As popes go, John Paul II is certainly one of the best there’s ever been: he is truly upright and deeply religious, and he has tried to use his position to be a force for good in the world. I respect that, even though I’m not Catholic and don’t agree with everything he says.

But in Italy (as I often joke) we don’t have television, we have Pope-o-vision. Every day the news wires and TV report what the Pope is doing, or what he has to say about the global crisis or disaster of the day. But what he says is usually so predictable! Of course he’s going to pray for peace between the warring factions, for international understanding, for aid to the afflicted, etc. While kind and worthy, this is hardly news: he’s the Pope – what else would we expect him to say?

Occasionally he does come out with something surprising. For example: In Italy, many couples split up without officially filing for divorce (because it’s a huge, expensive hassle), and often the ex-partners end up living and even having children with someone new. The Pope declared that it was all right for these de facto new couples to take communion – as long as they weren’t actually having sex.

The Italian media’s obsession with the Pope is baffling, because so few Italians today are devoutly practicing Catholics. Evidence: The vast majority of Italians are nominally Catholic, and the Church does not believe in “unnatural” forms of birth control, yet Italy has one of the world’s lowest birthrates. (Followed closely by that other very Catholic country, Spain.)

Italy’s shift to secularity is recent. Divorce became legal only in 1970, in a parliamentary decision which the Vatican attempted to overturn by a national referendum in 1974. To the shock of the Church, 60% of the Italian people voted in favor of keeping divorce legal. Similarly, and even more strikingly, a 1978 law making abortion legal was brought to referendum in 1981, and again the Church and its political friends failed: the right to abortion was sustained by 68% of Italians. Since then, abortion has never been a serious political issue in Italy.

Returning to my original topic: My irreverence towards the Church (and indeed all religious institutions) is partly my own, but I’ve also absorbed it from the Italians, many of whom, in spite of their media’s obsessions, don’t take Catholicism as an institution very seriously. They’ve had a ringside seat on the Vatican’s activities for most of 2000 years, and they know how little the Church-with-a-capital-C has had to do with religion for much of that time.

Newsletters: Customers Love ‘Em – If You Do Them Right

Begun in 1998, the newsletters I wrote/edited for Adaptec and (later) Roxio covered technical, how-to, product news, and other information of interest to CD-R users. I initially did all the writing myself, then hired other writers as the topics became too varied and the schedule too punishing for one person to handle (and I had too many other things to do).

Subscription climbed steadily over the years, to a total of over 170,000 subscribers on the larger (Windows) newsletter at the time of my departure from Roxio. (About 50,000 subscriptions were the result of two different marketing campaigns which aimed, at least as a side-effect, to get people to subscribe.) After publication in the newsletters, articles were immediately posted on the website as well.

When my workload got too heavy to do the writing myself, I hired outside writers, but I continued to write incidental and editorial material for every edition.

Subscriber Comments on the Newsletters

These comments came in over the years that I edited newsletters, first for Adaptec, then for Roxio. The writers mentioned include Bob Starrett, a well-known author in CD-R, and some credit also goes to our features editor, Becky Waring, who in late 2000 brought in a team of very talented professional journalists. So I can’t claim sole ownership of all the praise reported below!

By listening to the people who wrote back, both in praise and otherwise, I was able to distill a few words of wisdom on how to write a newsletter subscribers will rave about.

13 July 2001 (after I said goodbye)

…it’s why I’ve paid to upgrade the program.

…my favorite commercial newsletter.

…like having a brilliant insider pen pal.

I have used your newsletters as an example of the way our own efforts should “look and feel” here in this company.

The only bit of spam in my junk mail that I always read.

…to the point but also witty and fun.

Your style of writing has helped make this technology understandable.

It is the most informative of any that I receive…

Your newsletter was consistently the best of its type.

I’ve enjoyed your witty communiqués…

I have collected all your newsletters.

I just bought Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum this morning. I was strongly influenced by receiving your tips on a regular basis telling me about all the cool things I could do with the product.

…your newsletter was really the only one I always read, always.

There aren’t many ‘Promotional/Informational’ commercial emails that are worth the reading time – yours is one of the exceptions.

I always read it and enjoyed its informal yet informative style.

