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August 15, 2022updated 07 Oct 2022 7:12am

How nature newsletter Inkcap Journal nurtured a 70% open rate

By Alexandra Turner

Long-form nature publication Inkcap Journal sprouted in response to a lack of opportunities for nuanced environmental feature writing in the UK compared to the US, according to its founder.

Sophie Yeo, a freelance journalist and former Carbon Brief climate policy analyst, set up Inkcap Journal initially as a free email newsletter in May 2020, later expanding to add paid subscriptions and a website.

Yeo (pictured) told Press Gazette she wanted to create a space for in-depth features and a “round-up of nature news in Britain because I thought there was a lack of that” in the current media landscape.

The newsletter now has more than 6,000 total subscribers including 800 paying members, and Yeo claimed to boast a 70% open rate.

Non-paying subscribers have access to Inkcap Journal’s features and have them delivered to their inbox, while paying members receive the Future of Media Award-shortlisted weekly digest that rounds up local and national ecological news.

“There isn’t really any other service that provides a round-up in the same way, with a focus on local news and science and reports… so I’d say we offer something that people can’t really find elsewhere and people are interested in that,” Yeo said.

She added the round-up is “doing the work of reading [all the news coverage] so that other people don’t have to”, providing “one single reference that brings it all together”.

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The inception of Inkcap Journal also stemmed from what Yeo saw as a lack of opportunities for “nuanced feature type writing” about nature and conservation in the UK. 

“I used to work in America where there were lots of opportunities to write in-depth pieces about nature and conservation,” she said. “And then when I moved back to the UK, I found there weren’t too many.

“I wanted to create a space where that was possible. And I think that’s always been my overarching aim, to provide a space for really long form and good quality content on nature. So I think when I look forward, that’s always my goal.”

Yeo attributes the growth of Inkcap Journal to both her existing following from work as a climate journalist, and the fact that its features were “tapping into the different interests of lots of people”.

She said having a “diversity of features brings more people to the site rather than doing the same thing with the digest week in, week out” and by increasing site traffic, Inkcap Journal then spread through “word of mouth” and “recommendations”.

When asked what had made her most proud so far, Yeo highlighted “inventive pieces” and an “inspired” audience.

“We did a feature on the way forests have changed in Britain over the last 6,000 years recently which used a combination of illustration and interactive features and audio. That did really well because it offered something that people had not seen before.”

Inkcap Journal logo

Yeo added that being able to “push the boundaries” as a small publication is important for reader engagement and interaction, and “getting people’s attention”.

Inkcap Journal’s email newsletter has an open rate of 70%, which Yeo attributes to features like this and an engaged audience, adding: “It’s quite small but it’s dedicated and enthusiastic. I just really like the fact that so many readers get in touch and say, ‘I really value what you’re doing and I don’t get this anywhere else.’”

Inkcap Journal is almost entirely funded by its member subscriptions, and has a £10,000 grant from the Pebble Trust to cover its Scottish coverage.

In order to continue growth, Yeo wants to look at trial memberships to entice a wider audience, partnerships, and institutional subscription packages, an idea which she said a few people had expressed interest in.

“If some big charity wanted to sign up for their members at reduced rates I think that could work but these things will take a bit of effort to set up,” she said.

Inkcap Journal’s weekly digest is shortlisted in the newsletter category of Press Gazette’s inaugural Future of Media Awards.

Yeo said the nomination was “helpful” as it gave the brand “external validation that it’s something that’s worth reading”.

She added: “It’s quite a small publication that doesn’t really have lots of funding. So just to  be up against big media publications is really an honour to have it recognised in that way.”

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