Concern about content

It's great to be back home in Panama, in the countryside I love so much, and it's great to be writing this newsletter once more from my office.

But I have a concern. One of the tests of whether or not a publisher is serving up the right content is the open rate – what percentage of subscribers to whom a newsletter is sent actually opens it.

There are all sorts of reasons for newsletters remaining unopened, of course. The pace of living in developed societies is hectic, and reading everything that arrives in an In Box is way at the bottom of the list of things to do.

But one of the things I heard before I even launched this newsletter was that a declining open rate suggested the content was not of sufficient interest to subscribers.

Here's what has been happening since Your Panama Focus was launched:

March 71% The first issue, and the number of subscribers was small.
Apr. 63%
May 66%
June 68%
July 71%
Aug. 65%
Sept. 60%
Nov. 65%
Dec. 53%
Jan. 51%

We are adding subscribers at a fair rate, but the open rate has been declining dramatically since July. Sure, maybe I'm worried about nothing. In December, most of us are far too occupied with holiday preparations. At the start of January, we are still in recovery mode. So, maybe this month will see an increase.

Obviously, you still read the newsletter, or you would not see this. I appreciate your support, and I know we can do a better job for you. But we need your help.

It is time to ask for your input. How can we improve the newsletter? How can we make it of more use or of more interest to you? It's a lot of work, so if it's not working should it be discontinued in favor of additional content on the website?

The newsletter was developed to let subscribers know about the stories added to the website during the month. Call it an efficiency tool for you. It summarizes the new stories, allowing you to read only those in which you are interested. It also saves having to make frequent checks to see if there's anything new on the site.

I believe it's useful on those counts, but maybe I talk too much? In recent months, when I was not in Panama, the lead article became more personal. I could far more easily just produce a list of URLs for new stories and send a one-page e-mail. Would that be better?

The website is rapidly increasing in popularity – so something seems to be working there, though I think we probably need more balance between people-and-places stories and heavier nuts-and-bolts, moving-to-Panama stories. What are your views?

We are very grateful to those who read the newsletter and visit the website, and because we are, we want to do our best for you. You have kept YourPanama well within the top 1% of all websites on the Internet, almost since it was founded, according to measurement service Alexa.

I had hoped to put a simple form here, but...

... the program used for the newsletter would not allow it. If i can figure it out, watch for a survey in your mailbox sometime over the next couple of weeks. We are interested in your thoughts and opinions, and i hope the form will make it easier to respond.

New this month

We have six new stories for you this month, five from David and one for me. (Hey, that makes a change!) I could write little about Panama while I was in Canada.

Six tips to relaxing on a long flight to Panama If you live in Atlanta, New York or New Jersey, the trip to Panama City is direct and, apart from the usual hassles connected with air travel these days, simple. I have to check, but I believe there are direct flights from the west coast, too. And I understand that later this year there will also be direct flights from Toronto.

But for everyone else, there's at least one change of planes in one of the massive hubs. Take a long walk to the wrong gate (or the wrong terminal) as I saw a grandmother with three small and active children do, and you could have very sore feet by the time you arrive at the right place.

This story describes some of the little things that went wrong on my 18-hour, three-aircraft flight, how I coped with them – and, more importantly, how you can, too, if you have a long flight to anywhere.

There were 10 'interesting' hours the next day on a bus – but I kept my cool the whole time and didn't bother wasting energy fretting about what I could not change. Remarkable, really, for me!

The trick, thanks to my travel agent: anticipate delays and build them into the schedule. Hey, but click the link above and read the story.

Now that David Dell's house is finished, he and Lydia have started to travel to other parts of Panama and to write about what they see. This month, traveled to Herrera Province. More specifically to the eastern shore of the Azuero Peninsular. He was looking for beach property, but what he found was a business opportunity to make pots of money .

In the small village of La Arena, he discovered there are at least 50 subsistence businesses turning out hand-painted vases and other containers for the local market. The locals, David believes, could be helped tremendously if someone set up an export market, and he thinks the government might be willing to help.

Maybe this is for someone who wonders how he or she would survive financially if they moved to Panama. Incidentally, a large number of ex-pats have small businesses of some sort here.

Two stories about Sitio Barriles were posted on the website some months ago. But while I was there, I missed a third. This is a modern day story and can only be described as the Miracle at Sitio Barriles . It starts with lemons as big as footballs and ends with a young man, once in a vegetative state and for whom doctors had abandoned all hope of survival. Now he walks under his own power. Is it a real miracle, or it there something in those lemons and the treatments his mother prepared? You decide.

The best time to see The Flower Capital of Panama is January, when the annual fair is held in Boquete. But, truly, any time of year has flowers everywhere. David takes you on a tour.

And he continues the tour by finding more flowers, flamingoes and pop-art cows . We have the pictures to prove it.

But on the way to Boquete, he discovered the best little ex-pat bookstore in Panama . There are things we all miss, no matter in what country we find ourselves. On David's list were good books and good bread. All he needs to find now is a good baker.

In a small house set behind a gravel parking area is a bookstore crammed with more than 25,000 books, mostly used, run by two American ex-pats. David's evenings in his favorite chair in front of his fireplace are made – starting with Hemmingway.

I hope you enjoyed this issue of Your Panama Nuggets. Watch for the next issue on Saturday, April 1, at 10 a.m. EST. That's April Fool's Day, but we'll try not to play any tricks!