We use a free program to send out our weekly newsletter which does not provide statistics on how many people are opening/viewing it. Is there any free or very inexpensive way to keep track of this information?
if you send your newsletter as HTML, than it is possible to include pictures. these are hosted on your webspace. include a 1 pixel gif picture, call it newsletter-may.gif and send out the newsletter. your webstats program should show you how often this pictures has been accessed which can give you an impression on readership of your newsletter. Not a very good tracking method, but it could provide some insights.
As others above have said, this can be done but it will not be 100% accurate. Many mail clients will block images by default until the user takes some manual action (clicking a "display images in this message" link). If the user never clicks that in their mail client, you won't know they read it even though they did - your reports could show that 1,000 people read the news letter but it was really 5 times that and only 1,000 clicked the link to show images. Also if they're reading it from a cell phone, the option to show images usually isn't even there.
There are two ways I get around this personally:
1. Don't e-mail the entire newsletter - email a 255 character sample of the first paragraph with a link to your site to read the rest. Then you know for sure.
2. Incentivize them. If a particular newsletter is designed to push people into a new product, we'll slip in a link that lets them get a free $5 gift card for whatever product we're talking about. We're using the Card9 gift cards (which work like a coupon, so we're just basically taking $5 off the order but it's a plastic card that says GIFT CARD not coupon, which triggers that psychological difference in people's minds).