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Substack.

I read this interesting article by Anna Wiener about Substack, which is a sort of branded blogging and RSS platform that allows writers to charge subscriptions.

The topic was interesting to me in part because I’ve been blogging for a long time and in part because as a citizen and consumer of news I am interested in the future of journalism. From reading Wiener’s article I got the impression that Substack doesn’t have lots of reporting (so it’s not yet replacing the local newspaper), nor is it heavy on technical content (not much of an audience for Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science), nor is it flat-out entertainment (that’s mostly video, not text). Wiener reports that “there is a glut of newsletters written by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, about venture capital and entrepreneurship. There are also newsletters dedicated to sexism in sports, witchcraft, design, cricket, bread baking, Bob Dylan concerts throughout history, The Hudsucker Proxy, and human-animal relationships.”

I was curious about the Hudsucker Proxy blog—would people really pay for this? So I googled. I think it’s free, but I’m not sure. There’s the option to subscribe, but it didn’t show a price, and all the posts seem to be accessible without subscription.

The categories listed on the Substack main page are Featured, Culture, Politics, Technology, Business, Finance, Food & Drink, Sports, Faith, News, Music, Literature, Art & Illustration, Climate, Science, and Health.

I clicked on News and the top paid links are Sinocism (“Get smarter about China”), News Items (“Interesting, important or both”), Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter (“Delivering smart and essential news to Charlotte, one email at a time”), Top Secret Umbra (“A Counterintelligence Perspective on Espionage, Terrorism, Deception and Propaganda”), and The Mill (“Greater Manchester’s new quality newspaper, delivered by email”), and Numlock News (“The best way to start your morning. Numlock celebrates great stories buried in the news that you won’t find elsewhere. It’s snappy, funny, and informative, plus it’s ad-free. Try it out and see why thousands of people wake up to Numlock every single day.”). I clicked on Science and the top paid links are Runāt ar Gintu (“Atziņas, pārdomas un meklējumi…”), Reality’s Last Stand (“Current events, science and pseudoscience, wokeness and the state of academia, free speech, and the sex and gender debate”), Erick Godsey’s Dream Dancing Series (“Once a week I share a dream of mine and how to interpret it”), Reading Research Recap Newsletter (“Short summaries of the latest reading research studies!”), Remote View (“Looking back to the future through insight and critical fiction”), and This Week in Birding (“Everything you need to know about birds in Chicago”). So this gives some idea of what people are paying for. It looks like the internet in general: full of unusual and interesting opinions and aggregation.

One way that a Substack blog differs from this blog is that Substack can charge for subscriptions. But that’s not the only difference, as many Substack blogs are free. The only other difference I could see is Substack is itself a brand. I blog using WordPress and the blog is hosted at Columbia University. At other times the blog has been hosted elsewhere, and originally I used the Movable Type software. But from the reader’s point of view, none of this matters.

This makes me wonder if there are any other branded blogging platforms. A few years ago I was contacted by a publisher called Science Blogs that said they’d pay me to blog. I couldn’t imagine they’d pay much (as it happened, I don’t think they paid at all), but I said yes just to reach a new audience. But I stopped after awhile because it didn’t seem that the new blog was getting many readers, it was just too much trouble maintaining two blogs, and I didn’t want to abandon the old blog because it has permanence (a good call in retrospect, because I just checked and Science Blogs looks pretty tacky right now). Also for awhile I was writing regularly for the Monkey Cage, a political science blog which eventually became part of the Washington Post and became less of a blog and more of a research news site. And then there’s Medium, which seems somewhere in between: the blogs look like blogs but they’re strongly branded as from Medium. I looked into Medium at one point but it had the problem that you have to be a member to comment, which didn’t seem so great. There are some blogs I read that don’t have comment sections at all, but I don’t like that.

