Reader Survey: Should True emails Be HTML?

Both the Premium (paid) subscribers and the Free edition subscribers were asked:

What is your reaction to the idea of This is True changing from a “plain text” email to simple HTML email, which would allow nicer fonts, bold/italics, perhaps even an occasional photo?

The two (Premium and Free) surveys are now closed. Thank you to those who weighed in!

Not the First Time

The Premium subscribers have been asked similar questions informally in the past, and while there has always been support, there were always some rather vocal folks who definitely did not want HTML emails.

Now I’ve long been a proponent of plain text emails: they’re more secure, take less bandwidth, and can be viewed on any device, though often in an ugly way.

Still, assuming there is no javascript in the emails (an “attack vector” for viruses), there are many terrific advantages of using “simple HTML”.

Because of my own background, I let the vocal naysayers gave me the impression that the majority wouldn’t want it, but after thinking about it again recently, perhaps the “strong no” crowd might be drowning out the readers’ real desires. Thus, it was time to do a “real” survey to get some actual numbers. The Premium and Free edition readers were asked separately, to see if there was a difference in their replies.

Survey Results

The response was pretty unambiguous. Actually, it was overwhelming! First, the Premium readers — an amazing 26-plus percent answered the survey:

Chart of Premium reader response

Summary: only 1.5 percent was a strong no. “No but could live with it” was 12.7 percent, neutral was 17.9 percent. But the yes? More than two-thirds — 67.8 percent! Or, to look at it another way, 98.5 percent are along the continuum of “can live with it” to really, really prefer it.

Then there’s the Free edition readers:

Chart of Free reader response

Summary: just a little less support here, but the response rate was much smaller than Premium’s 26-plus percent (just over four percent of the Free subscribers responded). The “strong no” more than doubles to 3.7 percent. “No but could live with it” was a similar 12.2 percent, neutral was a similar 17.7 percent. And again the yes was two-thirds — 66.4 percent. Or, in summary, more than 96 percent are along the continuum of “can live with it” to really, really wanting it.

About Advertising

The Free edition has outside (third party) ads, which make the free distribution possible. Would True use HTML to enable big, fat, motion-intensive ads grab your attention? No! I personally hate those kinds of ads. Such ads distract terribly from attention to the content. True never lets advertisers have a say in what goes in the issues — they never get a preview of the stories their ads will run near, nor have they ever had the ability to even request that their ad not run near a certain kind of story. And they never will.

Similarly, True will not allow advertisers to use flashing or movement to draw your attention away from the content — period. The publication does obviously lose money because of this stance (and for refusing to accept ads for for porn sites/services, alcohol and tobacco products, gambling, and any service or product which is, to my knowledge, illegal in the United States.) But my business practice is this: I treat my readers the way I want to be treated. So, very simply: it won’t happen.

If you don’t want third-party ads at all, there’s an option for that, too: the Premium upgrade, which has never had outside ads, and has a lot more stories plus other benefits and special Premium-only features.

With Numbers Like That…

The Free and Premium editions are distributed with different software for complex reasons (read: that won’t change anytime soon), but each has the ability to send both HTML-formatted and plain-text in the same email message (using Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions or MIME encoding).

Between the capabilities to make True look the way I originally designed it to (as shown in stories on this site, with Bold Mixed Case Slugs (story titles) and italic taglines at the end of each story, plus the huge preference by readers that True should switch to HTML, Yes: both Premium and Free editions will be switching to HTML in the near future.

For your security, it will certainly not include javascript elements, and for bandwidth will rarely include photos much larger than thumbnail size.

If you cannot clearly read True because of this upcoming change, and cannot (or will not) upgrade your mail software to do so (note that webmail systems like Gmail, Yahoo mail, etc. do already have the capability of showing even complex HTML, let alone the simple HTML that’s planned), I’m sorry — I’m still going to do it. It’s almost 11 years into the 21st Century now, and it’s time we stopped holding back from the capability that modern email programs provide.

Schedule Update

Since the Kindle e-book collections planned for release this year also use simple HTML for layout, I’ve delayed changing the newsletter until after I’m completely done setting up the books — I can reuse a lot of that work for the newsletters. Thus the new timetable is Spring 2012.