…filled with alot of valuable information.

…yours is the only “marketing” that I tolerate via email. It has always been enjoyable, entertaining and informative. You have been the one responsible for making me and keeping me an Adaptec/Roxio customer.

16 May 2001 – You publish a GREAT newsletter. I’m only a casual user of my CD Creator software, but I always read the newsletters. They’re very well done.

16 May 2001 – I know you are basically selling Roxio products but you do it in such an informative way. I wouldn’t buy a product without checking out Roxio’s range. The latest newsletter was yet another “hands-on” type of review that I find most useful. You are always so enthusiastic!!! How do you keep doing it? Or does Deirdre Straughan = multiple product managers? I don’t think so, because the consistent personality that comes through … but that is a trick some companies use. Note to DS’s manager … DO NOT PROMOTE THIS PERSON … SHE IS TOO GOOD TO BE WASTED IN SENIOR MANAGEMENT … JUST TRIPLE HER SALARY!

2 May 2001 – If more companies followed your example there would be a lot more happy and loyal end-users.

22 Apr 2001 – I subscribe to a couple of informational newsletters. Yours is unquestionably the most interesting and useful. Keep it up.

18 Apr 2001 – Your newsletter is one of the reasons why I purchased ECDC 5.0.

Subject: Choosing a Digital Camera, Part 2 – 18 Apr 2001 – I don’t think I have read a more concise, accurate, complete and useful technical guide to buying a digital camera. Well done Mr. Murie and thankyou Deirdre for bring this to us!

07 Apr 2001 – This was the best article I have seen on digital cameras, where the aura and mystery has been removed and that explains all the tech jargon in simple terms that even a klutz such as myself can understand it. I was so impressed with the article that I decided to wait for Part II before I buy a digital camera. Thank you so much for making the article available.

Subject: Choosing a Digital Camera, Part 1 – 8 Apr 2001 – How did you know I’ve been thinking of buying a digital camera! Youv’e done it again, sending an interesting and informative newsletter. The price I paid for Easy CD Creator makes this a welcome and valuable bonus.

Subject: Commendation on Newsletter and Communications Excellence – 20 Mar 2001

Dear Ms. Straughan,

This was my first newsletter from Roxio after acquiring Toast 4.1.2 for the Macintosh bundled with the Que! 12x CD-RW drive. I wish to thank you for the really valuable article on how to create a bootable CD with Toast and I wish to commend you for the excellence of your communications with Roxio product consumers.

Please know that I base my commendation of your professional excellence on my perspective based on:

  • researching and serving as senior author of two books, Public Relations Management by Objectives and Strategic Public Relations Counseling
  • serving twice as head of a panel of judges for the Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvils competition for best campaigns of the year and serving as a national PRSA judge for six years before that
  • rising to head the two leading organizations of PR educators, the PRSA Educators Academy and the Assoc. for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications PR Division
  • researching communications for the past 24 years, which was cited as the best in the nation in 1987 by the Foundation for PR Research and Education
  • my professional experience as a public relations officer with the California State Legislature’s lower house, the Western Home Office of the Prudential Insurance Co. of America, TRW’s Space Technology Laboratories, and Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach.

Thank you, again, for the valuable newsletter. I shall look forward to future editions.

Respectfully, x

xx, Ph.D., APR, Fellow-PRSA

Emeritus Professor of Communications (Retired)

California State University, Fullerton

7 Mar 2001 – We subscribe to many types of newsletters and frankly, most of them are deleted before ever being opened… However, yours are always read and KEPT for future reference (in fact, we print out the reference section and place them in a binder next to the CD Creator documentation). They are informative (#1) and frank and I appreciate the personal style to add to each one. Most newsletters are very “marketing pro-ish” and sterile.

02 Mar 2001 – As usual, it’s a pleasure to receive and read your newsletters. They’re always informative, and written in a more casual style, so it seems you’re sitting across the table discussing the subject. Pretty good trick for a writer to be able to do that with a monospaced text message!

2 Mar 2001 – A very nice tone and full of interesting and useful stuff. The Cluetrain people talk about how customers like to communicate with real people in corporations, and I think your material is a nice example of how we, as customers of Roxio, like the feeling that we are dealing with a real person, not a machine producing corporate ‘happytalk’.