So here’s my current understanding of the Substack thing. If you want to make some $ from blogging, Substack seems easier than putting ads on your WordPress blog or whatever. If you want to blog for free, I guess Substack is as good as anything else. There’s a tradeoff: on one hand, your blog is more reachable from other Substacks; on the other hand, you lose some control over your branding. Also, I guess that if you run a free blog on Substack that they’ll charge you a monthly fee? We have to pay for our wordpress hosting, and every once in awhile when we have a very popular post we need to pay a few hundred dollars extra to cover all the hits we’re getting.

Beyond all this are more interesting questions about who’s writing for free and who’s writing for pay. I guess the mid-twentieth century was the golden age of writing for pay. In addition to all the newspapers, there was mass literature. People like Jim Thompson could write books that would be read by thousands of people! These authors mostly didn’t get much money but they could make a living.

I work in academia, and we write for free. We get paid a salary, but that’s for teaching and research, not writing. Yeah yeah, I know about publish or perish, but the hard part of “publish” is not the writing, it’s getting into the top journals. I’m sure the average academic writes orders of magnitude more in email form than as published papers. My point is, we are already in the habit of not getting paid for our writing, so blogging in any form is no stretch. Wiener’s article about Substack focused on people who are writing to make a living or at least to supplement their incomes. I don’t know if Substack has regular bloggers like me too, but it seems that most of the attention goes to the paid entries. Which is kind of cool, given how so much of the internet goes the other way. Sometimes I’ll write something and not be sure where to place it. There’s this blog, or Arxiv, or scientific journals, or newspapers and magazines. Posting on the blog is effortless but often I’ll jump through many hoops to publish elsewhere to satisfy the goal of reaching new readers. On the other hand, often I’ll publish elsewhere and not get around to mentioning it on the blog. Maybe I’ll get fewer careful readers when publishing in Slate or Wired than when I just post it here.

Summary

I don’t have a clear view of publishing, or the news media, or blogging, or any of these things. As a consumer of text, I subscribe to the newspaper and a few print magazines, along with two online paid-subscription sites, I buy the occasional book and check out lots of books from the library, and I read a lot of blogs (see the blogroll!), I often look stuff up on wikipedia, and I’m often reading random things on the internet, going through ESPN or TV Tropes or whatever. Ummm . . . what else is there . . . I’m often rereading books on our home bookshelves and of course I read lots and lots of manuscripts and journal articles (pretty much 100% online now). I like blogs so I think I like Substack, even though I don’t fully understand the point.

38 Comments

  1. Sk says:

    This discussion is missing the “subtext” for Substack: censorship and mainstream media bias.

    Mainstream media bias has gotten so bad that you have to balance that info with criticism from the “narrative police” on alternate media like Substack. For the New Yorker article you linked, these three do the job:

    https://twitter.com/wesyang/status/1373629616183775237?s=20
    https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/its-all-just-displacement
    https://greenwald.substack.com/p/journalists-start-demanding-substack

    • Joshua says:

      Sk –

      Can you describe what you mean by “mainstream media bias?”

      • Jonathan (another one) says:

        Joshua: I’ve got a post awaiting moderation with a great post from Matt Taibbi (on Substack) answering your question: Oh, heck, I’ll repost it: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/in-defense-of-substack

        • Joshua says:

          Jonathan –

          Thanks. I’ve been following the Greenwald/Taibi narrative for a while now. So from a “cognitive empathy” angle I get where the “censorship” part of the narrative comes from but I’m still not quite sure what the “mainstream media bias” part means, exactly. (Understanding, of course, since so many peope make that claim it would be unreasonable to expect a singular definition).

          From the deBoers’ piece I see:

          > Trying to cancel Glenn Greenwald (again) because he criticizes the media harshly?

          As a potential explanation – the “mainstream media bias” definition being a bias to disfavor anything critical of the mainstream media – might fit. But maybe that’s just the “censorship” part? I suspect that the “mainstream media bias” part of the narrative has to have a more political element; something along the lines of “The Democratic Party power broker and Big Tech in cohoots to impose their political preferences on the country.”. But I’m not sure that’s it, and if that isn’t it I don’t know what “it” is.

