Why newsletters are taking over the world

Plus: Book that rental car now for post-Covid vacation; Fox 46 parts ways with dancing weatherman; N.C. hiring picks up; Inside the world of sports finance; Marvin Ridge grad clinches gymnastics title

  • Oh Today’s Charlotte Ledger is sponsored by Carroll Financial, one of the Charlotte region’s oldest and largest family-owned, independent financial planning and investment management firms:

Better and cheaper tools fuel a boom in your inbox, whether you’re into tech or witchcraft; Trend trickling down to local level, including Charlotte

“Hello, Saturday. It’s Emma”; “It’s Friday, Charlotte. Kristen here”; “Happy Friday, QCity.” Chatty openings are a common thread among the growing number of email newsletters in Charlotte and around the country. (L to R: Axios Charlotte, The Charlotte Observer, The Biscuit, QCity Metro)

by Tony Mecia

Armando Bellmas has always loved music — all kinds of it. As a 10 year old, he’d pop cassettes into a recorder to tape songs off the radio.

When the internet took off in the early 2000s, he started blogging about music. Today, he’s taking an approach many others are following: He started an email newsletter. Five days a week, he sends a single song to his audience of 500+ readers of his newsletter, Ecléctico. Last week’s selections included tunes from Papua New Guinea, southern Africa and Uruguay.

“Music has always been part of my life, so I thought, ‘Why don’t a I start a newsletter?’” said Bellmas, who DJs at a local radio station and whose day job is with the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. “This was an easy, inexpensive way to start getting it out to the world.”

Like blogs in the 2000s and social media in the 2010s, email newsletters today seem to be the fashionable way for hobbyists, experts and news media to reach people. The rise of email newsletters is spinning off cottage industries of newsletter tech platforms, consultants, advertising specialists and even newsletters about newsletters.

Shift to local: Just a few years ago, the best-known email newsletters were national in scope. More recently, though, a lot of energy has been moving in the direction of locally focused email newsletters — both from large media companies and tech platforms as well as smaller independent writers. For example:

  • Axios, a national media company based outside Washington, bought Charlotte Agenda last year and started local newsletters this year in four other cities.

  • Substack, a newsletter technology platform, said last month that it raised $65M from investors led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, a well-known player in the tech industry. Last week, Substack announced it would earmark $1M to encourage journalists to start email newsletters focused on local communities. (The Charlotte Ledger uses the Substack platform.)

  • The newsletter company 6AM City, based in Greenville, S.C., said last month it’s expanding into Richmond, Va., in May. It already operates eight local newsletters in the Southeast, including in Asheville, Raleigh, Charleston, Columbia and Greenville.

  • The Charlotte Observer this year started an afternoon newsletter written in a chatty tone that wraps up the news the paper produces, similar in approach to its longtime dining and entertainment newsletter, CharlotteFive.

  • New locally focused newsletters have popped up in North Carolina in the last year, including Primer North Carolina, which looks at state and local politics through a left-leaning lens; Untap Indian Land, which spotlights business and development in Lancaster County, just over the border from Ballantyne; and North Carolina Rabbit Hole, which focuses on oddball stories from around the state (and was named “Best Newsletter” last week by Charlotte magazine, dethroning The Ledger, alas).

Diversity of offerings: Writers of newsletters are following many different approaches and delving into an astounding number of topics — some general and well-known, such as Stratechery, which focuses on technology; some niche, like KitchenWitch, which examines the intersection of cooking and witchcraft. Some make money through selling ads or subscriptions, while others are labors of love offered for free. Some are professional organizations with employees and regular publishing schedules; others are cranked out nights and weekends at irregular intervals as side hustles by solo operators.

In one sense, the shift toward email newsletters is a curious trend. Relative to methods of communication such as texting, apps and social media, email has been around for a long time. And not too long ago, people were actually talking about “the death of email.” Discussions with newsletter creators and experts offer a few reasons why email has not only hung on but seems to be thriving:

  • Advances in technology. While it’s true that email has been widely adopted in the U.S. since at least the late 1990s, only recently has technology made it easy and almost free to distribute mass emails and manage lists of subscribers. Early innovators such as Mailchimp, founded in 2001, tended to focus on business marketing, not writers. Technological innovation is happening throughout many industries and “is the exact example of why they say software is eating the world,” said Charlotte tech entrepreneur John Espey, co-founder of Defiance Ventures, in a discussion we had recently about media and technology on his podcast. Technology now allows “new entrants to compete in a very meaningful way against these established players.”