– – –

Ah, the challenges of software and schedules: the publication didn’t switch to HTML until Issue 1000 in late summer, 2013.

49 Comments on “Reader Survey: Should True emails Be HTML?

  1. Not happy.

    Subscription runs out end of year. Am considering unsubscribing.

    I can’t possibly make everyone happy. I’m sure I’ve been losing business for years because it’s not HTML. I have to go with the quite overwhelming majority. -rc

  2. Apparently I didn’t read the whole issue last week or I would have voted, probably Neutral or weak Yes. I’m still happy with this change, and hopeful that the 1.5%/3.7% will come to their senses and the 21st century (and bring their email providers with them).

  3. A bit behind with my reading, so didn’t know about the survey. Dang!

    I’d have been in the ‘prefer not, but could live with it’ camp. However, in pretty much everything we do, there comes a time when you have just have to adopt the improvements that technological advances are offering, and get with the program. So bring it on!

    Unsubscribe? Never!!

  4. I completely forgot about responding to the survey – sorry, Randy!

    I’m neutral-to-positive. While I have a preference for plain text email (comes from using it for several years prior to the invention of the world wide web, I guess!), I’ve seen enough of your work over the years to trust that you’ll do it well. 🙂

    BTW – is it possible for you to set up a separate list for those (few) people who insist they only want to get text-only? It seems like it would be an easy thing to set up, but of course, that’s from the perspective of someone who (a) doesn’t know how to do it, and (b) wouldn’t have to do it himself!

    For the free edition: definitely not. Too much work and “confusion” to deal with, and AWeber already does MIME so they can have both anyway. For Premium: don’t know yet. I need to discuss it with the developer. -rc

  5. I’m one of those who would have voted no, if I’d seen the survey in time (frown). I’m not sure yet whether I’d renew (paid edition) or not, once you switch to html, because my email client, while fully capable of reading html email cannot be set to switch to email for only certain senders, and too many spammers are sending malicious html emails which can even install password snoopers on local desktops/laptops.

    At the very least I’d strongly suggest a line at the very top of the email, which will be readable to non-html email readers, with a link to a page where the html can be read.

    If your mailing software can’t do that, then it’s, in my humble opinion, unsuitable. The real test of course is when you find out if you gain or lose subscribers to the paid edition. I know that I won’t be recommending paid subscriptions anymore, once the emails are only available in html.

    I think “malicious HTML emails” is a tiny issue (says the guy who wrote the Spam Primer): I’ve set my emailer (Eudora) to allow HTML — and I don’t run an anti-virus scanner. As for a page with the text, that’s a no-go: then I’d need limited access schemes, with a data base behind it to allow only those who are currently paid up. I can’t possibly do that with the number of subscribers I have paying only $24/year. -rc

  6. I’ve been promising for years that I would resubscribe to Premium if you ever went to HTML. I just gave my $24 to PayPal and now I am a Premium subscriber again.

    See? I knew I was losing customers by not having HTML! Thanks for confirmation. -rc

  7. I’m one of the “YES: that would be fine”s. The only thing I’m concerned about is how the HTML formatting holds up to resizing the font. Far too many web sites have fancy column and ad layouts that completely disintegrate, covering important content when I increase the font size from “super tiny” (8pt or less) to “reasonable” (12-14pt on my monitor). Even the TRUE website has this problem occasionally; this example shows some text box overlap, which in this case doesn’t obscure any text, but has in the past. TRUE’s plain text emails wrapped at 80 columns has been immune to this problem, and I’d hate to see it become less readable.

    I haven’t even begun to design the template yet, but I can already say the font won’t be “super tiny”. I will definitely try things like enlarging it in browsers before I lock it down. -rc

  8. For my part I trust that which ever decision you’ll make will be in everyone’s best interest. Therefore I bid you to proceed with whichever format you see most fit, good Sir. 😉

  9. I voted a strong yes in your poll, but even had the decision gone the other way, I certainly wouldn’t be unsubscribing over it. In fact, I find it difficult to imagine how anyone would pay for a year or more of reading content, and then consider unsubscribing solely because of format. It’s so simple to manage the security settings of your email client, after all. That makes about as much sense as unsubscribing over a change of font.