          Stepping outside the cognitive empathy lane, I think that obviously the Greenwald/Taibi narratives have some core truths, but they fall apart rather quickly once they move away from the core narratives and into how the narrative is being applied in context – in particular with reference to Greenwald.

          • Jonathan (another one) says:

            I’m much more of a Taibbi guy than a Greenwald guy (I subscribe to Taibbi on Substack) and I’m pretty opposed to their politics, but I almost completely agree with their quite trenchant media critique. And Taibbi (just today) argues that it isn’t political *at all,* and once again I (mostly) agree with him, vis-a-vis Big Tech and censorship. Here’s the link to the free version: https://taibbi.substack.com/p/alternatives-to-censorship-interview-834

            I’m not sure why you have a need for an explicit political element in the editorial staff of the Times, for example, or in Fox News for that matter. They have an audience, they find journalists who write congenially for that audience, and balance gaining money from gaining audience against losing money not being able to narrowly focus on loyal groups. That’s bias just in choosing the audience you’ve chosen to appeal to. Why does it have to be any more complicated than that?

            • Joshua says:

              > Why does it have to be any more complicated than that?

              Yah. I don’t think it has to be. I’m pretty well aligned with the perspective you presented.

              I’m fully willing to go along with a narrative that there’s a “bias” towards (1) a tendency to reflect back the particular flavor of a given audience, and (2) a tendency to push the preferences of an audience so as to reinforce the appeal.

              I find that most people seem to gravitate to the view that “the mainstream media” functions almost exclusively in the “push” mode and drives polarization, but I think that there is a bi-directional interaction that takes place as you describe.

              As a side note, I fail to understand why Taibi thinks that more or less the same mechanisms apply to himself and Substack in their monetization of hot takes for an audience that loves him.

              But I tend to think when people reference “bias” they’re likely referencing something other than what would be a fairly typical for-profit dynamic – and implying a political driver in play.

              And then there’s the pre-existing ubiquity of the “left wing media bias” trope, and on the other side the trope that “mainstream media” rises above political bias because of the inherent bias-policing mechanisms (that would theoretically be missing at Substack).

              • Joshua says:

                Sorry…. *Don’t* apply to himself and Substack.

              • Jonathan (another one) says:

                For both Taibbi and the Times (and everybody else, just about) bias is just something you don’t notice in yourself. It’s so much easier to take comfort in the notion of journalistic objectivity with maybe the tiniest leeway in the stories covered.
                Critics of the NYT often say that they would be less critical if the Times just owned up to their editorial stance. But abandoning that stance is just something the Times can’t *afford* to do. They have too much stake in their alleged journalistic objectivity. It’s a figleaf, but it’s been monetized and they can’t turn back. Taibbi wraps himself in the same guise of objectivity, but he has the ability, without undoing his market, to say from time to time, “this is my personal opinion.” That’s what comes from being a person rather than an institution.
                A lot of this echoes Yuval Levin’s point that institutions (like mainstream media) used to be institutions that molded people rather than performative platforms on which to leverage one’s own thoughts, but that’s a wider discussion than how journalistic personalities ought to be paid and promoted.

      • Jonathan (another one) says:

        And since the vaunted Gelman Filter let that one through, I’ll post the other link (on the payment scheme, via Scott Alexander) here as well. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/adding-my-data-point-to-the-discussion

    • Andrew says:

      Sk:

      As I wrote in my above post, Substack seems like a good thing go me. And Wiener’s article seemed positive about Substack too. I read deBoer’s article that you linked to, and it seemed mostly reasonable to me and pretty much in agreement with Wiener that the economics of journalism are tough, so people welcome the possibility of a new payment model.

