Crowdsourced newsletter recommendations: an updated list of 200+ must-read emails

Crowdsourced newsletter recommendations: an updated list of 200+ must-read emails

Luminary Labs’ 2021 survey delivers newsletter recommendations across 21 categories — and fresh insights into what readers want to see in their inboxes.

As a collaboration tool, email often leaves something to be desired. But when it comes to connecting dots, keeping tabs on industry trends, and accessing trusted experts, email newsletters have few challengers. Over the past month, we surveyed Lab Report readers and our extended network to ask about their favorite newsletters, the places they go for information and inspiration, and what’s missing from their inboxes. We analyzed the responses and looked back at our 2019 list of must-read email newsletters to better understand what’s essential in 2021. Here’s what we found.

Kevin Delaney, co-founder and editor of the Reset Work newsletter and a senior editor at the Information, has also led editorial efforts at publications such as Quartz, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. On Tuesday, April 6, at 3 p.m. Eastern, Kevin will join Lab Report editor Jessica Hibbard and the Luminary Labs team for a Clubhouse chat about email newsletters and essential business reading. Join the conversation

“Platforms” may come and go, but email endures. Are email newsletters hot? Are they hopelessly outdated? Clickbait headlines change almost daily, and almost always equate newsletters with the platform of the moment — and in recent years, that platform has been Substack. Part software company and part publishing house, Substack has recruited high-profile writers from Buzzfeed, Vox, and the Verge with stipends and other benefits, while also making its content publishing tools free for anyone to use. Some writers have openly criticized the venture-backed company’s approach to “curating” users, and there’s no shortage of questions about Substack’s business model.

To be sure, many email newsletters exist quite happily outside of Substack’s ecosystem. And most “hot or not” takes miss the bigger picture: Email has been around for decades, and it’s not going anywhere. The “platforms” may change, but email’s core technology offers a reliable, decentralized method for sharing information. Newsletters have evolved to meet the needs of both readers and writers — and in a time of tectonic shifts and deep uncertainty, the stability of email newsletters inspires comfort and trust.

What’s still true: Newsletters are mostly centered around publications and personalities. Beyond the big media players with robust email offerings (The New York Times, MIT Technology Review, Quartz) and established email-first publications (Axios, Politico, The Hustle), most newsletters are centered around writers with distinctive voices and points of view. Bylines are front and center, and many authors are writing or promoting books based on their newsletters.

Some writers and publishers are using the trust they’ve earned with readers to transition engaged audiences into active communities. For newsletters that provide real value, there’s revenue potential and room for growth: Three in 10 survey respondents tell us they already pay for newsletter subscriptions.

What’s new: Emerging categories suggest a shift toward elevated, expanded conversations. Our 2021 list includes a healthy selection of “personal musings and link-letters,” as well as dozens of newsletters focused on business, startups, and leadership — all categories that were also well-represented in our 2019 list. But this year, we added new categories.

“Culture and commentary” newsletters are a mix of personal newsletters with nuanced perspectives and publications that go beyond breaking news and current events; they’re the email equivalent of an op-ed section in a newspaper or the feature stories in a thoughtful monthly magazine.

Similarly, the new “organizational culture and future of work” category pushes past business news, tech stories, and management tips to take a deeper look at how organizations are navigating the complexities of our current moment. These new additions tap into one of email’s greatest strengths: Unlike short-form social posts and ephemeral multimedia, newsletters offer space for nuance and time to digest complete thoughts.

In 2020, many organizations and publications — from Brookings and Tech:NYC to Nature and Futureloop — launched COVID-19 emails that helped readers make sense of an onslaught of coronavirus news and information. (Luminary Labs had one, too: the CovidX Digest.) Now, many of the newsletters in these newly added categories represent a “second wave” of pandemic-era emails; they’re helping us think more deeply about the past year and envision a new path forward.

What’s next: Newsletters have an opportunity to fill the conference content gap. Email newsletters aren’t the only way people stay informed. A majority of respondents keep tabs on their industries or build their networks on LinkedIn (83%) and Twitter (67%). Some are also using Slack groups (38%) and Instagram (25%). And in a “normal” year, in-person conferences and events would also make that list.

We asked what a “dream newsletter” would look like, and a number of survey respondents expressed interest in something more than curated news headlines and problem-focused explainers; they want to see newsletters focused on solutions, case studies, and opportunities to take action or explore new types of work. Solutions, case studies, and network-building are classic conference fare — and many of us are missing that now. Panel discussions and informal conversations are easy enough to find through virtual events, podcasts, and new platforms like Clubhouse. But it’s harder to access deep-dive accounts of work happening in the trenches. The right types of newsletters could help fill that gap.

The complete crowdsourced list of this year’s must-read newsletters is below. Is your favorite newsletter missing from this list? Email editor@luminary-labs.com to let us know what you’re reading.

Don’t miss future crowdsourcing surveys, thoughtful analysis, and curated lists: Subscribe to the Lab Report, our weekly newsletter. Browse the archives and sign up to receive it in your inbox.

News and politics

Business, finance, and economics

Leadership, management, and self-improvement

Organizational culture and future of work

Startups and VCs

Industry and consumer trends

Marketing and media

Education

Healthcare and health tech

Space and science

Data science and data journalism

Futurism and emerging technology

Cities and transportation

Policy and civic tech

Social impact

Food and agriculture

Design

Arts and creative communities

Culture and commentary

Personal musings and link-letters

Unapologetically NYC


We’ve designed our own Lab Report newsletter to provide thoughtful insights, deep expertise, and smart curation. Browse the archives and sign up to receive it in your inbox.

Authors

Jessica Hibbard
Head of Content & Community

Contributors