Washington newsletter publishers are welcoming a new service to begin in April that will deliver their newsletters electronically. It is called Newsnet.

According to John Buhsmer, president of the Bryn Mawr, Pa.-based Newsnet, 50 of the over 100 newsletters planning to use the service are in Washington, which is not surprising because "Washington has the bulk of the publishers."

Since a test of the service started six weeks ago, newsletters have been clamoring for it, he said. "We have five times more now than we thought we would have by the end of 1982," Buhsmer said.

Newsnet is not the first service to short-circuit the paper trail. But, according to publishers that plan to use it, Newsnet is the only data service tailored to their needs. Other data delivery services can deliver newsletters electronically, and do.

What makes Newsnet so attractive is that it costs the newsletter nothing but production costs. The subscriber pays $24 per hour during workings hours to receive the newsletters. Part of the charge is a royalty to the publisher. Buhsmer estimates over $1 million in royalties will go to publishers in 1982.

However, none of the newsletters plan to produce completely electronic products, he said: "None of them yet are ready to give up their print version."

Communications Daily is one of several publications that offered its readers free use of Newsnet in the market test. Its editor, Jonathan Miller, said many readers may not be willing to abandon the paper edition.

He said the Daily has not decided how to charge for a totally electronic subscription, if it is offered, but it should cost less.

A major advantage of the service is speedy deliver. Miller said Communications Daily sent by mail "takes three or four days, if lucky, to get to Silicon Valley," in California. With subscribers as far-flung as Melbourne, Australia, the electronic delivery speed is important, Miller said.

However, Miller said some subcribers who are only blocks away and are hand-delivered their copies of Communications Daily--such as National Public Radio and the Federal Communications Commission--are going to buy the Newsnet service.

The reason is that Newsnet permits a user to "key-word search" the newsletters. That means the computer terminal will read the publication and display only the topics the reader is looking for. Newsnet will keep back copies, too, so searches can go back to Jan. 1, 1982.

Richard Hagan, executive editor of Capitol Publications, said the idea is to "make it as easy as possible to allow the Newsnet user to find only the information they are after."

However, Hagan said Capitol has only committed two of its 30 newsletters to Newsnet. The two contain very timely material, he said.

Users of Newsnet also will be able to buy a service called "Newsflash." The subscriber makes a request for 10 "key words." When the subscriber turns on the terminal, it displays a "menu of all the hits on his key words since he last got on the system," Buhsmer said.

Publishers and subscribers could also communicate via "electronic mail." The newsletter can announce new publications and survey subscribers by computer.

Subscribers to one publication will also be able to read other newsletters, at a price of $48 per hour. "It's tantamount to an electronic newsstand," Miller said.

Subscribers can lease equipment from Newsnet if they don't have their own computer. Terminals or printers are leased for about $35 per month, the combination for $70. Newsnet has found most subscribers are businesses which already have terminals.

"Newsnet is a very fine concept," Michael Rawl, spokesman for The Source, a McLean-based competitor, said. However, "the product they have put together is a narrow one," he added.

"We certainly intend to stay in that market to the extent that the electronic newsletter is important to the business person," Rawl said.

The Source is not sold only as a newsletter publishing service, however. It offers a wide variety of other information. With Newsnet, a subscriber does not have to buy the rest of the data base to receive a newsletter.

Another company providing electronic publishing services is Prestel, a subsidiary of a British telecommunications company. Prestel charges a $10,000 initiation fee. Publishers don't have to pay that fee if they can find a Prestel member who wants to sell "space" on the computer.

Nor does Prestel offer key word search capabilities. A spokesman for Prestel said the firm plans to make it available, but could not say when.

Newsnet was the product of two years of research by Buhsmer and by Gary Reibsamen, who was hired from McGraw-Hill's newsletter division, according to Buhsmer.

The parent company is Independent Publications, a media firm with some 20 newspapers. In 1980 the firm sold the Philadelphia Bulletin, and began the search for a new, electronic product. Since then, the Bulletin folded.

Said Buhsmer, "Out of the ashes of the Bulletin rises another company, albeit an electronic company."