      The main difference between my perspective and deBoer’s is that, as an academic, I write for free, so to me Substack is just another blogging platform, kind of like a branded version of WordPress. But I take it that deBoer writes to make a living, so for him Substack is an opportunity to publish and get paid. Which seems fair enough.

      Also deBoer has some complaints that I can’t really relate to, for example when he writes of “Establishment media’s takeover by this strange brand of academic identity politics.” My main experience with the establishment media is when I read the newspaper, and OK it’s not perfect by no way has it been taken over by academic identity politics. Something like, what, 95% of the newspaper is straight news or entertainment, and the rest is opinion of many stripes. Sure, some reporters are loud on twitter . . . but that’s not a “takeover.” I get it that this is deBoer’s perspective and I have no doubt that he’s had some horrible personal and professional interactions that are consistent with his “takeover” view, but I don’t think that’s at all a realistic description of establishment media as a whole, or that it’s “almost everyone in media,” etc.

      • Rahul says:

        I find it difficult to imagine that Substack will survive the initial hype, at least not in its current widely publicized version.

        As a free blogging platform it’s just one more among so many out there.

        It’s real differentiator lies in that it makes it so much easier to monetize a blog with the subscription model. But I find it difficult to imagine that there are too many blogs thst substantial portion of readers will actually pay to read.

        And therein lies the weakness. I suppose the initial VC money will prop it up for a bit but what lies beyond?

        • Andrew says:

          Rahul:

          That could be. But nothing lasts forever. Even if Substack only really works for a few years, that’s still something. I guess that plain old blogging never made the money that its founders hoped for, but it still exists in a useful form, allowing us to have these conversations that I couldn’t imagine occurring using earlier media such as magazines, journals, emails, newsletters, etc.

        • Bob76 says:

          I’m also skeptical that sufficient subscribers will sign up to make the enterprise successful.

          I looked at Substack. Many of the blogs/newsletters had prices in the $5 to $10 per month range. Home delivery of the Sunday NYTimes costs us about $50 per month. But not only does it have David Brooks but it has crosswords, sports scores, and book reviews.

          A subscription to The Economist costs about $20 per month.

          There are specialized industry newsletters that cost a lot. I think Communications Daily is about $500 per month.

          I’d pay more than $10 per month for this blog. It’s fun and I have learned many useful and interesting things. But I think the world is better off with a free version than a fee version of this blog.

          There aren’t many authors that I feel I would pay $10 per month for.

          On the other hand, it probably costs Substack much less than $10 per month to support a blog that is not read often. Their costs will probably be dominated by supporting the blogs with lots of readers. Those will be the revenue producing blogs.

          We will see if they get enough strong blogs/newsletters to maintain scale.

          Bob76 k

          • Andrew says:

            Bob76:

            I wonder if part of the reason Substack seems so political is the paying model. As you say, it doesn’t make sense for most people to pay $10/month (that’s $120/year!) for one columnist, given that for the same amount you could subscribe to a whole magazine. On the other hand, if you’re paying $10/month as a way to support one of your favorite writers, then that could often be seen as a political statement: So-and-so got canceled by mainstream media, so I’m paying $10/month as a way to support him. That becomes super-political.

            • Brian Slesinsky says:

              In addition, with some writers, it’s a way to ask nicely for money rather than an attempt to require payment as done with traditional commercial publishing. You could compare with fundraising by Wikipedia, the Guardian, public radio stations, and by many musicians and bloggers using Patreon.

              This can be done by having mostly free posts and some less-important members-only posts, so that subscribers feel like they got something.

              The writers that we know got advances from Substack have been writing for a long time and already have a dedicated audience. For some readers, paying for a subscription can be seen as rewarding an author for the free content they’ve already read over the years.

              In this way, a small number of fans can subsidize writing free articles for a larger audience, and readers don’t need to buy a paid subscription to every blog they read, just the few they’re most enthusiastic about, if they choose.