1 Mar 2001 – …I have also passed on your newsletters to friends of mine who were interested in them. Some of them have consequently gone out and bought the software. The hints and tips in the newsletters have been very useful.

I would like to thank your for organising and sending these informative e-mails everytime. I dont know if this is an automatic e-mail service, but i think there is a person ( YOU ) behind all those things, so i felt it was okay to send you a thanks e-mail

10 Feb 2001 – …continues to be the best, highest quality newsletter OF ANY CATEGORY that I receive. The information is relevant, useful, stuff I don’t already know, and detailed enough to truly broaden my understanding. Bravo; I will be recommending you to my friends!

Feb 12, 2001 – I somehow got signed up for the roxio newsletter while looking for info on the CDRW drives that I was thinking of purchasing. I didn’t have much knowledge on these things at the time. I started getting the newsletters and they really informed me of what to look for and what products to check out.

10 Feb 2001 – I subscribe to a number of newsletters most of which are not terribly useful & are actually advertisements. Your newsletters always contain worthwhile concise information which in my mind is the best advertisement for a product. Your newsletters are an important part of my use of CD creator & will keep me using/ upgrading this software.

10 Feb 2001 – …Most of what I know about CD writing (burning) I know from you.

Feb 2, 2001 – Just received the latest E-newsletter (from Deirdre’ Straughan) entitled Choosing Blank Media for Music CDs. GREAT, GREAT, GREAT!!!! I wish I’d seen all that neat information a long time ago.

2 Feb 2001 – I am very pleased with the attitude, direction, and purpose of this newsletter!!!

2 Feb 2001 – You take better care of us than any other vendors I’ve ever dealt with.

2 Feb 2001 – I find them very informative and have made decisions based on the information I read. I also find the website references valuable.

1 Feb 2001 – …the only place I’ve had to get top-notch information about the uses of my [CD recorder]. The manufacturer provides a manual, of course, but it doesn’t go into nearly the detail you do and doesn’t have the flexibility.

2 Feb 2001 – …informative and enjoyable news letters. It would be worth buying the software just for the pleasure of getting them.

30 Jan 2001 -I subscribe to lots of newsletters such as the one you compile, but many are a hair’s breadth away from pure junkmail. Thanks for producing such a useful and enjoyable service.

Your customer support service is super! I can’t name any other technology company that has seen fit to produce such a helpful service as Roxio’s Newsletter. I find the information to be right on target and very helpful to insure people get the most from their software and CD-ROM hardware.

Please keep the excellent support for your CD-ROM software coming, along with the latest technology news to help normal users to be successful with your products. Certainly, this level and mechanism for support to the end user needs to be recognized by the computer magazines. Use of e-mail makes your efforts timely (no three month publishing delay), and as fully developed as necessary (without space limitations).

I’ve been reading your CD-R newsletter for about two years now… [it] is consistently fun and entertaining —thanks, mostly, to the fact that you come across as a person (and a fun one!), not just another dry corporate drone sending out a list of links for us to passively click on. That it’s actually informative, too, is a bonus, whether the subject at hand is how a disc is structured or what do you do with the darn thing after you’ve made a coaster of it. So, thank you for your hard work. I’ll keep reading this newsletter as long as you send it!

3 Dec 2000 – the newsletter has *never* failed to educate me in some fashion... please forward this to your manager to let them know that the newletter is not only useful, but is also attracting new customers to Adaptec products!

3 Dec 2000 – This is one of the best distribution lists around. Clear, useful, and not full of advertising or useless chit-chat.

16 Nov 2000 – I subscribe to a lot of technical e-mail lists, and yours is the only one that is consistently interesting and useful. I’m always amazed that you haven’t yet run out of interesting topics.

16 Nov 2000 – Thanks as always, Deirdre. In a world of overly self-promoting technical newsletters issued by XYZ.com company of the month, yours is the only newsletter that I always read cover to cover and always get something out of it. It is also the only one I ever recommend to others which I do frequently.

29 Oct 2000 – Your newsletters are usually interesting but this one is a gem. Thanks for taking the time to write and send it. I look forward to your letters as they written in understandable English besides being informative.