    I’ve been a subscriber of yours for nearly as long as you’ve been publishing any of your letters, although I only converted to Premium about 3 years ago. I upgraded to help support your efforts, not to avoid the ads… that’s just gravy. So if you want to chase ME off, you’re going to have to work at it! 😉

  10. I’m one of the “I can live with it” crowd. I just prefer plain text emails (but can always copy and paste to a text editor if I get the urge!) But the switch is extremely minor — nothing to get upset about.

    I know you’ll use it responsibly and carefully. You also understand some of the potential security issues (and care about your readers enough to not use things like JavaScript).

    And thanks for sharing your comparison of response rates. That was extremely fascinating. Take care of your customers, as the saying goes, and the results are apparent….

    I knew some would be bored with the details, and others would find them interesting. Easy enough to skip over what you don’t care about, especially since I was reasonably brief. Glad you found it interesting. -rc

  11. I didn’t see the survey, but I would’ve been in the “emphatic yes” camp. Often I read “This is True” issues on my phone, and because of the hard line breaks, the formatting gets messed up on the small screen. HTML will allow the phone’s browser to format it optimally. So, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!!

    You’re welcome. In the meantime, try turning your phone sideways to get a longer line length. -rc

  12. I was in the camp of “that would be fine”, mostly due to reservations about the quality of the result.

    I generally read email and websites in large print (often 150%-200% original) — I like to lay back, and so am often sitting 5ft or more from my monitor.

    I also like to be able to read emails and sites on my cell phone, so having the formatting work well on an iPhone is also important (including download and loading times).

    While I am confident Randy is capable of making HTML work well in both cases, I have also seen plenty of examples of people failing to account for both, resulting in pages which are extremely difficult to use comfortably.

  13. Sorry, I missed the survey completely. I just saw your Facebook posting about the results. I would have been one of those strongly in favor of HTML. I get dozens and dozens of HTML-formatted newsletters without any problems and I find them much easier to read. Why should I suffer plain text because some scum is trying to send me SPAM?

    However, I also have all of these newsletters sent to and accounts where page rendering is limited to only those in my address book and SPAM filtering on both sites is quite good.

    And I would certainly not subscribe/unsubscribe because of format. It is the great content that keeps me reading every week and I would not want to miss it!

  14. Interesting to see that I would prefer to stick with plain text for the very same reason James in Virginia would like to move to html — and that is, that I read True on a variety of mobile devices, starting with my old phone (nokia 6120c) through my android phone and tablet even on (admittedly not mobile) TV screen.

    I trust that you will make it work though. Will let you know if any problems arise.

  15. I’m a premium subscriber and didn’t see the survey. I would be in the no, but can live with it camp.

    The biggest problem with html emails is that they rarely display the way the author meant them to, often distorting the message horribly since every mail client renders html differently. Plain text, on the other hand, always displays cleanly and with the exception of word wrap not being in the right spot for the screen, is always very easy to read.

    Sure, you can play with pretty fonts and colors in html emails, but it is an email after all and not a web page. The pretty colors and fonts often make the emails much harder to read. It’s even worse if the reader’s system doesn’t have the same fonts loaded as the author, or if they don’t use one of the standard mail readers. If you really want to go HTML, extreme care must be taken to be sure that the email will render properly across all platforms (Mac, Linux, Windows), and all readers (Outlook, Thunderbird, Evolution, Gmail, Yahoo, Android, iPhone, etc).

  16. Lots of comments, pro and con. I was in the “Doesn’t matter either way” camp. Most of my emails come and go as HTML, but it doesn’t bother me if they’re plain text. My computer security is probably as adequate as any can be. And HTML does not increase the amount of spam, just the potential harm that it can do, if one permits it. Spam, of course, takes incredibly long to download, just to have to dump it, which is why I was quite happy with Randy’s recommendation of filtering my incoming email through GMail.

