Ever since the death of RSS, the best direct way of letting readers follow your blog is with a mailing list.
I love email as it is one of the last algorithm-free channels on the internet — not to mention one that you can fully own and control.
What I don’t love is just how much you need to spend on the typical cloud mailing list service. Thankfully, I found a different solution that’s so cheap it’s practically free.
Mailinglists are so expensive!
I’ve collected over 20,000 emails through my Indie Traveller blog. If I were to go with a popular mailing list management platform like Mailchimp, that would cost me at least $200 per month using only the most basic features.
Such an expense is justifiable if your mailing list is used to directly generate revenue. When I briefly worked in a digital marketing team at a travel agency, I could see how we had a very real ROI on every newsletter we sent. Some customers would even book tours costing £1000-2000 or more directly through newsletters.
If your mailinglist is all about directly promoting products, services, coupons, sales, etc. then it’s much easier to account for using one of the big email marketing platforms.
But for my travel blog, a newsletter is just a way to keep readers in the loop. I simply want them to come back and keep following my blog. Since I don’t sell to them directly using highly targeted or promotional emails, spending something like $2400 per year on a mailinglist would be… a bit much.
While you can reduce costs somewhat by regularly pruning your list and deleting inactive subscribers, it’s still always going to be fairly costly to have a mailinglist via a cloud service like Mailchimp, Aweber, or Campaign Monitor.
Unless… you don’t use them.
Self-hosted mailinglist with Sendy
Enter Sendy, the mailinglist software that promises to “send newsletters, 100x cheaper“.
This is a self-hosted app, so you only pay for the software once and then install it on your server. I’ve been happily using it for several years now.
One license costs only $69 with no monthly fees thereafter. Small updates and bug fixes are free, but if you want to upgrade to a newer version with more features in the future, you’ll have to pay again. There has been a new numbered version of Sendy about once every 2 years, but you’re not forced to upgrade.
To take advantage of Sendy you will need to be able to install a PHP app and sign up for Amazon AWS. If you want to be able to automatically send emails on a certain date/time, you’ll also need to set up two cron jobs on your server.
The installation instructions are pretty easy to follow if you’ve done this sort of thing before — for instance, if you’ve ever installed WordPress yourself without using a 1-click installer. But if it’s proving too complicated, you can have the Sendy team install it for you, which will increase the one-time fee to $148. There is a 60-day refund policy so you can see if it’s right for your needs. (While it does most basic things very well, it is missing some more advanced features.)
Sendy uses Amazon’s SES (Simple Email Service), a bulk email-sending service that costs roughly $0.10 per 1000 sent emails.
It’s part of Amazon AWS, which has an extraordinarily intimidating dashboard with numerous technical settings, but if you just follow Sendy’s steps specifically for SES, you only really ever need to go in there once for the initial setup.
Since I send a newsletter about once a month, I spend only about $2 a month on maintaining my list. That’s a jaw-dropping saving!
Pros and cons of Sendy
Sendy has all the basic mailinglist features, including:
- Maintaining different lists
- Segmenting your subscribers (e.g.: only send to users in country X)
- Creating a sequence of autoresponders (emails that send automatically X days after subscribing)
What it doesn’t have is beautiful templates for your emails. You’ll need to use your own HTML templates and enter them in a text field. Since I only send out simple emails (usually just with text) this is not a major issue for me. However, templating is definitely something the popular cloud-based mailinglist services do a lot better.
Sendy also does not have advanced features such as A/B testing of email headlines, or setting up complex logic for triggering automatic emails. If you love setting up intricate marketing email funnels (beyond just basic timed autoresponders) then Sendy won’t be the right solution for you.
However, Sendy does one thing really well: sending emails.
So for my simple monthly newsletter, it’s absolutely perfect.
Does Sendy have RSS to Email?
Sadly, Sendy does not have this functionality, but I managed to set up something fairly close to it for my new mailinglist for Boost Your Blog.
I know that many bloggers use their mailinglist really just to automatically notify readers about new posts. Many mailinglist services have an “RSS to Email” option, which scans your blog’s RSS feed for any new posts, and then automatically sends out an email with a link to that post.
You can do something sort-of like it with Sendy.
Using the free plan at Zapier, I easily managed to connect WordPress with Sendy. (Zapier is an automation service that lets you connect different apps to each other and use triggers to execute pre-defined actions.)
Now, every time I publish a new post in WordPress, a draft is automatically created in Sendy which includes the title, excerpt, and link to the new post.
Sendy doesn’t let Zapier actually trigger sending this email, so I still have to go into the Sendy dashboard manually and click send on the email that’s been created for me, but this is a small price to pay for having an almost-free RSS to Email capability.
Alternative to Sendy
Sendy may not be for everyone given that self-hosted software requires setup on your own server, and its feature set is not nearly as rich as other hosted solutions.
If you’re looking for a hosted mailinglist service that doesn’t require any setup, my recommendation is to go with Mailerlite. It works wonderfully well and has lots of features, though it still costs about half as much as other solutions like Mailchimp, Aweber, or Campaign Monitor.
For indie or self-employed bloggers, I think Mailerlite is ideal if Sendy is lacking any features you need. It includes the option of sending automatic notifications of new posts and also limiting the frequency with which it sends these notifications.
It’s also free to use up to 1,000 subscribers, so if you’re still in startup mode, you can start collecting email addresses without yet worrying about the cost.