28 Oct 2000 – …by far the very best I receive and are SO informative.

16 Sep 2000 – …it is VERY REFRESHING to actually have someone that works for a major company, that cares enough about where She works to help us dumb people out here. I realize that it’s probably your job but I can’t tell you how much you helped me on making cd’s and how to use my rewriter more efficiently. I am a mechanic that has been interested in computers since the early 70’s but not having any computer savvy friends I’ve had to pick up what I could, and it’s been hard, not to say expensive, at times. THANKS AGAIN for a very informative newsletter and all the tips you have brought us. KUDOS to you, a very apperciative reader.

Subject: Best (of all of them) Newsletter! Thanks!

11 Sep 2000 – As a senior IT colleague, I want to send you a short thank you note on your excellent newsletter. It is of very high quality and brings together quite esoteric material on a technology in which many of us (even those in the field) have little knowledge. I also understand how much work it takes to put out a newsletter such as this and applaud your efforts not only as an IT colleague but most of all as a customer of Adaptec.

11 Sep 2000 – ...interesting, sometimes entertaining, always enlightening articles on CD-recording and -recorders. It enhances the use of the hardware as well as your excellent software.

11 Sep 2000 – Your information has always been interesting, often extremely valuable, and always well presented. Best of all, your newsletter never overtly pushes your products, just tries to be helpful. As a result, you’ve got me sold on Adaptec for life.

29 Aug 2000 – My brother-in-law had been using the version that came installed with his computer and wouldn’t buy the new version. He just bought it. I showed him how nice your company is, newsletters and helpful hints, and convinced him.

25 Aug 2000 – It is very rare to come across lists with such a good combination of useful and fun information.

Subject: How CD-R Discs Are Manufactured – 19 Aug 00 – I just wanted to tell you that your postings are by far the most interesting and informative infos I have read coming from many other newsletters.

19 Aug 2000 – We receive a lot of junk mail, This is one of the few lists that we actually read most times

20 Aug 2000 – The information you provide on a regular basis concerning CD’s is greatly appreciated. I print all of them, punch, and save in a 3-ring binder. Unfortunately, other corporations do not provide such helpful information for users.

28 Jul 2000 – …informative and entertaining newsletter. I’ve enjoyed all of the issues that I have received and look forward to receiving future issues. The newsletters have helped me to cut down on the number of coasters that I end up with while attempting to create CD’s. They have also helped me to get more value out of my Easy CD Creater software.

24 Jul 2000 – Just to tell you that your articles are very very good and I look forward to getting the useful information they provide!

22 Jul 2000 – …clearly one of the best informational mass mailings I receive.

5 Jul 2000 – Of all the billions and billions I get, I have to say Adaptec’s are the most interesting and informative.

4 Jul 2000 – …consistently high quality… I’ve subscribed (and unsubscribed) to a lot of these over the years: yours is by far the best I’ve yet run into. Thoughtfully presented, nicely balanced between too-basic and too-technical, useful and interesting. Well done.

26 Jun 2000 – …these newsletters have helped me quite a bit both, on my job and with my private stuff!

23 Jun 2000 – So much of the time, companies’ mailing lists are just advertising, so it’s refreshing to read the interesting, informative articles in your newsletter.

Subj: How CD-R and CD-RW Recording Works – 16 Jun 2000 – Whenever I open my mail and I see a mail from you, that’s always the first one I read. Just excellent. Your mail communication is an excellent asset for your company.

15 Jun 2000 – This has to be the best email newsletter I receive — I’ve really learned quite a lot from them, and I appreciate the support from Adaptec. Keep up the good work!

15 Jun 2000 – Your last two articles on CD’s have been masterpieces, thanks and keep them coming.

15 Jun 2000 – Just a brief note of thanks to you and the assorted writers providing the material that you send at regular intervals. It is very helpful, and of a significant level of detail to be very useful. I pass the info onto a couple of fellow consultants and we all suggest your company as a product source for both harware and software.

15 Jun 2000 – …standouts among the various regular newsletters I receive from various hardware and software producers… There is more truly interesting and useful information and detail with respect to CD history and processes, by far, than anyone else provides with respect to their product area.