    Obviously my preference was stated through your survey. I’m commenting because I’m surprised at the position taken by some, that if you incorporate HTML, they will unsubscribe. It’s their option, of course, but extreme. The drawbacks to HTML are not so great that it’s worth losing a premium product (okay, service), so it’s more of an extremist stance for its own sake. With the overwhelming customer demand, a business must cater to it for survival and success. And, quite frankly, Randy has been doing this sort of thing for nearly 20 years, with several websites, not just This is True, along with experts to help him. So it’s not going to be some hastily thrown together mish-mash of amateur bumbling just to change what’s previously been working well.

  17. I’m amused that your use of title case meant my first attempt to parse this headline via RSS reader had me initially reacting, “No, ‘true email’ does not contain HTML!” Only a second glance revealed that you were talking about TRUE email, not “true” email.

    You’ve probably figured out my stance; I don’t believe HTML belongs in email. If I want a web page, I’ll go to a web page. As Joe comments, above, the results are reliably not what the author intends.

    But, if the emails are carefully crafted and stay away from fancier gimmicks that break more often than not, they should be pretty readable wherever they end up. And, having finally forced myself to move from Eudora a couple of weeks ago (yes, it still hurts), I’ll be more likely to find I can still read True.

  18. I’m disappointed. I also did not see the survey otherwise I would have voted no. I am disappointed that you are switching for a publication which gets no benefit from HTML. I have no objection to HTML being used when it adds clear value but don’t see the point of the extra data, the extra rendering and the increased possibility of something harmful in the message (obviously not intentionally) or in the viewer. Personally I read emails on many different devices and over many different types of connection depending on where and how I am travelling so text is much the most useful format for me.

    Will I unsubscribe or revert to the free edition? Probably not, but I am still disappointed.

  19. Folks, I think a few of you (very few, thankfully) are being a little unfair to Randy. First of all, he’s one of the most conscientious individuals I’ve ever come across about protecting his readers. Add to that the fact that he’s very technically competent to ensure his letters are not infected.

    Furthermore, anyone that isn’t setting up their email client and anti-virus program to screen all incoming mail is really dropping the ball. If you don’t know how to do so, then I highly recommend you either find a friend or family member that can give you a hand, or do some judicious Google searching and inform yourself. Randy’s letters are the last thing any of us need to worry about.

    Finally, Randy essentially put it to a vote, and the majority preferred HTML formatting. Whether the vote went the way we like or not is really immaterial. Hell, I wasn’t too pleased at the way the last Presidential election went either. But like it or not, Barack Obama’s now my President, and I’m not about to give up my citizenship because of it.

    What say we all give this a chance? Make sure your AV program is up to date and turned on, and trust Randy to do as he’s always done… keep our best interests at heart. You may just find that you like the HTML version, and wonder why everyone doesn’t use it. 😉

    That’s my hope. -rc

  20. It’s always interesting to see what the hard data turns up. I would have guessed that most people preferred plain text too, but that’s not what the numbers say.

    My worry with HTML-formatted newsletters stems from the size of the HTML file vs. a regular text file. I’ve seen what MS Word’s “save as HTML” can do to a file with only a little bit of formatting in it, and I wrestle with Blogger’s built-in editor every time I create a blog entry with more than just words.

    But I trust you enough — and am aware enough of your tech skills and Web knowledge — to understand that when you say “simple HTML” that’s what you mean.

    And thanks (in advance) for protecting the free subscribers from the really obnoxious ads that detract from your message.

    Word generates hugely bloated HTML, which is no surprise considering it bloats just about everything. There’s a reason it doesn’t “reveal codes” like WordPerfect: you’d be horrified by the mess. -rc

  21. I am a Premium subscriber, and I would be a part of the emphatic “Yes” group, simply because I have seen a PDF version of Premium that Randy released when a group of subscribers could not successfully receive the email, and was highly impressed. I’d be thrilled to see True look that way every week.

