The debate over HTML versus plain-text newsletters is still humming. But not at fever pitch. Without going out on a limb, I'd venture that the pendulum has swung toward HTML e-newsletters. They're just plain nicer to read.

But what about PDF newsletters? Sounds retro, but a PDF printed out has... heft, tangibility and a look of authority. Some publishers swear by them.

Paid Newsletters Delivered as Pdfs

It's not at all unusual for a paid subscription newsletter to be issued as a PDF.

A B2C example is Matthew Bennett's First Class Flyer, an insider's guide to unpublished fares for business and first class airline tickets. Bennett delivers his paid monthly PDF publication as a link inside a text message.

A pricey B2B example is IOEnergy's Power Update, daily regional market analysis of the power industry. IOEnergy sends PDFs as attachments, according to founder Tod Sedgwick. He told me that subscribers, who pay up to $1,000 annually for the daily updates, don't mind. They want to avoid the “extra click” to download the PDF.

(See links, below, to samples of these publications.)

Free e-Newsletters in PDF Format… Another Choice

“The more choices for people to read your content, the better,” Rafat Ali, editor of award-winning, told me. His daily free e-newsletter is delivered in HTML but with a link at the bottom that “converts” it into a PDF for readers who so desire. You can also read the daily on his site or through a PDA or text-enabled mobile phone.

Looks More Credible for CXX Readers

B2B marketing consultant Kristin Zhivago has another take on PDF e-newsletters. “It comes down to a question of formality. Higher-level execs expect a certain amount of formality. If it's not formal, it's not credible,” she said. She publishes two newsletters—intermittently—when not too busy as a revenue-generating consultant. Her Revenue Journal is a PDF aimed at CEOs. She produces her other newsletter, marketing technology, in HTML.

Adds Value by Making Publication More Tangible

Finally, a well-designed PDF looks like a real publication. It's less ephemeral than a message in your inbox.

I decided to tap into author, consultant and design guru Roger Parker for some solid tips about PDF newsletters.

Q & A with Design Guru Roger C. Parker

Remember when desktop publishing was all the rage back in the 80s? Roger C. Parker was one of the original gurus. The New Hampshire-based marketing and design consultant is the author of the best-selling Looking Good in Print: A Guide to Basic Design for Desktop Publishing, just released in its 5th edition.

He's written 31 other books, including several Dummies' guides. He's the editor of three PDF e-newsletters: Guerrilla Marketing & Design, Published & Profitable and One-Page Editor. All are based on his One-Page Newsletter concept. (Links to his Web sites and sample newsletters are below.)

Q: Why do you use the PDF format for your newsletters?

Roger Parker: All media represents a compromise between quantity and quality.

I prefer to go the “quality” direction and make a big impression—through design—on those who make the effort to open my PDF rather than have a less memorable, harder-to-read text or HTML newsletter.

Q: What's wrong with HTML newsletters?

RP: They often frustrate me: they require me to resize my browser window, they often don't save properly, and they usually don't print properly. Page breaks never work out and the pages aren't numbered.

I know that many of my newsletter recipients may not always open my PDF newsletter the day it arrives, but I have a lot of anecdotal information that many do save my PDF newsletters in a dedicated folder and print each issue to read at home or on the road.

Q: What about text newsletters?

RP: They all look the same, and many of them I find downright ugly. There's no benefit to seeing rows of repeated exclamation points or other symbols.

The lack of control over line spacing makes them difficult to read. They don't print particularly well. Often, when printed, they take up more space than they should because of their short lines.

Q: Tell me more about the advantages of publishing in PDF.

RP: I find it very helpful to have to write to fill available space. When formatted, my One-Page Newsletters contain space for between 625 and 650 words. In order to get everything into my newsletter, I have to carefully self-edit. This is a challenge but it improves the quality of my writing in a very painless way. I'm writing shorter sentences and paragraphs, using shorter words.

There's a temptation to ramble when you there are no limits on the space you can take up.

Q: Any other PDF benefits?

RP: Design is a marketing tool. It separates me and it brands my newsletter. Because I use a PDF format created in Adobe InDesign, I have total control over typeface, type size, line length, and line spacing. I have control over hyphenation. I have control over paragraph spacing.

I have dozens of quotes from readers saying they like my “quick read” newsletter. Many say it's the easiest and fastest reading newsletter they receive. They can read it in about two-and-a-half minutes.

When driving, they can read it on the way home, when they stop at traffic lights.

The PDF enforces brevity.

Q: How often do you send out your newsletter?

RP: Monthly, although if I come up with a great idea, or a special promotion, I sometimes send two issues a month.

Q: Why monthly?

RP: The one-page monthly format is the best way to keep in touch with clients. Newsletter marketing typically fails because people send a four-page bimonthly newsletter or an eight-page quarterly newsletter.

Four-page or eight-page newsletters are exponentially more difficult to produce than a one-pager.

Q: What's your content formula?

RP: Content is strictly educational. No promotion, no advertising. Topics are timeless, stressing the “how to” details that business schools forget to teach.

For example, each issue of Guerrilla Marketing & Design discusses a single, often-overlooked design or marketing topic and shows how to maximize it.

Typical topics include…

  • Email subject lines and signatures
  • Importance of subheads and formatting tips
  • Building your marketing funnel
  • Web site incentives
  • Education-based marketing

Promotional messages—upcoming teleclasses or new e-books—are described in the covering email the PDF is attached to.

Because the topics are educational and timeless, my current issues are as valid today as they were first sent. This permits me to sell yearly compilations of the newsletters. More important, the compendium of my back issues is a perfect credibility builder/leave-behind when I meet a new client.

Q: How many topics in each issue? I tell my e-newsletter clients they can have no more than five topics in a table of contents for any given issue.

RP: That's too many! The key to success is to limit each One-Page Newsletter to a single topic.

This focuses both writer and reader. The one-topic-per-month format is essential to my concept of the One-Page Newsletter.

The minute you try to treat two subjects, you're making your life harder and you're losing your focus—and readers like the focus of a one-topic-per-month feature.

Writing becomes easier over time, because the one-topic per month, 625-650 word count creates a rhythm that makes each issue easy to write and easy to read.

Q: Anything you'd like to add?

RP: Never before has technology been so friendly to writers. Writers used to be pawns of publishers.

Now, with PDFs, print on demand, and low-cost telephone bridge line rentals, writers can be publishers and keep more of the profit for themselves.

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Debbie Weil is an online marketing and corporate blogging consultant based in Washington, DC. She blogs at and Visit her main site at