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Low-Cost Content for Newsletters, Magazines, and Web Sites

by Cheryl Woodard, Posted October 2008 [PRINT VERSION]

Content is one challenge facing all publishers - how to deliver a constant, fresh supply of compelling, readable articles that capture and hold the attention of your readers. Major publishing companies hire writers and editors, but many of us cannot afford all the staff contributors we would like to have. Here are some tips about how to supplement what your staff writes from affordable outside sources.

Protecting Copyrights

Every publisher needs to understand copyright law, which governs all creative works (articles, videos, audio recordings, and podcasts). You should protect your own works, and be sure to respect the work of other creators. I highly recommend that you read Getting Permission, by Richard Stim, and The Copyright Handbook, by Stephen Fishman. You can also read about copyright at

Book Excerpts

As a book author myself, I can tell you that authors welcome having small slices of their books quoted on other people's websites or in print publications. We don't expect to be paid when you quote from our books, but we do appreciate some basic professional courtesies. First, always cite the book title and author's name so that interested readers can buy it if they want to read more. This citation also satisfies copyright law and keeps you from inadvertently plagiarizing protected works. Second, include a link to the author's website. This step helps the author and readers both. Finally, send the author an email with a link to the page on your site, or a copy of your newsletter attached. This courtesy begins a relationship with someone who might become a regular contributor in the future. And it might lead to a free reciprocal link from their site back to yours.

Syndicated Articles and RSS Feeds

RSS is one form of syndication. Some RSS publishers require a payment, but many are free. But even if the feed is free, pick add real value to your site by picking feeds that closely match the interests of your audience. For example, its easy to get free stock market and political blogger feeds but haven't we all read enough of them elsewhere? If you find something unique and specialized, your readers are more likely to appreciate it. You can read a history of syndication and some useful RSS tips in a Wikipedia article on syndication.

Stock Content

You can also buy one-time rights to articles, videos, and podcasts for your site through content syndication networks like Helium, the Copyright Clearance Center, and StudioOneNetworks.. These services collect content from many different sources and resell it. You will pay a fee for using this material, but the advantage is that you can see what you're getting before you post it to your site. And the quality of fee-based content is generally better than the free stuff.

Freelancer Contributors

We talk about hiring freelancers in our book, Every Nonprofit's Guide to Publishing. The content chapter suggests how to find good writers and manage them well. It also covers fees, rights, and other business issues.

Reader Submissions

Invite readers to contribute tips or product reviews. Or have them respond to polls. This tactic adds fresh voices to a publication or website, and it helps readers develop a loyal relationship. But use caution: weed out the outrageous or self-serving submissions! Encourage more submissions by posting clear guidelines, and offering some kind of reward for those that get published. 


If you are working on a publication and you need specific advice, feel free to email Cheryl Woodard at The Publishing Business Group. We work with newsletter, magazine, and book publishers of every variety. The chances are good that we can help you, too.


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