Updated December 15, 2017
A hundred years ago in internet time there was this thing called RSS, and it was a way to read blog content without visiting any blogs directly. Then Google effectively killed it for everyone but nerds and aging Gen Xers—and from those ashes rose the email newsletter.*
(*There are other reasons for the current newsletter explosion, but most sane people aren't interested in marketing talk or the history of direct mail.)
The great thing about a newsletter is you don't have to do anything to get some fresh content delivered to your computer/tablet/phone on a regular basis. The bad thing is that, just like everything else on the web, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. It can be hard to find even the chaff in the rush of gifs, macros, and videos that are passed back and forth daily.
That's where we come in. Below is a list of some of the most interesting and popular newsletters on the web today. Most lists like this stop at 5 or 10 suggestions, but because I had a lot of coffee this morning I kept going until I was well past 50. But don't worry—I've grouped them by the type of person I think might enjoy reading them, so the list shouldn't be overwhelming unless you just can't abide hyperlinks. (There are a lot of hyperlinks.)
"Big deal, I've seen these before!" You say. To that I say, "Welcome, Reddit visitor!" And yes, odds are some of these will be familiar to you, but hopefully you'll discover something new that will keep you entertained and/or informed in the months to come.
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I must know all the things
If you're that person who thinks the entire world is a giant trivia contest that you must win at all costs, these are the newsletters for you.
Now I Know
One interesting story per day. Learn how butter got its name! Find out how hubcaps got invented. That sort of thing.
Lots of miscellanea.
I miss newspapers! (Or, I don't know what a newspaper is but it sounds interesting in theory)
A news summary each morning with a heavy emphasis on world politics, economics, and technology. It's packed with information but somehow still easy to read, and definitely worth your attention.
Foreign Policy's Situation Report
There are several newsletter options here, but the Situation Report is a good way to stay up to speed on what's going on in the rest of the world.
Like Quartz but more casual—it's sent out in the afternoon after the daily news cycle has crested—and a little funnier, at least in theory. (You'd better like dad jokes.)
In the same vein as NextDraft—recent and trending news stories packaged in small paragraphs of commentary—but allegedly aimed at female readers. But honestly, anyone can read it.
MuckReads by ProPublica.org
Investigative journalism from around the web, although the focus leans slightly toward political coverage (imagine that).
Muck Rack Daily
Journalists tend to share stories with each other and comment on the current news. Muck Rack, a site for journalists, gathers up the most interesting activity in the news as well as the back channel discussions of it among journalists. You don't need to be a journalist or even be interested in journalism to get value from it, though.
A list of miscellaneous stories culled from various sources, but mostly focused on the entertainment industry, the media industry, and tech companies.
[caption id="attachment_5529" align="alignleft" width="1360"] Photo credit: Dennis Skley[/caption]
I like to read nonfiction books
It's probably easier to just reprint some recent headlines from the site, while pointing out that these are not meant to be click-bait: "Why don't men kick each other in the balls?", "The rise of the strawberry", "Who farts? And who cares?"
Center for Data Innovation
Again, it's probably easier to just show you some recent headlines: "Dataset ranks history's most important individuals", "Visualizing life along Broadway"
Stack Exchange - Linguistics
Subscribers ask each other questions about grammar, syntax, and etymology for multiple languages. Even if you're not a linguist or polymath, it's fascinating to read.
A weekly list of the type of longer articles you can sit back and enjoy over the weekend.
As the name suggests, slowness is a virtue with this newsletter. It only comes out once a month, and it collects interesting stories that are at least three months old. You can make your own version of SnailMail by just leaving a Longreads newsletter unopened in your inbox for three months, but this is an even easier way to get the same results.
It's the more serious cousin to Sociological Images—think The Atlantic but with a heavier emphasis on stories that look at how our world works and a lighter emphasis on current events.
I don't like newsletters but everyone is always talking about that one thing so maybe I should do that?
You're looking for Serial.
If I read business newsletters maybe I'll finally get that raise
Well, there's no harm in trying. And at least you'll learn interesting new things about how your coworkers think in the process.
One to two opinion pieces each weekend, usually about Apple and online journalism.
Blinkist is a new subscription service that provides summaries of nonfiction books (mostly business focused) so you can get at the highlights without wading through the filler. Their blog "Page 19" recaps some of those highlights for the general public.
A newsletter about (and for) startups, tech companies, and developers.
A summary of startup news.
A business advice blog, but for designers and other creative professionals.
If you're a fan of video content, these next two are for you:
You most likely know what TED is, and this newsletter is an easy way to find out about new talks.
foundation.bz (bottom of page)
Video interviews with entrepreneurial types, from Kevin Rose, the founder of Digg.
I seek to improve myself daily
The focus of this newsletter is on becoming more productive and well-rounded, mainly through reading more books. But the author also points readers to various interesting essays, interviews, and articles around the web.
Ryan sends out his email once a month, which gives you more time to work through the 5-10 books (on all sorts of topics) that he recommends with each issue.