12 Jun 2000 – …has made my software and hardware investment much more understandable, and useful.

11 Jun 2000 – The number of e-mails I receive everyday is occasionally overwhelming. Except for the personal and business related e-mail, most go straight into the bit-bucket. Your occasional e-mails do not go into the bit-bucket, at least not until after I have read it through a couple of times. Your e-mail tid-bits are always a welcome sight with interesting and obscure information.

9 Jun 2000 – I just HAD to say thanks for another wonderful article, The Truth About Media Color, written by by Bob Starrett. He writes great material about complicated (to me) Subjects, but at a level even I can understand. What a resource! Like you and Adrian Miller, Mr. Starrett does Adaptec proud.

10 Jun 2000 – An email from you always bring joy and is opened immidiately…

11 Jun 2000 – …very interesting newsletters. I appreciate tham and always learn something from them.

Subj: The Truth About Media Color – 10 Jun 2000 – Thank you for that well written, informative article. It answered questions I didn’t know who to ask, and cut through the advertising hype (ex: For music recording ).

9 Jun 2000 – …of all the mailing lists and whatnot that fill up my emailbox each day, Adaptec’s is the one I find consistently the most useful, the best-written, the most fact-filled, and the one I always move to my Things to Keep folder.

9 Jun 2000 – I really enjoy your technical newsletters. Makes me glad I bought your product.

9 Jun 2000 – …thanks for the quality and the interest of the information you have been distributing lately by e-mail. It is really most interesting, and very useful to us. – Directeur Technique, FUNDP University computing service (SIU)

4 Jun 2000 – I subscribe to too many email distrib. lists, updates, newsletters. In most cases, I’m momentarily compelled to subscribe based on an expectation of receiving immensely valuable information on a regular basis. In most case, I’m also disappointed. With this email newsletter, I subscribed expecting nothing and expecting that I’d cancel after I entertained my curiosity as to what content could possibly justify an email newsletter on CD-R and related topics. I have continuously been proven wrong. This is one of my most favorite email distribution subscriptions. The information and knowledge that’s provided is not only useful, but in many cases, almost impossible to find anywhere else. It’s wonderful. Just wanted to let you know that this publication is thoroughly enjoyed and anxiously awaited on a regular basis.

1 Jun 2000 – I am a heavy user of your CD Creator software, and find it to be the best product on the market. With no help, it would still be a top notch product with no competitor even close. Your newsletter and product support, however, go far beyond anything any other software producer (of any type of software I have ever used) provides. It is extremely informative, timely, and important to me.

18 Jul 1999 – I can’t tell you how much Adaptec continually impresses me with the information that you share on a regular basis. I wish other companies communicated as well as you do with your customers. I always know about the latest upgrades and updates. Easy CD Creator Deluxe has been the best software purchase decision that I have ever made.

17 Mar 2000 – Your software is great and these email updates from you are very nice as well. Its funny but when I see an email from you its always interesting and good news and somehow that makes it seem like I’ve met you and we’re like long time pen pals or something.

I’m relatively new to the activity and had a terrible experience wrestling with another CD recording program before smartening up and obtaining Adaptec’s wonderful CD Creator V4 and Direct CD. So my thanks really are for your enlightening article and for CD Creator. With Adaptec, my woes have turned to wows as I happily burn CDs for a variety of data.

17 Jan 2000 – Thanks for keping all of us updated with all that you do… Your SINGLE page addressed in your letter is fine. Not a lot of heavy stuff to load just to see your web-page. Good info. Keep all your Adaptec stuff coming. Because of you, my home and work CD-Write works great…

17 Jan 2000 – I dont know if Deirdre is ‘a’ person, or ‘MANY’ persons, or maybe doesn’t exist at all. But ‘her’ presentation and ‘her’ way with words is without peer. ‘She’ makes me want to stay connected with Adaptec whenever I have a choice of products. And she answers her e-mail, promptly!! Atta go ADAPTEC!! Atta go Deirdre!!

17 Jan 2000 – Many thanks for the very interesting history of CD-R… The article was nicely put together and made some excellent early morning reading… You have made me think about updating my CD recording software in the nicest of ways – I actually learned something!