    For those concerned on security with Randy using simple HTML, all I can say is you take a risk of a computer breach even being online. Everything you do online can open you up to a risk. Why cause yourself so much worry and grief? Randy said no scripts would be used, and that’s what would cause the highest risk. The only risks in rendering a simple HTML email is if the email client itself is buggy and can be exploited while rendering. You run the same risks using a web browser to look at simple HTML web pages. The chances of an exploit are slim, and keeping current on your software (along with using a firewall, antivirus, etc.) minimizes those chances even further.

    Frankly speaking, unsubscribing because you don’t want to subject yourself to the risks of a simple HTML message means you really should just unplug your Internet gateway and stop your ISP subscription, and go back to writing and receiving letters by traditional mail.

    And it’s quite expensive to get TRUE that way! 🙂 -rc

  22. I’ll also like to agree that I prefer True’s classic design. I would have much preferred to keep it.

    To Ray, if you look at the code created by Word in the “Save as HTML”, it is five to ten times the amount actually necessary. Software designed to write HTML is better, but handwritten html is quite concise and the raw code is mostly legible by non-programmers. The problem is when people use HTML poorly and have extensive menus and lots of unnecessary junk.

    The only advantage of HTML for TRUE is the ability to include pictures and formatted text. Not bad. Not necessary, but I trust Mr. Cassingham to not break our retinas with poor design. Still, it’s an end of an era.

  23. I am one of the ‘No, but could live with it’ votes. My concern is that I read most of my personal email on my blackberry. My blackberry claims to handle HTML, but I have seen some websites and emails which either completely baffle it or get rendered so that I have to scroll side to side on each line as I read. This includes this blog and the JumboJoke website. Scrolling side to side for each line becomes literally painful. However, I enjoy True’s content so much, I will remain a subscriber, and just wait to read them when I have time at a PC somewhere.

    Randy, I would strongly encourage you to test your formatting with the more popular mobile email clients as well as with desktop clients. Furthermore, you may wish to occasionally look at your websites through the same (small) lens, so that mobile customers can enjoy more of your content, not less.

    Unfortunately, “the more popular mobile email clients” doesn’t actually include Blackberry anymore…. (While I’m partially kidding, it’s less so every day!) -rc

  24. Like 98.5 percent of my fellow Premium subscribers, I will continue to subscribe no matter what format True is delivered in.

  25. I know you are aware that some of us read using a speech synthesizer, and I *greatly* appreciate your taking the trouble to describe pictures on JumboJoke. This is just to remind you to not rely on typographic features (bold, italics etc.) alone to convey information when you format TRUE in HTML. I know this reminder is unnecessary for you but it might make others think. 🙂

    Screen readers are one of the options for the blind. -rc

  26. I voted that I might leave, but it will depend on the nature of the HTML mail. If it is hard to read, I will reluctantly depart.

    In addition to recent experiences with badly formatted Microsoft Outlook mail on my iPhone (which may well be one of the more popular clients you referred to), I also frequently have trouble with html mail that refuses to honor requests to do such things as “scale up the font”, or that expects a font that I don’t have on my computer, or that chooses character sets badly.

    HTML “designers” often want control to place elements on a page as if they’re printing documents. That’s bad use of the web and is also bad in email. If I can’t make the font bigger or increase the contrast because I can’t override the choices that work for you on your system with your fonts, then HTML is a net negative to me.

    The comments about “how it’s supposed to be viewed” make me worry that this effort may not have a light touch, but will try to impose a page-layout design on what has to date been an excellent data flow. If we’re talking about a few tags (strong, em, etc) and links, it will be one thing.

    I am hoping to stay, but expecting to need to depart.

  27. I’m one of those that emphatically voted NO. I’m sorry that this change will be coming. I actually loathe HTML driven email, but then again, I’m also old school when it comes to a lot of web development/HTML stuff (I code everything by hand and meticulously validate it).

    It’s been a fun ride for the past few years, Randy, and I’ve always enjoyed our interactions. But when one chapter closes, another opens. It appears I’ve reached the end of this book.

    Keep up the great work, Randy. I’ve always enjoyed our brief interactions. 🙂

    I do wish you all the luck in the future. I, unfortunately, will not be part of that next chapter.

  28. I was a “no, but could live with it”. Content is what counts, not how it is dressed up. I would prefer a link to an HTML page (which is how I read the jokes and the honorary unsubscribe every week), making it easy to see formatted for those who want to.

