stock and flow in newsletters

A few years ago my friend Robin Sloan wrote a post in which he applied the economic concept of “stock and flow” to our current media scene: “Flow is the feed,” he said: “It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.” But “Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.” And:

Flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons — but I think we neglect stock at our peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

Funny thing: I had completely forgotten that another friend, Austin Kleon, had been struck by the same post of Robin’s and wrote about it here. Austin’s post turned up when I was searching for Robin’s original one.

Anyway, it’s a powerful metaphor — because it’s more than a metaphor, really — and I think about it often, but lately I’ve been thinking about it in relation to email newsletters. Probably because I recently started one. It strikes me that there are two basic kinds of newsletter.

The first — and by far the most common — is a device for flow management. You know, the “cool stories I read this week” kind of thing. And those can be useful and illuminating! — I mean no disrespect at all — I subscribe to several such newsletters. But I want to make the other kind.

That other kind is an aid to stock replenishment. Interestingly enough, I think both Robin’s newsletter and Austin’s are of this type: they focus on matters of evergreen rather than topical interest. And that’s my aspiration too. I typically don’t want to link to whatever people have been talking about recently, not because I’m hostile to current events, but because many other newsletters already provide that. Basically, and to put the point in what might be an overly elevated way, I want to point my readers towards things that are true or good or beautiful. And surely we’re not oversupplied with any of those. (I also do “funny.” Or try to, sometimes.)