Subj: The History of CD-R – 17 Jan 2000 – Please take me off the list. This is perhaps the most uninteresting article that I’ve read the first paragraph of this century. I’d hate to be snowed-in with that guy.

18 Jan 2000 – thank you a million (650 to be exact), times. Your article was very informative and well received. I will treasure it for years to come.

17 Jan 2000 – I always love your e-mails when they come. This was one of your best. Thanks.

17 Jan 2000 – Thanks for the informative email on The History of CD-R. What a pleasant surprise to find something like this in my mailbox.

17 Jan 2000 – Thanks for sending me the history of burning. Your newsletter is one of the few I receive worth reading

31 Jan 2000 – I just had to tell you that you sure do a neat job! Keep up the good work as you are the glue that keeps everyone together (with Adaptec)

Subj: Ancient Recording Rituals – 31 Jan 2000 – Thanks for the excellent job you and adaptec do keeping users informed on patches and goings on in general

Subj: Recording Music from Analog Sources – 19 Dec 1999 – Thanks for this easy guide …. makes it much more straightforward for us ….

20 Dec 1999 – Thank you for your for your fax dated Sun,19 Dec 1999, I do appreciate the news letters you send, especially the last because now I can reproduce our very old 50’s, 78 records.

Subj: Recording from LP or Cassette Tape to CD Using CD Spin Doctor – 19 Dec 1999 – Thanks for above how to, now I’ll have courage to try it. Keep up the good work.

20 Dec 1999 – This was GREAT! I found it most helpful in getting some of my old vinyl to CD’s. Can’t wait for the 2nd part. Keep up the good work.

19 Dec 1999 – Ya now, I really like your newsletter, always have, but I sure do miss those first few editions when you’d rag a coworker that uploaded the wrong file to ftp; or when you’d report the status of your flu. 🙂

19 Dec 1999 – Now this is customer service. Easy to see why you are #1. Thanks a lot. You made my day.

19 Feb 99 – I appreciate your notes —- your writing style is quite refreshing and your information is just that — informative.

19 Feb 1999 – Thanks for the informative email. Most listserv info is not what busy technology people need to take time to read. Your info was direct and to the point.

23 Feb 1999 – I must say that I do very much appreciate your writing style and your approach to the mission. I use quite a few of Adaptec’s products regularly in my job, and also for pleasure. Your correspondance definitely adds value to a consistent and nice product range… Nice writing and professionalism is always good to see.

23 Feb 1999 – Thanks for the newsletter. This is a major reason for continuing to use Adaptec products. (The support)

24 May 1999 – Thanks, too, for your informative email newsletter on updates and tips; this is the best part of my Adaptec software!

11 May 1999 – Thank you for one of the most useful email newsletter I’ve had yet. Great design and way of sharing info. I appreciate your efforts and wish more people would use that model.

Subj: DirectCD version 2.5d released – 3 Jun 1999 – Just in case no one ever has said anything. Your effort to keep us notified of the software updates is WELL APPRECIATED, and deserves high praise!!

I find your newsletter very helpful and informative and it is really the first time that I have such a close and good connection to a software developer keeping me update on new versions and fixes but even more interesting supplying tips that are helpful in daily work.

This company has the best customer email service I’ve ever seen. Yours is the only one that always has something useful right up top and doesn’t send me a ton of crap.

16 Oct 1999 – …thanks for all the useful information that you continually provide us. I wish the other software vendors that I have made purchases from would be this helpful.

Your emails are the best example of the value of this medium. They are always informative, they cut right to the point, and they never seem like self promotional Marketing efforts.

Just a few lines to thank you for the attention and professionalism that you and Adaptec have shown in publishing this article. As a computer consultant, I am all too aware of the challenges of information overload and how it affects todays consumers of computer hardware and software… It is more important today to lead new users by the hand, if need be to help them understand, benefit from, and enjoy the technology and products that they wish to use or have bought. Your article is a welcomed step in this direction.

English is not my native language and when it gets too technical I don’t understand it completely. This article and the ones, I hope will follow, are understandable for someone like me… These kind of articles help me a lot, From now on I will try to write DAO. (Now I really understand what all these shortenings mean.)