              • I like Patreon for just the reasons Brian Slesinsky mentions. I’ve supported a couple of role playing blogs where the content’s free to the public, but there are “extras” I don’t even bother with. I’ve also supported an independent game through Kickstarter, though I usually just wait to buy those on DriveThruRPG when PDFs become available (I live in NYC and don’t have room for print).

                In some ways Patreon feels like a tip jar and in other ways, it feels like paying for a magazine subscription. Patreon is clunky, so I could see it being pushed aside by a more straightforward platform.

                I believe several independent gamers are supporting themselves with a modest income through a combination of Patreon and Kickstarter.

  2. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Even those blogs that charge on Substack have free tiers in which you get a subset of the content, and sometimes there can be two versions of the same article, with the subscribed version having more content. Scott Alexander moved to Substack after the NY Times controversy, as have Matt Yglesias and Matt Taibbi and lots of others. In addition, one entire new news organization, The Dispatch, is now published on Substack with one set of articles/opinions available only to subscribers.

    The big attack on Substack came from an academic: Sarah Roberts, on Twitter! (See Taibbi below for the reference.)

    For the controversy over pay and responses to Wiener and Roberts, I can’t do much better than this (which I think is free) post from Alexander (https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/adding-my-data-point-to-the-discussion) and this one from Taibbi (https://taibbi.substack.com/p/in-defense-of-substack).

  3. Michael J says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how substack fits into the political polarization trend. The Wiener article mentions how it has become a place for right-wing folks to share their ideas and how one can imagine something like the whole QAnon thing finding a home there. Substack and blogs allow writers to be as eccentric as they want and say what they really want to say, in contrast to newspapers and magazines which kinda smooth out those eccentricities and shrink content towards the center of their general readership. I guess that’s a charitable perspective and the un-charitable perspective is that those publications are censoring writers.

    I think it’s also possible that the broad trend can go the other way though. Sure, being able to curate your subscriptions to the extent that Substack allows can create “echo chambers” but I think online echo chambers are still often more diverse in viewpoints than what you get from in-person social networks.

    • Andrew says:

      Michael:

      The thing that still puzzles me is that people are comparing Substack to newspapers and magazines, rather than comparing Substack to blogs. Blogs have been around for a few years now!

      Regarding your comment about “newspapers and magazines which kinda smooth out those eccentricities and shrink content towards the center of their general readership”: I agree completely. I respect that the Monkey Cage, now that it’s at the Washington Post, has a larger and more beneficial influence than it did when it was a mere blog, but I don’t like writing for the Monkey Cage anymore because they want my writing to be boring and journalistic, not fun and bloggy. I respect their decision; it just doesn’t really work for me.

      • Michael J says:

        > The thing that still puzzles me is that people are comparing Substack to newspapers and magazines, rather than comparing Substack to blogs.

        Well insofar as Substack is replacing anything, it’s not replacing blogs because they’re not very popular right now. There is a fear/hope – depending on which side you’re on – that Substack will replace parts of newspapers and magazines though. Like you and Wiener mention, there aren’t really any substacks that are purely news, it’s more analysis/commentary so, to be more specific, the comparison to newspapers is specifically in regard to the analysis/editorial sections. And as Jonathan linked above, there have been some high-profile people who have left news organizations for Substack, and I think that has driven a lot of the discussion around it.

        But I do agree with you that functionally Substack is more or less just a blog.

      • Rahul says:

        Well maybe people compare them to newspapers since they are paid like substacks goal while most blogs are free.

      • Andrew:

        You use your blog for several different types of post: (1) hey, someone sent me this and I want to share; (2) I just had a random thought and want to share; (3) someone sent me something or I read something and here’s a hot take; (4) here’s a random book or movie or cultural review; (5) here’s some long-form commentary on someone else’s work or on trends in the field; (6) here’s some long-form stats content I’ve been thinking about but didn’t feel like polishing into a publishable paper.