    I too have html shut off in my email. The reason is web bugs — if you open an HTML spam, many of them contain code in their image links which tell that an image was opened (that is, the link will be something like “image.jpg?id=123asd456”). When the sender server is contacted for the image, the code number maps to your email, confirming to the spammer that the address is checked, making it more valuable.

    It’s quite simple to thwart “bugs”: by not loading images. Gmail, for instance does this by default, and allows you to accept them on a per-message basis, or allow specific senders you trust. -rc

  29. Depending on your website CMS software, you can probably get a plugin that automatically generates a mobile version of the site, which you can make as plain as you like. For those who really want a plain text version of the newsletter, include a link to the site’s mobile version of the newsletter in the email.

  30. I didn’t vote, because as a “free edition subscriber” I didn’t feel that I had a right to influence Randy’s decision. He has to do what is right for him — bottom line. I understand that, and support it.

    However, now that the decision has been reached, I would like to point out my thoughts. Mainly this one: “prettier is not necessarily better.” It’s a long chain, but the jump from plain-text to any form of HTML will use more bandwidth, which means all subscribers will use more electricity to receive/view it, which means THIS IS TRUE‘s impact on the environment will proportionately increase … etc.

    In a perfect world, none of us would ever need to think about that. But, in a perfect world, JP Morgan would have agreed to continue financing Tesla’s research when the latter announced that he’d made a practical means of tapping cosmic energy, and we all know that didn’t happen.

    I asked the free edition readers to weigh in because I was interested in their collective opinion. -rc

  31. I don’t think web bugs are a problem. TiT won’t include any clue to your email address in the ads (which is how web bugs work), so a web bug would at worst indicate that an unknown TiT reader had seen the ad.

    I don’t think bandwidth is a problem for most folks. I know a few are still on dialup, but most people have some kind of broadband and a single extra HTML email per week will not even be noticeable. (Maybe on Randy’s end, not on the readers’.)

    Thanks, David. The so-called “web bugs” do have a purpose: to determine what percentage of the readership has opened the message. It’s an important measure of “engagement” by the readers. They are not — repeat, not! — automatically evil, even if some mailers (such as spammers) use them for “evil” purposes. -rc

  32. I just want to Thank you Randy for not bowing down to the ad people.

    I wish more sites were just like this.

    Way too much bad stuff out there for my 7 year old grandson to see.

    Please keep up the great work.

  33. I teach computer security management, mostly to [conservative] law firms. I am aware of the risks that leading edge HTML brings and so I subscribe to text only feeds, with only one category of exception: when the author is known and trusted.

    So, you’ll switch (and you should, for market reasons) and I’ll stay because I know your attitudes.

    However, if I were just coming across True after the change, I wouldn’t join.

    I don’t believe the signup form (and probably not anywhere else, either) mentions whether subscriptions are plain text or HTML. So how would you know? -rc

  34. As a long time reader, don’t care if you send “True” out by smoke signals, I’d find a way to read it. You’ll have to pry my subscription from my cold, dead fingers! Love your work, Randy!

  35. “…don’t care if you send “True” out by smoke signals, I’d find a way to read it.”

    @Julie – Now THAT’s the way we dedicated True readers tell it!

  36. I’ll be unsubscribing. I’ll still check the web site. Bandwith is not the issue, security is.

    I’m sorry, but that’s just silly, Richar. If simple HTML from a known and reputable source is a security problem, then the 90 percent of email that runs through the tubes (aka spam) is a veritable disaster every day. -rc

  37. I’m not sure if I follow, Richar, but how is visiting an HTML page more secure than reading an HTML email from the same person?

  38. This response is to Randy’s reply to Richar, and to Peter’s post:

    It’s all about phishing. Randy’s newsletter is absolutely popular enough to become a target of a phishing attack. If I get a phishing email and it looks like it comes from Randy, I’ll click links in it, and one of those could be a malicious link, since in an html email you don’t necessarily see the real URL of the link. In a plain-text email with a link or links, I see the real URL, and can decide whether or not I want to click.