I wanted to thank you for your email about 80 minute CDR’s about a month ago….It answered a LOT of questions I had had about them and even provided me links to find some inexpensively.

5 May 1999 – …this Up-front support, (as illustrated in your email), is the VERY BEST effort that I have seen from ANY company to date. Congratulations! This is the stuff that makes an Industry Leader , and good news travels fast.

8/9/99 – I REALLY would be LOST if it wasn’t for your updates/newsletter.

14 Nov 1999 – Your explanations of technical computer stuff are the best I’ve ever read – no kidding. Typically, one either gets the how without the why or the why without the how , almost never do you get both.

Subj: The History of CD-R – 17 Jan 2000 – Yours may, literally, be the only advertisement I read in full. Your company’s products usually serve my purposes well and I marvel at the information you are permitted to convey.

Subj: Easy CD Creator 4.02 Patches Released – 17 Mar 2000 – Wish all the companies were this conscientious. Many thanks for your great products and your constant support to your customers.

…one of the most informative pieces of e-mail I receive. And it’s important that we do take a moment once in a while to enjoy the lighter sides of any topic – computers, Internet, CDs and even life in general are to dull otherwise.

Subject: How CD-R Discs Are Manufactured

18 Aug 2000 – …one of the few newsletters I actually take the time to read. Most get about 10 seconds of attention before being deleted… I’m greatful that Adaptec takes the extra step to educate the users of their products.

Subject: How CD-R Discs Are Manufactured – 18 Aug 2000 – …exceptionally informative and very well written. …a perfect blend of technical and non-technical information… P.S. I concur with your other readers that requested that you return to publishing more substantial articles, instead of the fluff about recycling/ electrocuting CD’s. Funny? Yes, but don’t depart from the thing you do so well–providing good understandable technical information for your computer literate users.

26 Aug 2000 – …not being a CD-R/RW specialist, I learn a lot from your letters. They are concise and to the point.

2 Sep 2000 – …of the two dozen or so software company newsletters I receive, the Adaptec WINCDR newsletter is consistently informative, useful, and relevant.

4 Sep 2000 – …among the very few that are truly informative and very helpful to the relatively uninformed such as myself. …made the CDR aspect of my computer life relatively hassle free and even enjoyable.

4 Sep 2000 – …your news letter is the most informative of all the letters that I receive. I feel as if I’m back in school reading and learning meaningfull tidbits…

Comments Elsewhere

CD-RW, CD-R By Thiravudh Khoman: “…Also, if he
hasn’t done so already, he should register his Adaptec software online,
whereupon a nice lady named Deirdre Straughan will email him whenever a
new software update is released. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t hurt to browse
Adaptec’s plentiful technical bulletins which might provide additional
hints as to his problems.”

Comments quoted on the first Roxio site, way back when (courtesy of the Wayback Machine).

Reflections on Brand and Homogeneity

My daughter’s school year ended in mid-June (with three intense weeks of tests, quizzes, and papers), and we left Milan almost immediately for a trip up the middle of the United States.

We started in Texas, where I have relatives, and pleasant memories from my days at the University of Texas (Austin). I love that part of the country. It’s not stunningly gorgeous, but has a quiet beauty that I find very peaceful. And, our current president notwithstanding, I like the people.

From Austin we flew to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a dear friend of mine lives, then rented a car and drove to Lawrence, Kansas (high school friend) and then to Decorah, Iowa to visit my mother. We flew out of Minneapolis, staying with another high school friend and his family there on the way out.

I didn’t expect the drive to be particularly scenic, nor was it. What struck me was the sameness not only of the scenery (corn, corn, and more corn), but also of the signs. Everywhere you go it’s the same Wal-Mart, Dairy Queen, McDonald’s, etc.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler in Future Shock predicted that Americans would be increasingly mobile, moving from town to town in pursuit of jobs. One effect of this would be the “plug-in” society, where homes, shopping areas, and even social lives are designed for maximum sameness across the country, so that people could make these moves with minimum psychological impact.

Toffler was right: Americans move far more than anyone else in the world, and much of the country has achieved a dreary and disturbing sameness. I can understand the attraction of brands: you always know exactly what you’re getting, even if it’s not very good. McDonalds’ the world over have roughly the same menus, prices, and levels of cleanliness; there are no surprises. I guess that’s why even in Italy, a country famous for its food, McDonald’s is popular with tourists. Many people prefer a certainty of mediocrity to the risk that something might be worse (or better, or merely different!) than they expected.

