5 tips from The Browser on starting a successful curation newsletter
Are you curious about how curation really works?
As the amount of online content continues to grow, the need for skilled curators will increase. People are drawn to the best — videos, articles, interviews, and more. And the creators who can reliably provide them with the best content, whether by finding it or making it, will reap outsized rewards.
It was this idea that led Robert Cottrell, a foreign correspondent for the Economist and the Financial Times, to start The Browser 14 years ago. What began as a single founder’s project has since grown into one of the most successful curation newsletters on the internet, where their small but efficient team serves over 75,000 daily readers.
If you’d like to know more about The Browser’s journey, and how to grow your own curated newsletter, this resource condenses their strategy into 5 actionable lessons. Let’s get started.
Lesson #1: Curate content to solve a real problem
When starting a newsletter, or any project you hope to turn into a business, it’s essential to know the unique value you plan to provide. But a common mistake many creators make is believing that being different is enough of a reason to make people want to support your work. In reality, people don’t just want different — they want solutions.
Every piece of content a person consumes accomplishes something for them, whether it's a feeling, information, connection, or something else. In the same way, if you want to grow an audience, learn to identify not just what your content is, but what it does for the people who enjoy it.
On their homepage, The Browser states their value like this, “…five outstanding stories for you to enjoy, so you’ll always have interesting things to ponder and fascinating ideas to discuss.”
One of their first testimonials claims that the newsletter helps them "escape the echo chamber" by discovering sources they would never have found on their own.
“So much of the writing that feels ‘urgent’ in the moment won’t be intelligible, let alone relevant, in even a year’s time. We want to help our readers find writing of lasting value, pieces that they’ll come back to again and again in future.” — Uri Bram, CEO of The Browser
The Browser solves the problem of overwhelm by delivering its audience hidden gems. To do this consistently, they had to put a system in place.
Lesson #2: Set clear criteria
Every successful curation newsletter has a defined set of criteria to help its curators decide what to include or leave out. Here are a few of the criteria The Browser uses for its curation:
- Did the editors find it interesting and excellent?
- Was the writing extraordinary and varied, not just good?
- Will it be as relevant 10 years from now?
These may seem like incredibly high standards, but that’s the key to The Browser's success. Their audience trusts them to deliver only the highest value finds, and, in return, they become loyal members.
“It’s pretty easy to find five good pieces every day – honestly you can do it just by picking up the London Review of Books and choosing five pieces at random. What’s hard is finding five pieces of writing that will stay with the reader for years to come.”
Another example is Remotive, a newsletter that focuses on the topic of remote work. They include a variety of content in each issue such as job opportunities, policy changes, and productivity tips. But the remote aspect is the common thread or filter their team uses to decide whether or not something is appropriate for their audience.
As you develop your own curation criteria, don’t shy away from high standards. Your readers will notice and reward going the extra mile.
Lesson #3: Know your audience
The Browser has a solid grasp of who its readers are and what they want.
The who are voracious readers:
“Our target audience is smart, curious people who want to break out of their usual sources and read more widely.”
The what is variety, surprise, and novelty:
“In a recent edition, our editor Caroline recommended a piece about how silliness can enhance the beauty of art (the way a lawn shows off a tree), the decline of heresy as a concept in the modern world, the Georgian obsession with giving names to their time period, the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, and a careful study of how worm-holes in a 17th Century letter reveal how people at the time folded their paper. And that’s in a single day!”
The who and the what make up two-halves of the audience puzzle. The deeper you understand each, the better you’ll be able to provide them with what they truly want.
Also, the clearer your answers are to these questions, the more room you have to experiment with providing value. For example, The Browser recommends video and audio content alongside their curated articles because this still satisfies their audience's desires - just in a different way. Once you know the who and the what, the how is flexible.
Lesson #4: Curation is a type of creation
One of the biggest misconceptions about curators is that the act of curating resources that already exist is easier than creating something new. But curation is still a skill, one that needs time, practice, and development.
When asked what most curation-type newsletters get wrong, Uri Bram responded they underestimate how much time it takes to put one together.
“Robert and Caroline hold themselves to exceptional standards: if they have five pieces but one of them isn’t up to scratch, they’ll sit and read for hours more till they find something that’s truly Browser-worthy. I think that’s why our newsletter feels so different from its many imitators.”
If you’re a new curator, or looking to revitalize your publication, be sure to give yourself enough time to do it correctly.
Lesson #5: Use the right tools
Finally, a curator’s toolkit can make or break their business. But a great toolkit doesn’t have to mean a complex one. Here’s everything The Browser uses to reach tens of thousands of readers each day.
- Feedly to organize RSS feeds.
“Over the years we’ve amassed an incredible collection of RSS feeds, basically covering every publication we have ever seen interesting material in. Every day our editors sit down with that unwieldy RSS collection and select their favourite pieces of writing for the day.”
- “A comfy chair and a long attention span!”
Remember, good curation can take several hours. Building or choosing an environment that supports deep, creative work is a must for serious curators.
- Ghost to publish and run the business.
“Use Ghost! Aside from being the best platform for newsletter creation, it’s also got the best community – I’ve never felt more energised about newsletters than while learning and growing in conversation with other fiercely independent publications.”
That’s it. Curation is a powerfully lean business model, which is one advantage it has over creators who need lots of software or equipment — but that also means each individual tool is that much more important. Invest in your success because the right tool can transform your business.
Closing tips for curators
As the discipline of curation develops, lean into your strengths and interests. If your newsletter is a joy to create, it will be a joy for your audience to consume. Pleasure in your work is an edge no one can take from you.
“What makes The Browser particularly unique and useful? I think the love, care and attention that we put into it, plus the sheer brilliance of Caroline and Robert’s minds. There are lots of imitators out there, but none of them really capture the magic of The Browser.”