  • Frustration with social media. Although Facebook, Instagram and Twitter might seem like sensible ways to connect with readers, they can also be cesspools filled with misinformation, trolls and heated arguments. And because of the way the big tech companies filter feeds, it’s not guaranteed that your friends or followers will actually see what you post.

  • Near-universal adoption. Although email is a relatively old and unflashy technology, more than 90% of U.S. adults use it. That’s far more than, say, TikTok (21%), Snapchat (25%), Instagram (40%) and Facebook (69%). Having so many Americans using email means that newsletters have a large potential audience.

Of course, there are no guarantees that today’s hot trend won’t be tomorrow’s has-been. With the birth of so many email newsletters, competition for people’s attention is continuing to increase, and inboxes are filling. And there’s talk in the industry of “subscription fatigue,” since readers’ time and financial resources are not unlimited.

Still, experts say they’re not seeing a slowdown yet.

“I don't think news consumers are getting overwhelmed,” says Simon Owens, a content marketing consultant who writes a newsletter about technology and media. “There are so many people on the internet and so many content niches that there will always be room for a hard-working and talented writer to carve out a following.”

That’s just what Bellmas is trying to do with his music newsletter. He relies on word of mouth for its growth, and he’s happy to receive a few emails a week from fellow music fans. A couple dozen even chip in money in appreciation.

“The barrier to entry is low,” he says. “It seems like it’s easier and easier to start one up and send it out.”

Tony Mecia founded The Charlotte Ledger newsletter in March 2019.

Related Ledger articles:

Today’s supporting sponsors are Landon A. Dunn, attorney-at-law in Matthews

… and T.R. Lawing Realty:

Q&A: He helps sports teams and stadiums get financing

Steve Vogel, managing director of U.S. Bank’s sports and entertainment group, has a front row seat on how pro sports in this country is changing. Based in Charlotte, Vogel helps lead a group that focuses on financial transactions related to five major U.S. sports leagues — the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the National Hockey League — as well as their teams and venues.

He started in banking in 2001 in Boston, working for FleetBoston Financial, and moved to Charlotte after Bank of America bought Fleet in 2004. He joined U.S. Bank in 2012 and today is one of about 850 of the bank’s employees in Charlotte.

Vogel grew up a fan of Boston sports teams but says he quickly adopted Charlotte’s teams after moving here. He spoke with The Ledger’s Tony Mecia last month about how the business of sports is changing. Remarks have been edited for clarity and length:

Q. Is sports financing a growing business? Is it steady? How would you characterize the amount of work?

It’s been growing. If you look back the past few years, there have been a couple reasons: One, there’s been a tremendous amount of activity with respect to new venues being built. Covid has not really stopped that.

There’s still been a great amount of activity and investment in sports. And so while you don’t see a new ownership change in pro sports very often, there is a lot of activity. It has been steady and it's been growing, and from a U.S. Bank perspective, we have been growing market share in the business as well as sort of riding the tide of these new opportunities coming through construction and through change-of-control transactions and other sorts of working capital needs that clubs have.

Q. Is there anything that’s especially tricky or especially different when it comes to sports finance as opposed to other kinds of finance?

The league offices and commissioners’ offices have certain rules and regulations. That is one of the most significant differentiators is that you have to have a really deep understanding of how the leagues do business, what their requirements are and how the financing works within the broader constitution of the league.

Q.  How difficult is it to assess risk in sports businesses, or is it just like anything else?

There are unique attributes to determine the risk. You need to have a good understanding of the business model and the media landscape, which is changing constantly. Media revenue is a large component of sports franchise revenue generation and for the league offices. Having a deep understanding of that is important, as are other unique attributes around expenses and how the collective bargaining agreements impact the spending and the payroll structure for each of the leagues.

Q. Besides media revenue, what are other trends in sports business that might not be apparent to people?

Media is clearly the largest. Another one is sports betting. The leagues have come a long way. The leagues and the clubs are starting to monetize those opportunities from a sponsorship perspective or media perspective, and that’s going to continue to evolve and grow.

Another trend has been ancillary real estate developments. You have seen clubs all across the country that have built hotels, they have built restaurants, they build sports clubs that are on the same campus as the venues. You are going to continue to see owners and leagues using real estate around the venues really smartly to grow and create new opportunities.

Q. What are trends in stadium construction and where’s that headed?

The spaces are becoming more flexible so you can do more things when you are in the building — have more social places and think differently about seating about club spaces and create unique opportunities. It’s not always about maximizing how many people are there at the building. It’s trying to create a unique experience.

Back in the day, it was, “Oh, this stadium is used for sports.” You buy a ticket, and you go to the game. Now, you have so many more options.

Why are rental car prices so high?

