Why are we freaking out about Substack

Isaac Saul, who told me that his nonpartisan political newsletter Tangle raised $ 190,000 in its first year, recently wrote that he came to Substack “specifically to avoid being associated with anyone else” after being frustrated by readers’ assumptions about his biases. when I was working for HuffPost.

One of the writers who left Substack for transgender reasons, Jude Doyle, argued that his system of advancements amounted to a kind of editorial policy. But the analogy with a media company is unclear. Grace Lavery said she wanted Substack to be more aggressive in stopping the harassment, but said she didn’t think threats to boycott the email service about writers she disagreed with made political sense. She has had bitter public disputes with other Substack writers, including journalist Jesse Singal, over her writing on gender politics. “Boycotting Substack by Jesse Singal would be like boycotting a paper company” by a writer who has books printed on his paper, he said.

Singal compared Substack to the decentralized, unregulated internet of a decade ago. “In the golden age of blogging, writers hated each other, but they came and went on each other’s ideas. Now, people call the manager all the time, ”he said.

Therefore, the biggest threat to Substack is unlikely to be Twitter-centric political battles between some of its writers. The real threat is the platforms that compete with a different model. The most technically powerful of them is probably Ghost, which allows writers to send and charge newsletters, with monthly fees starting at $ 9. While Substack is backed by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Ghost has Wikipedia vibes: is open source software developed by a non-profit organization.

One of Substack’s biggest newsletters, The Browser, with 11,000 paid subscribers, went to Ghost last August. Nathan Tankus, an economics writer leaving Substack for trans issues, has also moved to Ghost. David Sirota, who runs the left-leaning research site The Daily Poster, said he was considering going to Outpost, a Ghost-based system, because “we want our operation and our brand to stand on its own.”

And it’s easy to walk away. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Substack writers can simply carry their email lists and direct connections to their readers with them.

Substack’s model of taking 10 percent of its writers’ subscriptions is “too greedy to take anyone’s business for very little in return,” said Ghost founder and CEO John O’Nolan, an Irishman. nomadic and tattooed who lives live. in Hollywood, Florida. He said he believed subscription newsletter publishing was “destined to become a commodity.”

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