There are some things that newsletter writer Kirsten Han misses about the substack. They are not enough just to overcome the downsides.
He dislikes how the platform has portrayed itself as a haven for individual writers while giving six-figure advances to several prominent white men with less resources. The hands-off content moderation policy, which allows transphobic and anti-vaccine languages, does not fit well. He did not like to earn $ 20,000 from a subscription and then leave a $ 2,600 fee on the substack and its payment processor.
So last year, Mrs. Han moved her newsletter, We, The Citizens, to a competitive service. He now pays $ 780 a year to publish through Ghost, but says he still does pretty much the same in subscriptions.
“It wasn’t too hard,” he said. “I looked at some of the options that people are talking about.”
Not too long ago, Substack terrorized mainstream media executives, victimized their star writers, seduced their readers, and intimidated them, threatening their effectiveness. Flush, the start-up, was dubbed the “future of media.”
But now, the substack itself is no longer extraordinary but a company faces many challenges. Depending on who you’re talking to, those challenges are either the pain of standard start-up growth or the threat to the company’s future.
Tech giants, news outlets and other companies released competitive newsletter platforms last year. Customers loaded up on newsletters during the epidemic began to scale again. And many popular writers have passed away, such as Associate Professor of English Grace Lavery and Climate Journalists. Mary Anis Hegler and Amy WesterweltOften complain about the company’s restraint policy or the pressure to constantly deliver.
“The substack is at a pivot point where you have to think about what it’s going to be like when you grow up,” said Nicky Usher, an associate journalism professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The good news for the five-year-old company this summer is that it’s still growing. Its paid subscriptions to thousands of newsletters exploded from 50,000 at the end of last year to more than one million between mid-2019. (The company will not disclose the number of subscribers for free.) The hiring persuasion expects to net more than a dozen engineers, product managers and other specialists. Executives hope to eventually take over the company – which has raised more than $ 82 million and is said to be $ 650 million – public.
But to sustain that growth, substack executives say the company must offer more than newsletters.
In an interview with Substack’s office in downtown San Francisco, its co-founders spoke out in clear statements about the “Grand Substack Theory” and the “Master Plan.” Chris Best, Chief Executive, described the “how we experience culture on the Internet” and the desire to bring “art to the world”.
“Substack is like this alternative universe on the Internet in its full ambition,” he said.
In practice, this means that Substack will not only be a distribution channel for written newsletters but also a multimedia community. Executives want users to create “personal media empires” using text, video and audio, and communicate with customers through expansion. Comments It can feature GIF images and profiles for readers This week, Substack will announce new tools for authors to recommend other newsletters.
Jayaraj Sethi, a co-founder and chief technology officer, describes a view of customers gathered around writers like fans at a concert.
“If you give them a place to get together and communicate with each other, there are some nice kinds of bonds,” he said.
In March, Substack launched an app that brings memberships together in one place, rather than distributing them separately via email. This month, the company announced a podcasting expansion.
“From the beginning, we wanted to do more for the company than just provide subscription publishing tools,” wrote Hamish McKenzie, co-founder and chief operating officer, of the app.
But as the substack evolves outside of the newsletter, it’s risky to look like any other social network or news publisher – which can make it less appealing to writers.
Ben Thompson, whose technology-centric Stretchery newsletter inspired Substack, wrote last month that Substack sought to keep the “substack brand front and center” from a “faceless publisher” behind the scenes, creating its own app as an app. Destination on the backs of writers.
“This is a way to create an alternative revenue model for the substack, drafting from their popularity that forces readers to pay for the substack first and publishers second, instead of another way,” he said. Thompson writes 6
Publishing to Substack is free, but authors who charge for subscriptions pay 10 percent of their income to Substack and 3 percent to payment processor, Stripe. The company also offers hefty sums of money to a small group of writers, whose identities it refuses to disclose.
Substack has one key difference from most other media companies: it refuses to chase advertising dollars. “On my dead body“Mr. McKenzie once wrote,” Opposing what Substack wants to be, “Mr. Best said.
“If we, through greed or error, enter that game, we will effectively compete with TikToks and Twitter and Facebook, which is not the competition we want to be in,” Mr Best added.
This means that the subscription continues to depend on subscription revenue. Subscribers pay more than 20 million a year to read the top 10 authors of the substack. The most successful is Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of history, who has more than one million subscribers. Other notable authors include Knight Novelist Salman Rushdie, punk poet Patty Smith, and Eisner’s winning comic book author James Tyneon IV.
Emily Oster, a writer and professor of economics at Brown University who has given divisive advice on managing epidemics with children, joined Mackenzie Substack in 2020 after hiring her. Her newsletter, ParentData, has over 100,000 subscribers, including over 1,000 paid readers.
“Substacks have certainly become a big part of the media landscape that I never thought it would be,” he said.
But Dr. Oster’s primary source of income is his education and his books. Most of his newsletter revenue goes to editing and support services. Most users have struggled to support themselves by writing exclusively on the platform and instead using their earnings to supplement other paychecks.
Elizabeth Spears, a Democratic digital strategist and journalist, said she dropped her substack last year because she didn’t have enough time or paid readers to justify her long weekly articles.
“Also, I’m starting to get more paid assignments elsewhere, and it doesn’t make much sense to put things on the substack,” he said.
But the biggest conflict in the substack has been content restraint.
Mr McKenzie, a former journalist, described the substack as an antidote to the focus economy, a “good place” where writers “get rewarded for different things, not throw tomatoes at their opponents.”
Critics say the platform recruits (and therefore supports) the perpetrators of the culture war and is at the center of hate speech and misinformation. Last year, many authors left the substack for its inactivity in transphobic content. This year, The Center for Countering Digital Hate says anti-vaccine newsletters at Substock generate at least $ 2.5 million in annual revenue. Technology writer Charlie Warzell, who quit his job at The New York Times to write a substack newsletter, described the platform as a place for “internet beef.”
Substack has resisted pressure to be more selective about what it allows on its platform. Twitter employees who are concerned that its content restraint policies will be relaxed were told by Alan Musk, the world’s richest man and the platform’s largest shareholder Don’t bother to apply for the job Substack
“We don’t want to say, ‘Eat your vegetables,'” said Mr. Best. “If we agree or disagree with everything in the substack, it will be less than what a healthy intellectual climate would look like.”
The substack makes it easy for writers to disassociate and has a fast-growing collection of competitors waiting to welcome outsiders.
Last year, newsletter offers from Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Axios, Forbes and a former Condé Nast editor debuted. The Times last year released multiple newsletters for subscribers only. Mr Warzel removed his Galaxy Brain from the substack in November as part of his newsletter push to The Atlantic.
Media platform Ghost, billed as an “independent substack option”, has a door-to-door service to help substack users change their jobs. Medium has pushed its editorial publications to follow a more subsistence model of “independent voice advocates”. Zestworld, a new subscription-based comics platform, called “Substack Without Transphobia.”
Mr Best said he welcomed the competition.
“The worst thing is not being copied,” he said.