    If Randy is interested in an experiment, if he’ll give me written authorization to spoof an email that looks like it comes from him, then I’ll be happy to spoof a copy of the first html newsletter he publishes, and send it just to him, so he can decide for himself if the average subscriber will know if it’s really from him or not.

    Note I do this kind of security for companies from time to time, and I’d need to get permission in writing so I can prove Randy gave me permission for the exercise.

    For me it’s simple; I need to pay a lot more attention to an html email; I can’t just mindlessly click on it. The cost in time is significant. And as careful as I am, there are at least two times I know of that I’ve opened a phishing html email.

    Another thing I don’t like is tracking whether or not I opened the email; I believe Randy has already admitted he’ll be doing this. Whereas in a free subscription paid for by advertising I believe this is fair, I don’t think I should be tracked if I’ve paid for the subscription.

    International banks that are the subject of “phishing” spoofs tend to have tens of millions of accounts. I have 43,000 subscribers, making True a very unlikely target. The odds of a spammer coming up with such a scheme, randomly finding a few subscribers among billions of email addresses, and mimicking my style so convincingly that someone is fooled into clicking a link based on my reputation is vanishingly small. Why not just send random emails with random links (which they already do!)? This is akin to advising me not to publish my photo on this page, since a subscriber in rural China might open their door to a guy dressed as me, and be robbed. It just ain’t gonna happen, even if “it could happen.” Sorry, but the fear is beyond ridiculous.

    There is no feature even available to me in the Premium issue distribution software to track message opens, by the way. -rc

  39. It would be better and shorter and faster to send a plain text email with a link to an html web page. If you don’t want it published to everyone hide it on your web with no links to it except in the email. I’ve done this for several organizations newsletters that only go to members.

    This makes it much easier for people to forward it to other people also.

    That would be a great idea, IF people actually clicked through and read it. TRUE is an email newsletter, and always has been, because that’s how people actually want to read it. Test after test has shown that people generally do not click through on emails to read stuff on the web. People subscribe because I do deliver all the text in the message, and changing that changes the contract I have with readers; it thwarts their expectations, and is therefore wrong. I asked first if they’d prefer simple HTML, and the answer wasn’t simply “yeah”, it was a resounding, overwhelming YES! I’ll consider having a separate email notification that people can sign up for just for that purpose, but I’m dubious that many will actually use it, especially considering that I have two weeks of actual newsletter issues archived on this site now, and few bother with it (but it’s there if your spam filter eats your issue, or some other Tech Happens). And no, I won’t be keeping “all” issues of the newsletter on the site; if I wanted to do that, they’d be there already; again, TRUE is an email newsletter. -rc

  40. I already subscribe to a number of free newsletters that merely notify me of links if I want to read further. Ask Leo is one. The Straight Dope is another. Being free, I can click on them as I choose. It definitely HAS to get my attention quickly. But I won’t pay for such a subscription. For this newsletter, even the Free edition cannot afford to lose readership by forcing people to click on links, since the very marketing concept is to entice them into subscribing for additional stories and features that they would enjoy, not just click on.

  41. Holy crap, the Luddites have come out in force. Oh no, the evil HTML fairies are going to come hijack your computer! Apparently you have a very vocal group of subscribers who receive no email from anyone but you, Randy, because I believe TRUE is the only thing I’ve received in years that was nothing but text. Newsletters, order receipts, bills, personal emails, every single freaking one of them is more than plain text. Nor have I experienced widespread formatting issues, whether through web-based clients or things like Thunderbird. It’s more than past time that TRUE join the rest of us in the 21st century. It’s looked dated for a long time now, so hopefully the change will be a resounding success.

  42. IF your new format includes BOTH HTML and plain text, my system will continue to receive it and I’ll read the plain text version. IF NOT, my mail system will block it. I actively refuse to accept pure HTML email, no matter how complex. Your mail will get a 554 response code.

    IF your new format’s plain text component continues to look mostly like it does today, and not a worthless translation of the HTML into plain text, then I’ll continue to read it. Those of you using Outlook should be horrified to know that it completely ignores a plain text alternative even if you ask to see plain text; it shows a terrible translation of the HTML instead, usually making the message unreadable in the process. Maybe MS hopes most readers will think the plain text is actually that bad.