This blog publishes 8-12 posts a month about how to live a more satisfied and happier life—and the word "Zen" in the title hints at the underlying theme of the blog.
I like artsy stuff
This weekly newsletter could also be classified under the self-help group above, but what really makes Brain Pickings stand out is how it showcases books with amazing artwork and design, as well as its emphasis on famous artists and what we can learn from them.
The reviews and essays on this blog are often magazine quality and always interesting. The other day I learned about (and viewed a photo essay of) a retail store designed by Frank LLoyd Wright that served as a test model for the spiral design used in the Guggenheim.
The Public Domain Review
You won't believe the weird books, prints, photographs, films and records that are in the public domain. Or maybe you will, if you subscribe to this newsletter.
I like science
Gaines, on Brains
Science news about the brain, translated into layman's English by a neuroscientist who also happens to be a professional journalist.
The news from this site is really intended for professional science types (just check out the advertising on the site to get an idea of the target demographic). If that doesn't scare you away, you'll find a good overview of current science stories here.
MIT Technology Review
If The Scientist sounds too pro-level for your taste, here's a newsletter with stories aimed more at the general public, and focused more on the types of stories that would appeal to non-scientists.
The "technological singularity" is a hypothetical future scenario that's still being debated by scientists, technology experts, writers, and futurists. But this newsletter has a broader focus, and is a good source of content if you're interested in cutting-edge technologies and the issues that come with them.
I like to read tips about productivity and personal finance
Life & Limb from PolicyGenius
www.policygenius.com/blog (top of right column)
Sure, we have lots of great productivity and lifehacking tips, but we also offer some of the best insurance and personal finance content around.
I like journalism and media news
Today in Tabs
Media news with a heavy dose of commentary and gossip.
NiemanLab Daily Digest
Media news without any gossip or snark, for the more serious/thoughtful reader.
And as I mentioned above in the News group, give Muck Rack Daily a try, because its focus tends to lean towards politics.
I am a totally basic cat lover
You: Judge me all you want, but you can never make me stop forwarding you cat gifs.
Me: Fine, then here:
I want to laugh
This is The Onion's answer to Buzzfeed, Upworthy, and all those other clickbait websites. You might think it'd be hard to parody content that's already frequently a parody of itself, but Clickhole manages it.
Funny or Die
www.funnyordie.com (click the "Browse" link at the top of the page)
You probably know the website. The weekly newsletter highlights some of the funniest (or at least newest) content from the past few days. And because it's sent out at the end of the week, it can make for some nice distractions on a Friday afternoon.
Less about making you laugh and more about the entertainers and writers responsible for it. If you like comedy, it's a nice view into how the sausage is made.
I like movies, music, and just entertainment in general
www.avclub.com (bottom of page)
A good source of movie, TV, and music reviews and commentary.
A playlist of mostly electronica music sent to your inbox every Monday at noon pacific. (Get it?)
A new song and a matching GIF sent to your inbox every day. No specific genre, but the songs are usually by unknown or under-appreciated artists.
Honestly, I don't know what I like anymore
For the person who would fit into the first group on this list (trivia) except you're either too busy to be that obsessive or else just easily bored.
TinyLetter hosts lots of websites covering all sorts of topics. This is their weekly sampler, so you never know what you'll get.
Not a subscription link, but a list of all the different communities on StackExchange—and it turns out there are a lot of communities aside from programmers. I already mentioned the linguistics group above, but the travel group's newsletter can also be pretty interesting.
Basically the equivalent of saying "surprise me."
A newsletter about newsletters.
aeon.co/magazine (envelope icon in upper right)
This site is mostly about science topics, but not always, and since I've never been sure how to categorize the other content I'm putting in this group.
5 Useful Articles
The stories in this newsletter always involve intellectual property in some way—but surprisingly, this includes all kinds of topics and issues, which makes it a pretty interesting read no matter who you are.
Links I would gchat you if we were friends
Pretty much what it says, which means you can expect a heavy focus on internet memes and general random stuff.
I try to fill the emptiness with shopping
Fair warning: the following aren't going to help you find bargains, so don't subscribe to them if you really do have trouble controlling your spending.
Office and productivity products.
www.producthunt.com (top of page)
More tech oriented.
thewirecutter.com (near bottom of sidebar)
Kind of gadget and consumer electronics focused.
I like politics
Me too! Isn't the other party just terrible?
Politico (various newsletters)
I like sports
A clear, concise summary of what's happening in various sports. The sign-up page promises this newsletter will help you "have better conversations with co-workers, family and friends."
grantland.com (bottom of sidebar)
Solid, entertaining reporting and commentary on sports and the industry around it.
I like food
Nosh On It
There are a million recipe websites and many of them offer newsletters. This one is particularly nice.
Now go load up your email inbox like it's an RSS reader from 2011! And if you think I've made an egregious error in the selection above, let me know in the comments.
Also, here's a funny thing I only just now remembered: we also have a newsletter! What a coincidence! You should sign up for it using the form below because it comes packed with great content on all types of personal finance and productivity topics—and it gets better, smarter, more focused, nicer smelling, etc. with every issue.