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Case Study: Important, Not Important by Quinn Emmett

A look at all things science: from COVID to climate, agriculture to ethical AI, public health to cancer

By the time Quinn Emmett moved to LA, he knew a lot of impressive people from his days in marketing and writing at the Financial Times in London and then running product development at ESPN and Disney. He’d left cubicle life and followed his wife-to-be out west, where he advised start-ups, worked with philanthropies and did some screenwriting.

On the side, Quinn was curating a firehose of news surrounding science and sharing it with friends who were interested and invested in these same things but maybe not seeing the same stories he was. His earliest version of a newsletter was in 2018 when he started off sending 5-10 pull quotes and links from the week through a mailchimp account on topics ranging from health, climate, tech, maybe space, whatever felt most relevant.

As his mailing list grew, he got feedback that there wasn’t enough of him in it so he started editorializing his emails.

By 2020, Important, Not Important was launched in its current shape: news, analysis, and Action Steps, and it was quickly followed by a complimentary podcast, hosted by Quinn and often by his colleague Brian Colbert Kennedy, with deeper dives into the stories of our time.

With the Important, Not Important (INI) newsletter, Quinn helps to weave context into the various science stories of the week, tying in systematic issues and Action Steps that measurably build a better world, and stave off helplessness and despair.

In a time of crises and information overload, INI offers clear advice on how to have the biggest impact with the most efficient use of your time and money- whether it’s donating to a nonprofit or campaign, further reading and resources, calling about legislation, etc. We chatted with Quinn about being one of the first newsletters to join beehiiv and prioritizing engaged subscribers over high subscriber numbers.

The Newsletter: Important, Not Important


Quinn Emmett: Founder, writer, podcast host

Recent Posts

2022 Goals

I’ve been very lucky to have, from the beginning, an audience that’s qualitatively off the charts. They’re incredibly engaged, and hugely impactful. I’m privileged to be way less worried about growth than I am delivering the best tool I can to a very impactful group, every single week. I rely on word of mouth for scaling, so I’m super pumped to have the referral program functionality rolling out with beehiiv.

Advice for other writers

Find your niche, own it, and roll with it. There’s an audience for everything.

Favorite beehiiv feature

Having a team that clearly gives a shit about the details and servicing writers. They’ve built something that’s fast and reliable but is also leveling up all the time.

Advice for anyone considering a switch to beehiiv

It’s great. The editor is clean, fast, and reliable. It feels like the entire platform gets an upgrade every week. Deliverability has been A+.

Tell me about Important, Not Important

It’s science for people who give a shit. It’s the most important science news of the week (what’s happening), my analysis (how to think about it), and Action Steps (what the hell you can do about it). From COVID to climate, agriculture to ethical AI, public health to cancer. The only thing I’m selling is step by step instructions on how to save the world.

We’ve all spent the last two years locked in our living rooms because of science, and we’re getting out of them because of science, too, but more specifically because a bunch of people — frontline health care professionals, scientists, policymakers, etc — decided to do something about it. And millions of other people supported them however they could, in their own ways.

Climate implications (and biotech, and AI, and…) are only going to create a world that is more volatile — but they also require us to move, together, as one, quick as hell, chop chop, to rebuild the entire economy. And society. And, for example, our morals?

The point is — we’re the best at helping people answer the question “What can I do?” And there’s never been a more important time to do be able to do that. If we can help move the needle of progress even an inch, I’ll feel good.

What do you think the newsletter space offers that traditional science media lacks?

I should say that I stand on the shoulders of tremendous science media every week. There’s a question about whether journalists should tell you want to do- I don’t have to worry about that. I tell you very upfront, what I think about an issue and what I think we need to do about it.

I vote Democrat, but I have no allegiance to a party or person. My vote and allegiances are behind whoever is doing the right thing for change. This is especially true for climate, it touches everything. I’ll get feedback from folks that I’ve included the same action step twice in the past six weeks. Or that this one you’ve mentioned, it doesn’t seem like it’s really going to move the needle. I can say yeah, that step is really important so I’ve included it multiple times. Or yeah, something may not move the needle but it can be useful in that it is empowering and inspiring to have accomplished it. These are big problems. We need to use the entire kitchen sink to make this a little better.

What motivated your move to beehiiv?

I started with MailChamp, which was terrible for deliverability, to Active Campaign. Active Campaign was structured for e-commerce so it was never going to build writer/creator/specific stuff, which is what I need. When I was connected to Tyler and the beehiiv team, I was in. Not only did I move my newsletter over, I am a smaller investor in it. I was probably the second or third newsletter into beehiiv in the fall of 2021, the migration was seamless even in the early days of beehiiv. I was up and running the same day.

Are you monetizing INI?

We’re getting ready to launch memberships for the first time. The newsletter will always be free, the point is to have this information available to people. The membership levels will give people a little more access to me and the folks we’ve had on the podcast.

I decided to take some sponsors a few months ago and I’ve had to say no to a lot of them. When you’ve built your business on a soapbox, you have to think through who you partner with. Some have been consumer goods that create a lot of waste or are making claims that are not backed up. Or it’s for something that has a lot of money behind it, but is detrimental to the overall mission, like the dirty energy currently used by blockchains. Then there are really good companies that are offering a good product, like Avocado or Allbirds, and so I think it’s part of my job to promote thoughtful and diligent companies.

Tell me about your referral plan with beehiiv

I previously had a referral program through Sparkloop but didn’t pay much attention to it, standard stuff like survival gear, stickers, etc. Now I’m really talking to my audience about what moves the needle for them, whether that’s talking to me one-on-one or getting an extra newsletter each week with all the news stories that didn’t make the main letter. I’ll be revamping it as beehiiv adds more features, like segmentation, which can show me not just who opened the letter but how many users were using an apple vs android, email service, consistency in opening over the past six months, how many people opening have referred INI to anyone. Tyler is building other knowledge-based things that can help really tailor the program. So one thing I’m considering is that anyone who has made 5-10 referrals will receive a special quarterly newsletter about the state of the INI business.

What do you see for the future

It’s essentially like, look, everyone on twitter is an amateur epidemiologist. There are a lot of people affected by these things and that’s going to continue to grow. If we grow by 10x or 100x, that’s great. What I really want is to have an audience that is really engaged and is going to take action. I’m lucky that it’s a little niche. It’s not a super hot web3 thing (as cool as that is). This requires a little more thinking in the real world, and I’m proud to keep it that way. For the first time, I’m going to start running ads in other newsletters, but again, it’s going to be very thoughtful. It’s not about whether a newsletter has 10K subscribers, it’s more about what newsletter has overlap and an aligned mission. If I get feedback from a large group of people that something needs to change, I’ll consider that. We’re in a good place, I feel excited about this year.

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