    And hopefully it will cause Outlook-using readers to look into the many, many alternatives to that terrible mailer (and Outlook Express is worse!) -rc

  43. While I generally prefer straight text for my email, my email client, Lotus Notes, often badly renders HTML mail, your statement of using “simple HTML” eases my concern. The problems generally come in with attempts at inclusion of “fancy” content, active content, or weird table/division layouts. I trust that your use of “simple HTML” will be just that, using basic tagging, emphasis, and the like, in order to render a more aesthetic and easy to read message.

    Fire when ready, Gridley!

  44. Do these people live in the dark ages? I can’t believe most of them are on computers at all. Why are they even receiving ANY emails. So weird. But mostly I’m writing to say that ads would be acceptable in the premium edition. I have no objection to ads. I get the premium version for the extra stories not because it doesn’t have ads.

    I’m glad you don’t find them objectionable, but it’s one of the things that make Premium different, and I’ll not be selling ad space in the Premium edition. -rc

  45. My second favorite newsletter has a feature you might emulate. World Wide Words by Michael Quinion is a weekly newsletter that arrives by email and looks pretty similar to “This is True.” A word-freak myself, I really enjoy Mr Quinion’s mix of scholarship and commonsense on word meanings and derivations.

    At the top of each week’s email is a link to a formatted version of the newsletter posted on the website. The most recent one has the link;, and you click through to an attractively formatted page that is much easier to read and more visually interesting than email.

    Indeed TRUE is also copied to the web, at -rc

  46. HTML emails are ugly.Uniformly.

    I am sad at how much hate has been going around for people who dislike them. I am also sad that the guy who claims that having written the Spam Primer is qualification to use HTML emails and no anti-virus is telling us that we’re ok — because… trust him.

    Between ugly, dangerous, and a serious dismissal of concerns, I am not really happy to be a member of this community, and think I may leave.

    Except you’re not on my mailing list — not at the address you’re claiming here, anyway. EVERY one of my mailing lists, except TRUE itself, is already HTML: the Jumbo Joke notifications, the new posting notifications for this blog, etc. Plus virtually every order confirmation you’ve received from virtually any e-commerce site (including mine). If HTML messages are so dangerous, you shouldn’t accept any email, since obviously spammers would use that to send junk to take over your computer; you don’t choose to get those, but you do choose to get messages from legitimate emailers. What? You’ve not gotten any viruses or malware simply by receiving email? Ah, then not so dangerous as your claim. -rc

  47. I currently get the free edition of Randy’s Newsletter. I used to receive both but lack of a job since mid 2009 has caused me to allow my Premium subscription to lapse. Randy extended it once when I sent him a reply to his query about why I was quitting … I didn’t reply the next time, as I feel I would be getting the Premium under false pretenses. When I again get enough additional income, I will probably resume my Premium subscription, no matter what form it’s in.

    I would have been in the “No but will continue to subscribe” category if I had responded in time. I prefer text emails simply because they take up less storage space. I know that doesn’t mean much to many people given the amount of available storage but I’m old enough that it has become a habit. My primary Windows system has over 3 TB of storage available and my new iMac has over 5.5 TB available, so why am I worried about storage?

    Mostly habit but I still like the simplicity of ASCII text. I use the Thunderbird email client and believe it shares an option that Outlook Express does of forcing a received email into text format. I have that set as default, so don’t expect the switch to HTML to have that much impact.

  48. Is the plan still to move to HTML format?

    When I can get to it, yes. But I’ve been giving book publishing priority. -rc

  49. Wonder if the previous holds. Can we still look forward to HTML mail?

    FWIW I understand what it means to get held up — even for years — in ones other endeavours. Please don’t ask when Kosice 2011 (I mean, 2012… 2013?) are due to be released.

    Yeah, it has taken me longer than I thought to get it done. But my system admin is here for a few days, and we’re working on it! I don’t want to say exactly when it will be ready to go, but we are working on it. Good timing for your comment! -rc


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