So America is indeed a plug-in society, where you can travel or even move from one town to another, and never notice a difference. The same chain stores and restaurants will be present, with the same layouts, products, and menus; you never have to learn anything new, it is all comfortingly the same as what you just left.

I experienced this most strongly some years ago, during a whirlwind trip around various parts of the US. At some point I found myself in a shopping mall, thinking: “Here I am in front of a Banana Republic store in a mall. And I have no idea what city I’m in.” I had to stop and think about it for some very long seconds before I remembered where in the world I was.

Campo Imperatore – Home of the Spaghetti Western

boss stallion

Looks kinda like Montana, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact, many “Spaghetti Westerns” were filmed here. The scenery comes complete with cattle, horses, and sheep, brought here to graze during the warm months.

Campo Imperatore

The latest movie to be filmed in Campo Imperatore is White Hell (Inferno Bianco), a low-budget horror Western, available on YouTube.

How to Write a Product Newsletter That Will Get Raves

Distilling what people have written over the years about why they liked our newsletters, here’s my advice on how to write a successful company newsletter:

You first need to decide: is your newsletter only about selling things, or is it about building relationships with customers and a sense of community among them? Obviously, I favor the latter approach, and believe it’s a more effective sales tool than a purely commercial newsletter. Assuming you agree with me, the points below follow naturally.

The bulk of every edition has to be something other than a blatant sales pitch – most of your readers are not ready to open their wallets every time they open a newsletter. Give people information they value, and they will think of you kindly – and will remember you when they are ready to buy.

This doesn’t mean that you have to have a feature article in every edition – that’s nice to do, but can get expensive. But there’s likely other information that will be of interest, e.g. (in the case of software) announcements of new updates available, or useful new pages on your website.

The information you publish doesn’t have to be only about your own products. In the Roxio newsletters I published two articles on “Choosing a Digital Camera”. Digital cameras are related to CD-R only in the sense that people who own one likely own (or are thinking of buying) the other, and digital camera owners find CD-R a great way to store and share pictures. Nonetheless, these were among the most popular articles I ever published. Other popular articles had little or nothing to do with the day-to-day use of our software, e.g. Bob Starrett’s “The History of CD-R”.

Avoid publishing the usual corporate stuff (press releases about a new executive); unless you’re running a newsletter for investors, most of your subscribers are not interested. If you must, give a headline, a URL, and maybe the first few lines.

Tell your readers how your product will improve their lives, by letting them do things they couldn’t before, and have more fun. If you have lots to say on this topic, the product will sell itself. (Kathy Sierra later became my guru on creating passionate users.)

Don’t just tell them how to do it, but also why to do it.

Own and display a sense of humor in your writing. (Sorry, I don’t have any quick tips on how to grow a sense of humor!)

Keep the style informal, friendly, and warm. Pretend you’re “an old friend, who has some helpful tips to pass on.” However, stay on point – people like an informal tone, but they don’t want to read long rambles about what you ate for lunch or did last weekend (unless you’re a restaurant critic or travel writer).

Make sure that every email is signed by a real person, that the reply-to address actually goes to that person, and that she or he is willing and able to answer every subscriber who replies. Yes, answering every response will take a lot of time (I used to receive and respond to 400 emails for every newsletter sent out). But it’s a critical step: it lets people know that the company really is listening.

Make sure the rest of your subscribers also know that you’re listening. When you hear from a subscriber expanding, correcting, or asking for more information about a newsletter article, mention this in the next edition: “So-and-so asked for clarification on… Here’s the answer.” (Caveat: Be sure you ask so-and-so’s permission before you mention their name in a newsletter! Otherwise use the generic, e.g. “a subscriber wrote to ask…”)

Hearing from subscribers in this way is also helpful to you, the writer/editor – subscribers have great ideas for future articles!

When I stopped writing the newsletters, I said goodbye. And that got some amazing reactions.

Deirdré Straughan on Italy, India, the Internet, the world, and now Australia