Alternatives to MailChimp: Which Email Service Provider is Best for Authors?

This article was written by New York Times and USA Today best-selling author, Marina Maddix. Marina is a romantic at heart, but hates closing the bedroom door on her readers. Her stories are sweet, with just enough spice to make your mother blush. She lives with her husband and cat near the Pacific Ocean, and loves to hear from her fans. Check out her “Real Men Shift” series here.

As many authors recently found out, MailChimp shifted their business strategy. Instead of primarily being an email service provider, the company announced that they’ve expanded to a full marketing platform.

Along with this shift, there have been significant changes to MailChimp’s pricing structure. Notably, users are no longer charged based on the subscriber count; instead, monthly charges are based on “audiences,” which includes unsubscribed emails.

These changes have left many wondering: “Which email service offers the best value for indie authors?”

I’ve tested various email newsletter services, and I’m sharing my data below to help authors make the best decision when considering alternatives to MailChimp.

Note: feel free to skip ahead here to the TL;DR version of the data!

Comparison of Email Newsletter Services for Indie Authors

This comparison initially began during Spamhaus-gate, which was when MailerLite was blacklisted by Spamhaus (an organization that tracks down spammers). At that time, I had switched to EmailOctopus so I could at least send emails while MailerLite was down.

I was heartily unimpressed with everything about it. The UI was horrible, their reporting practically non-existent, and performance was no better than MailerLite. I hated sending newsletters so much using EmailOctopus that I just didn’t – not good. So began my research.

I searched out services that would serve my minimal needs: autoresponders, easy UI, decent reporting, and reasonable cost. There are, of course, dozens to choose from, but I narrowed down my list to the following services:

First, a few notes about how the test campaigns below were conducted:

  • Identical email subjects and copy were used for each test.
  • I signed up for free trials where offered and abided by their email/subscriber limits. Where no trial was offered, I subscribed to their lowest tier ($5-10).
  • The emails I sent out during this time were the lowest of the low on my entire list. In other words, they were people with no or low clicks over the course of many newsletters. Keep that in mind when it comes to open/click rates, because I’m sure they’d be higher with a better quality list. But for the purposes of comparison, they all had similar “quality” email addresses.
  • I used a cute reengagement graphic for them to click to stay on my list, and a link within the text for them to unsubscribe.
  • The stats below include both for “clicks,” while “unsubs” were through the service’s unsub link. “Cost” is using a <10k list. I also trust “click” rates more than “open” rates, due to differences between email clients.
  • My tests are very much not 100% scientific, but my results can definitely provide insight for authors who are searching for a new email service provider in light of MailChimp’s changes.

Now, on to the results!


Notes: ConvertKit quickly weeded themselves out because they could never confirm my email address. As in, the email they sent to confirm never came through, even after several attempts and intervention from tech support. I didn’t like their UI anyway, so I just canceled after two days of trying to get set up. It was also the most expensive of the services I tested.

Results of Test Campaign: n/a


Notes: MadMimi was the easiest of them all. CRAZY easy. But that simplicity also applies to their reporting. For example, you can’t easily get detailed reports of subscriber activity without contacting them directly. That’s pretty major, if you want to keep your list clean and effective.

Results of Test Campaign:


Notes: AWeber was pretty easy to use.

Results of Test Campaign:


Notes: Robly was almost as easy to use as MadMimi. You can schedule campaigns and create different lists (instead of one big list, like ConvertKit).

Results of Test Campaign:


Notes: ActiveCampaign’s UI wasn’t to my liking, but it wasn’t a deal-killer.

Results of Test Campaign:

Taking a Closer Look at the Data

After my tests were about five days old, I took the best test (ActiveCampaign) and compared it to my most recent MailerLite campaigns and saw they were pretty close. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I should test MailerLite, as I did the others.

So I did!


Results of Test Campaign:

Since I don’t fully trust “open” rates, I focused on click rates, and wow! MailerLite and ActiveCampaign were the same! Considering the significantly higher cost of ActiveCampaign, I was about to just re-up with MailerLite when someone mentioned using 1&1 IONOS‘ email marketing service (for current customers). Since I’m a customer already, I checked it out and couldn’t believe the pricing! So I did a test with them, too.


Notes: 1&1 IONOS uses Mailjet’s white label service, if that makes a difference to anyone. It’s basically a perk for being a customer (I bought one URL from them years ago).

1&1 IONOS has a decent UI and good reporting, though it was a little onerous finding the list of who clicked specific links. They do NOT offer a resend option, but their reporting and segmenting is solid enough for me to deal with that. They also price by emails sent, not subscribers. I estimated the cost below based on my sending at least two emails per month to 5000 subscribers.

Results of Test Campaign:

Okay, not quite as good as MailerLite or ActiveCampaign, but look at the price! Since MailerLite’s click rates were the same as ActiveCampaign’s, I decided to test MailerLite against 1&1 IONOS using my newly scrubbed list, split in half between them, for my new release:

MailerLite vs. 1&1 IONOS:

Notes: I also encountered a glitch with 1&1 IONOS that slowed my sending to a trickle; tech support opened a ticket, but not all the emails were sent when I recorded this data. Later, they replied that they’d fixed the issue and I haven’t had a problem since.

TL;DR Version of the Data

My unscientific tests showed ActiveCampaign ($828/yr), MailerLite ($240/yr), and 1&1 IONOS ($96/yr) were fairly close in click percentages (the metric I trust most). But, their pricing is very different.

I feel MailerLite burned me enough to not trust them fully, even though I’ve always loved their service. 1&1 IONOS is a well-established, stable company, not a tiny startup that could easily just close their doors. Ultimately, I chose 1&1 IONOS for stability and cost savings, and have been reasonably happy with the service.

Of course, each author has different needs for an email newsletter provider, and your results may vary. Hopefully this information can point you in the right direction when considering alternatives for MailChimp. But, you may want to run some tests of your own based on the metrics that are most important for your strategy.

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