Branches & Sunflower, Iteration 1 by Mary Warner, January 2021.
art photo blend tips writing

Without Obligation – Now with Email Subscriptions!

Branches & Sunflower, Iteration 1 by Mary Warner, January 2021.
Branches & Sunflower, Iteration 1 by Mary Warner, January 2021.

One of the aspects of blogging that I love is the ability to constantly fuss around with how it looks and functions, something that WordPress allows me to do with relative ease. Well, I’ve been fussing again recently.

I had been looking for years for an easy way to allow people to subscribe to my blog posts via email as they publish. It’s the way I like to get blog posts from writers I follow. It used to be a standard feature of WordPress blogs, specifically those run through WordPress.com, as opposed to WordPress.org.

WordPress is open source blogging software, for those who are unfamiliar.

WordPress.com is a service that allows people to start a blog for free that is run through WordPress’s servers. You get a WordPress URL to blog completely for free, but if you want your own URL on a WordPress.com site, you pay an annual fee to do so. WordPress.com also offers some other paid services. This is the commercialized version of WordPress.

If you want to run WordPress on your own server space, you go to WordPress.org to download the software to install on your server. Most servers have WordPress available with your account and you can choose to install it from your server’s account dashboard. That’s the version of WordPress that I’m using for Without Obligation.

When you use WordPress.com, there’s all sorts of functionality that is offered with your blog that does not come with an installation of a WordPress.org blog. One of those functions is the ability to have people subscribe directly to your blog posts via email. In the early days of blogging, this subscription function was its own thing on a WordPress.com blog.

And then along came JetPack, which bundled numerous functions in one plugin. A plugin is an additional program that you can install on your WordPress blog that allows you add a specific function that isn’t part of the standard installation. Plugins can help detect spam, add extra fonts, provide a shopping cart, allow for newsletter subscriptions, you name it. Because WordPress is open source software, anyone with coding skills and an idea can create a plugin.

WordPress.com bundled the subscription function into JetPack, along with a number of other functions. I remember being pretty annoyed with JetPack and WordPress.com at the time because suddenly the dashboard for operating my blog changed. Actually, the original dashboard was there, but WordPress.com didn’t seem to want me to use it. It kept shifting me over to a WordPress.com dashboard that didn’t give me the more detailed dashboard I was used to and still wanted to use.

Somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to shift to a WordPress.org site on my own server space, possibly to have more control over my blog. JetPack was available as a plugin and it was still the best way to get a blog subscription function, so I used it for a while. But I remained irritated with it because the subscription function continued to operate through WordPress.com and WordPress.com kept hijacking my dashboard, shifting me over to its service instead of allowing me to use the dashboard associated directly with my blog. JetPack also went from a free service to a paid plugin at a certain point and this, along with the hijacking of my dashboard, may have affected my decision to dump it.

So, I was without a blog subscription service.

Around about the time I got rid of JetPack, the new word from the Internet Marketing Department was that bloggers couldn’t simply have a blog anymore; they had to have a subscription newsletter too.

The Internet Marketing Department is very concerned about SEO and people continually pumping out “authentic” content in order to feed the Insatiable & Fickle Algorithms of Search Engines to the extent that people are no longer allowed to have lives offline, so I’m not sure we should be listening to the Internet Marketing Department, but it’s hard not to get sucked in to the hype.

So, I started a monthly subscription newsletter called 3 O’Clock Punch! through MailChimp.

Even though I kept it simple (3 stories per month and a new header image**) and only monthly in order to not inundated people’s email, I never got past 40 subscribers. It felt like a lot of work that I could have put into an extra blog post each month. I published 3 O’Clock Punch! between 2019 and last month, so just over 2 years. Here’s the blog post announcing the newsletter. And here’s the last issue of 3 O’Clock Punch!

(As my husband said when I discussed feeling pushed into having an email  newsletter, “You’re blog is called Without Obligation for a reason. Why not use that philosophy for your newsletter?” Point taken. Gotta stop listening the the Internet Marketing Department.)

When I was getting restless with producing 3 O’Clock Punch!, I started searching for a blog subscription service again. I thought I found a plugin that would work, but psych! If I wanted that particular feature of the plugin, I’d have to pay mightily for it. Nope.

So, I looked again at JetPack. Now, there was a free version with some paid options for the plugin. I like this tiered pricing for plugins because sometimes you want to try a plugin before committing to a more complicated plan, especially for a personal blog with few readers. Since dropping JetPack years ago, another thing had changed about the plugin. There is now a setting that allows you to remain on your own blog dashboard instead of shooting at warp speed through interstellar space to the WordPress.com dashboard. Woohoo!

All of this is a long way to say that I’m using JetPack again and readers can now subscribe to my blog posts via email. Just find the subscription box at the top of my blog, enter your email address, and click “Subscribe.”

**In honor of my favorite part of publishing 3 O’Clock Punch! (other than the name, which I quite like), I’ve illustrated this blog post with one of my art photos. Each month on 3OP, I would share a new art photo in the header so people could see how I developed a series of works by blending and editing two photos.

Thoughtful comments welcome.