        Conversations of types (1) — (3) are mainly happening on Twitter these days, as it’s a nice shared platform for this kind of communication. If it’s mainly photos, then Instragram, if it’s short videos, then TikTok.

        I’d say (4)–(6) are typical blog fodder, but this form of discussion used to come out in more tightly edited venues called magazines and newspapers. Hence the comparisons. I think of several of the blogs I read as being more like magazines. For example, I support Mythcreants on Patreon and used to support The Angry GM until he got too angry for me and I moved from Dungeons and Dragons to games like Fate and Blades in the Dark.

        (6) starts moving toward arXiv’s space. So if you did a lot of posts like that, it’d feel more like a journal than a blog post.

  4. kj says:

    > newsletters dedicated to sexism in sports, witchcraft, design, cricket, bread baking, Bob Dylan concerts throughout history, The Hudsucker Proxy, and human-animal relationships.

    Will definitely have to check out that sexism in bread baking newsletter—sounds like my jam.

    Also, I took a look at the research in reading substack. Thankfully its mostly education research. I went through some of the literature on the benefits of reading a few weeks ago. Mostly just junk psychology experiments there.

  5. Dzhaughn says:

    I’d spin it as offering the blog for free and charging for the discussion seems a reasonable idea. I don’t see it as lucrative for the bloggers, but rather a gentrification of the comments section. They aren’t all as civilized as this little village.

    Things like investor or business newsletters make sense being behind a paywall. To succeed, you need a reputation outside of substack, but many have that. For the bloggers, could become an opportunity to upsell to consultancy work which pays properly.

    Substack can play the role of an honest-broker in showing counts of paying subscribers. Knowing that 1,000 people pay real money monthly to read someone’s posts is very good (not to say conclusive!) evidence that they are serious.

    • Andrew says:

      Dzhaughn:

      I saw that Substack posts had comments sections. I didn’t catch this bit, though: do you have to be a subscriber to comment? That would really limit things. But for a blog like Marginal Revolution, it could be a plus, because there it can be kind of upsetting to see its 4chan-style comments section.

  6. Jukka says:

    I neither have looked closely, but I think it is a welcome addition (if not a small innovation, even). I might actually give it a try some day.

    As said, the monetization aspect may be important for some writers. But I’d reckon that gaining readership is easier for all writers when compared to blogs. Someone also mentioned polarization: it may or may not contribute to it in the short-run, but in the long-run I think it is important to have a platform for people to express themselves in a longer format than what is possible or typical in social media.

    That reminds me: I tried Twitter, and it was as awful I imagined it would be. The toxicity is there, but it is not it that irks me: it is the dopamine-fueled addictive business model. A huge time sink with little (if any) gain. For these reasons, Substack is generally a welcome step toward moving away from the social media business model.

  7. I recently created a free Substack as a way to nurture a photography hobby: https://stevenljohnson.substack.com/ It’s free for me and it’s free for subscribers.

    It is easier for many of my family and friends to get daily content via email, so having them subscribe to my Substack is an easier way for me to reach the niche audience I’m looking for. Now that I think about it, I guess my use case could be met by either Instagram or Facebook, except that instead of fighting FB/IG algorithms, I’m fighting email ones (such as Google’s content categorizations).

    So, for me, Substack is basically a simple email subscription service.

  8. Jay Kominek says:

    I was under the impression that by subscribing to Substack newsletters, the authors actually have our email addresses, such that they could leave Substack, and continue to send us stuff.

    I like the idea of content creators having a durable way of accessing their audience. There’ve been a number of Youtube channels pulled down for violations, leaving their creators unable to reach their audience. (I’m thinking of chemistry channels that presented some video on explosives in a way Youtube found inappropriate. Even if we grant that Youtube has all legal and moral authority to remove any videos they like, disrupting the creator-viewer relationship still seems unnecessary.)

