3 Lessons from the Death of TinyLetter




Let’s pour one out for the most endearing email newsletter platform. This morning, Mailchimp announced they’re closing TinyLetter forever… migrate to Mailchimp or leave by March.

Marketing platforms come and go like a fleeting Chicago summer. I knew this would happen, but that doesn’t make it less frustrating!

Lesson 1: Have a backup for the inevitable pivot or acquisition.

TinyLetter launched in 2010. Then-admired Mailchimp bought it the following year. Both promised they wouldn’t sink the ship.

We SUPER didn’t believe that when Mailchimp sold out to Intuit in 2021. Yep, the same lobbyists preserving America’s tax filing nightmare are shuttering my beloved newsletter vendor!

Here are my top options from Alternativeto.net, my favorite place to search competitors when SAASs kick the bucket.

​Lesson 2: Consider how businesses choose not to profit.

Many folks need dirt-cheap email delivery for their zero-revenue microlists: bloggers, zines, musicians, community service projects, friend groups, etc. I send quarterly life updates to friends and family.

TinyLetter offered free accounts for up to 5,000 subscribers. Mailchimp bought it for leads (smart), squeezed all the migrations it could (awful), and is now kicking fans to the curb (booooo).

And people love this tool! It predates Patreon and Substack. Given the chance, it could have launched the indie newsletter wave. Something like $30/yr to support this grassroots platform would win fans over, but forcing us to a marketing behemoth like Mailchimp makes us rage.

As the saying goes – if you aren’t paying, you’re the product.

​Lesson 3: Always prepare to spend money.

I landed on ConvertKit for my business for automation and cart capabilities. It’s first and foremost a marketing platform = overkill for my minor life updates.

Here’s the rub – I already pay to host my blog. You might do the same!

Why must another third-party come between me and 98 people 4× a year? I’d happily chip in more if Dreamhost guaranteed email delivery.

Why doesn’t WordPress include tools to collect addresses and send updates? Ghost was founded on that principle. Even WordPress.com (the for-profit by Automattic that owns Tumblr) launched newsletter tools but may never backport those into the wp.org open-source project.

Note: Since time of publishing, I installed and configured MailPoet on this blog. It’s owned by Automattic (ugh) but delivery is free for my microlist.

Why does everyone want to make a buck off no-money microlists? Experiments like Twitter Revue have shown scaling this isn’t profitable. This is the perfect spot for an indie company to inhabit. Ditto for Events! Gath.io is a great model for what I’m talking about.

Why is emailing more than a dozen people such a chore?

All that to say, this news bummed me out. TinyLetter was a bastion of indie web vibes and I’ll miss it dearly. 💌