Ye olde Substack: publishing’s hot new business model has 17th-century origins

Tom Standage in 1843 Magazine:

As Twitter and Facebook become more acrimonious and less trusted, an older means to get information has made a comeback: the email newsletter. Chances are that newsletters make up a larger part of your media diet than they did a couple of years ago. You may even be paying for some of them. In recent months several journalists have left jobs at established publications to earn a living by asking their most loyal readers to subscribe to a personal email newsletter instead. Entrepreneurs, cookery writers and academics have also embraced this model. Who needs a publisher if you can sell your writing straight to your readers? Most of these people are established experts in a particular field. They have chosen to bypass the involvement of advertisers and algorithms in favour of the pleasingly straightforward approach of delivering their thoughts directly to the inboxes of paying subscribers. Writers with large online followings can earn a respectable income even if only a small fraction of their fans sign up (typically for $5 a month, or $50 a year).

Substack, the newsletter-publishing platform that has championed this new model, takes 10% of the proceeds in return for handling distribution and billing. Launching a Substack newsletter today is like launching a blog 20 years ago, or a podcast five years ago, with one important difference: people are actually getting paid.

There are some enviable success stories. Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, is thought to make more than $1m a year from her politics newsletter, “Letters from an American”. The New York Times recently described her as “by accident the most successful independent journalist in America”. Substack paid Matthew Yglesias, co-founder of Vox, an American news website, an advance of $250,000 when he left his job to concentrate on his newsletter, “Slow Boring”. Other journalists who’ve gone solo include Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald and Haley Nahman. In January Twitter bought Revue, a Dutch startup and rival to Substack. Your inbox could soon be stuffed with new newsletters.

More here.