    • Andrew says:

      Jay:

      Interesting. I have no idea who our blog audience is. I have a vague sense that we get about 10,000 readers per day but I don’t even really know that. I’ve avoided putting hit trackers on the site in part because then I’d waste time looking at which posts got more readers etc.

  9. Chetan says:

    The business/ economics of blogging angle was covered well by Ben Thompson at Stratechery: https://stratechery.com/2021/sovereign-writers-and-substack/

    Key points:
    1) Unbundling of the media editorial and advertising ends – core of legacy media’ revenue problem.
    2) Power law dynamics in writing, most writers are not going to be generating significant revenues. Those that do, have been moving to independent outlets like Substack. Therefore, the old cross-subsidy model of media companies is unsustainable.
    3) The censorship issue raised by some commenters hinges on the answer to #2: if a writer has a following, they don’t need a media intermediary that sensors them AND simultaneously limits their earnings to sustain its cross-subsidy model. This just accelerates the downward spiral of media company economics.

  10. Eric B. says:

    I think Substack is a lot like Square: they allow something that was do-able before, to be done better, and with sufficient differentiation that it really matters and consequently uptake is exploding.

    Almost everyone found a way to accept credit cards before Square, but they thought of some ways to make the process more seamless and pleasant for both parties, and also made it much easier to tip, which people then did more of.

    Similarly, Substack aims to present writers who have a loyal fan base with an easy, seamless way for fans to receive their writing and also support them at a few bucks a month. I like it and some really good journalists can now work for themselves which I think increases the quality of their work. I can honestly say I’ve been reading more good journalism since I subscribed and I’m happy about it.

    The claim above that Substack is dominated with right-wing writers is a myth. The top posters there like Greenwald, Taibbi, Alexander, Sullivan are all Democrats and some Bernie-ites; what they all have in common is one or more ways they dissent from narratives being presented in (to my reading) distressing lockstep by less talented journalists our legacy media institutions.

  11. Dallas says:

    I’d say it makes the most sense to think of Substack as a blogging platform bundled with a Patreon-like tip service and an email newsletter service. For writers who want to try to build their own brand, there are probably advantages to having all three of those in one place, even if it means operating under the umbrella brand of Substack. Of course very few people will make money at it, but the most common model does seem to be bloggers who make most of their content available for free, with perhaps some small amount of bonus content for subscribers / supporters.

    As for costs, Substack doesn’t charge writers anything, but instead takes a cut of the subscription fees paid by readers. So, you could probably avoid those WordPress fees by moving to Substack, and might even start getting donations, even if you kept making all of your writing available free. It’s hard to know how long this moment will last, but it does seem to be the case that many people are happy to donate 5 or 10 dollars a month to a writer they like, even if all (or almost all) of the writing is freely available.

    Regarding the comparisons to journalism, I expect it’s mostly because a few high profile folks who used to write for newspapers and magazines have now switched to becoming full time bloggers on Substack, such as Andrew Sullivan. For what it’s worth, a few of them have received advances from Substack on the order of $250k, so perhaps you should see what they’d be willing to offer you! You could even keep the same url and set up a redirect, although I would personally worry about what happens to all of that content if the Substack model does not succeed…

    There are some similar competitors out there, including ghost.org, although I believe that one does charge writers for the service.

  12. MarkD says:

    Long ago I saw a blog exposing a little nice widget which summarizes the estimated platform & network costs of the item/thread, overall and per-contributor, as well as its estimated CO2 footprint. That along with a overall & per-contrib balance from individual donations. Of course the CO2 thing was always growing (unless there’s a link to individuals’ green certs accounts ;) ). It’s like each thread/item was a friends / passerby conversation in a bar, each one free to pool their contrib to the bill beside that in the conversation. An occasional reader stumbling on the thread, even much later, may find it worth enough to pay the eventual still outstanding overall bill. Dunno what the underlying algo was, but guess the idea was to at least help the blog owner to pair the raw expenses.

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