An electronic paperboy

I found newly-launched Air Mail via a tweet by Benedict Evans, who sums it up as “Browse for free and pay for delivery”.

Back in the day.

This is essentially the model newspapers used when I was a kid. You could go to the local paper shop (themselves today a fading phenomenon) and buy the newspapers you wanted to read each day (or weekend), or, for a small fee, the newspaper would pay some other kid with a bicycle to throw it onto your lawn at around 6am.

Despite their protestations, at a glance Air Mail’s material appears to be quite US-centric in its outlook. The email delivery time is specifically “New York time”, they’ll scour “foreign newspapers” … you get the idea. They plan to offer a collection of material across a broad range of topics with a skew to environment and rise of right wingers. They describe themselves as:

“AIR MAIL will focus on subjects both foreign and domestic and regularly cover politics and the environment, art and literature, film and television, food, design, architecture, theater, society, fashion, and high-end crime. This coverage will include superb writing by some of the world’s finest journalists, and they will treat these subjects with sophistication, authority, and wit.”

Subscription to their newsletter comes in at $50 pa or $15 a quarter—on the very page where they tout “free home delivery” (cough splutter)—so under $1 a week.

Free online, paid in your inbox.

What is interesting is the material is all free to read on their website. At least as far as I can see, the newsletter will not contain any exclusive material. Instead, you’re paying for the “free” weekly (Saturday 6am New York time) delivery of their stories—a reminder that they exist. Please, don’t forget to read us kind Sir.

In a way, this isn’t all that different to The Browser, a paid newsletter I receive which includes short summaries and links to interesting stuff to read elsewhere on the web, or Erin Cook’s Dari Mulut ke Mulut—a paid Southeast Asia news wrap, and I might say, one of the most useful newsletters I receive.

Quick sidenote, the Browser has a particularly grating bit—that almost had me unsubscribe on the spot—in their welcome email where founder Robert Cottrell writes:

“I aim to recommend only articles that are freely available to read online. I avoid recommending articles from sites with hard paywalls (such as the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal).”

Dude, you’re writing a paid to access newsletter… whatever.

Anyway, back to Air Mail. The website is a beauty to look at, but I’d say I only came across it because they launched the other day and Evans gave it a push. Early days.

I do like the idea in principle—how many times have you read an interesting story and thought “Yeah I have to read more on this site” only to have forgotten the site’s name within a few hours. So a regular newsletter to save me from the perils of my terrible memory, yeah that sounds good—and that really isn’t a new idea at all.

Asking me to pay for it though, is.