I’d be happy to include your thoughts in this post.
The most important thing
This list should help you decide on which option to choose to start your newsletter. The most important thing I can stress is don’t overthink this, especially at the beginning. You can always switch services if its not working, and while that might take some time depending on how engrained you are in the tool, the fear of that shouldn’t stop you from picking one and getting started.
Choose one, start publishing. Then submit your newsletter to me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with ‘Newsletter list’ in the subject line so I can add it to the list of photo newsletters.