If you’re planning a post-vaccine getaway, you might want to move booking a rental car to the top of your to-do list.

Airline and hotel deals are in good supply nowadays, but rental car prices are soaring and availability is lagging nationally.

In Charlotte, for example, you’ll pay $806 for a one-week rental on a Ford Focus in June through Hertz, or $647 for a Toyota Corolla through Avis.

And last-minute trips = more sticker shock. A one-day economy sedan rental in Charlotte this week will set you back $75 with Budget, a lower-cost subsidiary of Avis. Need a full-size premium SUV? The bill rises to $380 a day.

There are a couple reasons for the high prices, the Washington Post reports.

  • Rental car inventory is low, because companies sold off large portions of their inventory during the pandemic when demand was so low and the industry was struggling. (Hertz filed for bankruptcy in May 2020.) And a global shortage in semiconductor chips has caused a delay in auto production — and is a roadblock to getting rental car fleets back up.

  • Travel is ticking back up, with more Americans getting vaccinated. And many people are traveling domestically and are still avoiding rideshare options like Lyft and Uber, but choosing to rent cars instead.  

What can you do to save some dough? Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of car rental site AutoSlash gives some advice in the Post article:  

  • Book cancelable rental cars early and keep checking rates through different company websites.

  • If you’re headed to a popular attraction, consider renting a car farther from your destination, where more cars may be available. — CB

‘Dancing weatherman’ is out at Fox 46

Charlotte TV station Fox 46 has parted ways with its most famous on-air talent, “dancing weatherman” Nick Kosir.

Kosir posted on his social media accounts late last week: “I’ve enjoyed my last seven years at Fox 46 but my time at the station has come to an end.” He gave no details but said he wished his colleagues good luck and that he looks forward to “sharing details about my next adventure.”

Kosir is best-known for his on-air dancing, as well as an Instagram series called the “drip chronicles” in which he mimicked former Panthers QB Cam Newton’s more ridiculous outfits and poses.

A post shared by @nickkosir

He also has a strong social media presence, with 2 million followers on Instagram and TikTok. He has cut videos on Cameo, a service that allows people to pay to have minor celebrities wish others happy birthday and such.

It’s unclear why the station and Kosir split. It’s possible his bosses wanted a more traditional weatherman and not a social media star. Is his next logical career move to become an influencer? —TM

In brief:

  • State economy revving up: North Carolina added 17,300 jobs in March and has recovered 73% of the jobs lost since the start of the pandemic. “Hiring appears to be revving back up,” economists at Wells Fargo wrote. They project the state will add 176,000 jobs this year, more than making up for the jobs lost since March 2020.

  • Restaurant worker shortage: Charlotte restaurants are having a tough time finding workers now that business is picking up, as many former employees have moved on to other industries and in some cases can make more remaining on unemployment. “Staffing is really far and away worse than I’ve ever seen it,” said the owner of Yafo Kitchen and Little Mama’s, who is considering offering $1,000 bonuses for workers who stay on the job for six months. (Axios Charlotte)

  • Southeast vacations make a comeback: Resort properties in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were more full last month than they were in March 2019. Occupancy was up 5% in March, compared with the same month before the pandemic, and bookings are up 16% between March and August 2021 compared with the same period in 2019. (Travel Weekly)

  • Providence Road, Midtown rezonings: The City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on a contentious rezoning on Providence Road at Alexander Road. Developers Fielding Homes and DRB Group are proposing 44 townhomes on the site, but some neighbors worry about increased traffic on Providence Road because of so many new housing developments. The council is also expected to vote on plans by Northwood Ravin for an apartment tower by the Metropolitan in Midtown. Both are recommended for approval.

  • Casino lawsuit rejected: A legal attempt to derail construction of a casino in Kings Mountain has failed, with a federal judge turning down a claim that the Interior Department improperly gave a green light to the Catawba Indian Nation to proceed with the project. The suit was brought by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who operate two casinos in western North Carolina. “In the end, though, they come up with snake eyes, as on each claim they either lack standing or lose on the merits,” the judge wrote. (WSOC/AP)

  • Oldest American: Hester Ford, believed to be the oldest living American at age 115 or 116, died Saturday at her west Charlotte home surrounded by family. She is survived by 12 children, 48 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and approximately 120 great-great-grandchildren. (WBTV)

  • Local grad wins gymnastics championship: A graduate of Marvin Ridge High School in Union County clinched the NCAA women’s gymnastics championship for the University of Michigan this weekend with a nearly flawless beam performance on the final rotation. Abby Heiskell, a junior, “achieved the gymnastics equivalent of a game-winning buzzer-beater,” ESPN wrote.

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith