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Monday, March 5, 2018 

Outside partners with Substack for a newsletter about women’s gear

Today, Outside magazine is launching the first of a series of paid newsletters on Substack. It’s our first partnership with a major publication, and we’re hugely excited. The new newsletter is called Dawn Patrol and it’s about outdoor gear for women. Go ahead and subscribe.

Outside is launching Dawn Patrol as part of an effort to bolster its coverage of women’s products, but it also stands to be a handy new revenue stream. Subscribers get the newsletter for $5 a month or $60 a year (and early sign-ups get discounts from Moosejaw). Outside will invest every dollar earned from the newsletter into furthering its coverage of women’s gear.  

This partnership originated when Scott Rosenfield, Outside’s digital general manager, got in touch to see if we could help the publication launch a paid newsletter quickly and easily. We couldn’t have said yes faster. We love the Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Outside not only because of its storied history in journalism—it has been a home to Jon Krakauer, Annie Proulx, Sebastian Junger, and many other great writers—but also because of its fiercely independent attitude.

In recent times, Outside has taken positions that may have lost it some readers but certainly won it respect. In November, it posted a survey asking readers to report their experiences of sexual harassment in the outdoors, which led to a mix of mockery and criticism from some respondents but prompted it to publish a follow-up story with the headline, “Don’t care about sexual harassment? Don’t read Outside.” A week later, it called out US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke—fresh from shrinking Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument to allow for oil and gas exploration—for rigging his fishing reel backwards ahead of a photo op. It is also hell-bent on diversifying its pool of writers and coverage to better represent its readers, which means more emphasis on issues that matter to women. “Women aren’t banished to their own vertical,” wrote Nieman Lab in a recent profile of Outside, “they’re just everywhere, in a way that drives home how unusual it is to see actual gender equity in a publication.” Dawn Patrol is part of that push.

“We thought a lot about launching Dawn Patrol first,” says Rosenfield. “Our audience really wants more coverage of women’s gear, and we want to give it to them.”

The paid newsletter is more than a money-maker for Outside. It’s a new platform for storytelling that sits alongside its website and the magazine. “It’s an opportunity to tell stories in an email format that wouldn’t necessarily make sense on the web or in the magazine,” says Rosenfield.

While Dawn Patrol is written by Outside staffers, the publication plans to launch more Substack newsletters with freelance and contract writers with whom it will share revenue. That’s a neat match with Substack’s commitment to supporting independent writers, and it’s a reflection of Outside’s eagerness to embrace new ideas that serve its readers, contributors, and its own business similarly well.

“We’re a single-title publication and independently owned,” says Rosenfield. “Yeah, we’ve been around forty years, but if we want to be around for more than another forty we’ve got to be fast and smart.”

Subscribe to Dawn Patrol

Wednesday, February 28, 2018 

An anonymous expert puts the restructuring industry under the spotlight

Introducing Petition, a tech newsletter with bite

When we were starting Substack, one of the first people to express interest was a mysterious writer with a newsletter called Petition. Reading the anonymous writer’s work, we were convinced that this was a newsletter like no other. Every Sunday, Petition covers tech disruption through the lens of an industry that deals in bankruptcy, restructuring, and distressed assets—an industry poorly understood by outsiders. The author reports on the subject with flair and just the right amount of snark, proving that even if Amazon and Facebook are disemboweling the global economy as we know it, we can at least have fun along the way.

What excites us about Petition, which has now launched on Substack and added a free weekly edition on Wednesdays (subscribe!), is that its publisher is using the paid newsletter model to offer readers uncompromised insight. Where newspapers by necessity go broad on disruption-induced bankruptcy, for instance, Petition goes deep. Had you thought about how envelope-makers are being screwed by paperless bank statements? Petition has. Do you know the unholy inner details of Kodak’s ill-advised crypto coin? Petition does. And can you guess what the future holds in store for Toys R Us? Petition will tell you (spoiler: it’s not a promising prognosis). In a newsletter world, where clickbait doesn’t matter and writers can go long, these issues get the attention they deserve from a knowledgeable author.

That was an important point for those behind Petition. Even reporters at the best news outlets struggle to give the subject due service. As the media business goes into meltdown, resource-constrained journalists are being asked to do more with less, to the detriment of complex business coverage. But of even more concern was the tendency of professionals within the restructuring/turnaround industry to take a narrow view of events, failing to take into account the massive systemic change wrought by the technological revolution. In Petition’s view, for example, the retail industry isn’t reeling solely on account of the covered-to-death “Amazon Effect” (though that is obviously a big part of it); it is suffering as a result of a confluence of factors including the surge of direct-to-consumer digitally native vertical brands (e.g. Warby Parker, Glossier), mobile-based resale platforms (e.g. Wish, OfferUp, Letgo, Poshmark), and a cultural emphasis on experiences over product consumption.

“We were of the view that there was too much tunnel vision and reliance on surface-level analysis,” Petition says. “These professionals—high-paid advisors—weren’t armed with the full picture of not just what is, but also what is coming. At the end of the day, that’s a disservice to clients.”

Those behind Petition have chosen to remain anonymous because of their roots in the industry and their commitment to unadulterated commentary. But while the anonymity is a source of intrigue, the newsletter’s greatest contribution comes from the detailed and insightful commentary on a sector that needs both more scrutiny and more exposure. By asking readers to pay, the writer has also ensured that Petition has a sustainable way forward. We hope others follow the example.

Subscribe to Petition

Tuesday, February 20, 2018 

Now on Substack: Discover v0.1

Howdy folks, just a quick note to let you know that we’ve launched a basic discovery tool to help you find new Substack newsletters. Head over to to see public posts from across the Substack network and find new writers to fall in love with. As with all our tools, this is very much in beta and we will be improving it over time.

Got feedback? Send it to

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 

Now anyone can start a newsletter on Substack

Today, we’re announcing the launch of our open beta, which gives anyone the ability to start a newsletter, paid or free, on Substack. To get started, go to

We’ve been blown away by the early interest and feedback from writers and readers, so we have worked as fast as possible to make it simple for more people to start a paid newsletter. You can start making money from paid subscriptions to your newsletter within minutes.

At the same time, we’ve found that the best way to set yourself up for success with a paid model is to start with a successful free newsletter. If you already have a newsletter, we’ve made it easy to import your existing subscriber list into Substack. And if you don’t? Well, we’ve also made it easy for anyone to start a free newsletter on Substack, with no subscriber limits and for no charge. When you’re ready to add a paid option, you can connect a Stripe account and start accepting subscriptions with a single click.

These are the early days for Substack, and we’re all figuring out this model together. If you’re new to this, you can learn as we learn. For instance, when you sign up, we send you an email with tips for getting started and an invitation to join a Slack group where Substack publishers can connect with each other.

We’re excited to move into the open beta phase of Substack and can’t wait to read your newsletters. Meanwhile, we’ll be working every day to improve the product. Thank you for your support so far.

Got any feedback? Send it to

Saturday, February 3, 2018 

We've found the future of media

(It was under the couch cushions the whole time)

The future of news is a personalized voice-activated AI that operates in a mixed-reality environment built completely on the blockchain.

Just kidding, it’s email.

Well, actually, it’s email with payments. But honestly, that’s about it.

If this doesn’t immediately strike you as a $100 billion idea, we forgive you. After all, no one makes money from media anymore, right? The VCs have learned their lesson. Facebook controls the news now, and there’s no turning back.

Even the best digital media startups have ultimately floundered at the feet of Zuckerberg. BuzzFeed, backed by $496 million dollar of venture capital, missed its targets last year and laid off six percent of its staff. Mashable sold to Ziff Davis for $50 million, a pittance compared to the rumored $250 million valuation it had a few years ago. Vice, which has raised $1.4 billion, has been missing its revenue goals, too. Do you remember Upworthy ($12 million raised)? Mic ($60 million)? Tronc? (Okay, okay, that last one’s not a startup—just a meme.)

What these struggles tell us, however, is not that the media is dead. People still read stuff. They just tell us that building for scale, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of venture capital in to the mix, and praying that, in the face of the obvious logic that any sensible marketer is better off spending their money on Facebook or Google, some small piece of the advertising market can be funneled towards digital news sites, if only a headline can be perfectly bait-tweaked, if only enough pork-pie-hat-wearing hipsters point a camera at a gunfight in Kabul, if only a black-and-gold dress can magic up enough pageviews to pay for Woodward and Bernstein’s comp packages.

They also tell us that tech and media have, on the whole, not mixed well. If using tech to reach huge audiences doesn’t work, what does? If using a beautiful content management system doesn’t miraculously solve a media company’s cash flow problems, what will? If short videos, or elaborate commenting systems, or mobile storytelling, or interactive graphics, or Snapchat Stories, or Instagram hashtags, or Instant Articles, or Google AMP, or programmatic advertising, or native advertising, or branded content, or affiliate links, or press conferences in Second Life can’t save the media, why would any right-thinking investor ever send another dollar in the direction of anyone who dared to presume that the written word has value?

What Silicon Valley gets wrong is that tech has never been the answer to the media’s problems. Tech can be helpful, but overall everyone is much better off if it just gets out of the way. Silicon Valley is dripping with well-meaning people who genuinely want to help solve the media crisis, but the results haven’t even been mixed—they’ve just been sad. Flipboard didn’t save the news. Rockmelt didn’t save the news. Medium didn’t save the news. Twitter isn’t saving the news. No matter how many tweaks it makes to its News Feed, Facebook can’t help but do the opposite of saving the news—its business model practically demands it. In all these cases, the tech companies’ grand solution to the media’s problems has been inserting themselves between reader and writer as an unwelcome distribution layer to redirect ad dollars.

We can’t put all the blame on Silicon Valley’s shoulders, though. The media industry itself is guilty. It has proven to be hidebound, slow to adapt, and bad in all the areas where Silicon Valley is good: radical reinvention; scrappiness; acceptance of failure; making bold bets; starting lean; and proving new models with “minimum viable products” before they’re fully implemented, to name a few. In fact, the media industry has placed too much faith in Silicon Valley’s products and not enough in its way of building those products. That it took Jeff Bezos to come into the Washington Post and suggest simple things like licensing its content management system and being more aggressive with subscriptions is fair evidence that, just when it needs help the most, the media industry is incapable of helping itself.

The best way for media and tech to interact in the current climate is for media companies to turn away from the assumptions that have been dominating their business models for the last two centuries—namely, that content must be molded around blocks of advertising—and for tech companies to fade into the background, providing infrastructure and support without glory-hunting and thrusting themselves into experience itself.

Finally, after many years of panicked flailing, many rounds of buy-outs, and the bodies of many thousands of journalist-refugees washing up on the shores of PR-istan, we are seeing some glimpses of progress. Patreon, for one, has made it easy for creators to accept payments from their fans. That’s kind of groundbreaking. Last year, Patreon paid out more than $150 million to creators. 2017 was also a breakout year for The Athletic, a start-up that has vacuumed up the talent cast off from ESPN and Sports Illustrated to create a network of local sports news sites that are thriving on the support of subscriptions. And The Information, now in its fifth year, has committed to doubling its editorial staff in 2018 thanks to strong subscriber growth. It has even started an accelerator to help other media startups follow its path (which they definitely should).

But the example we like the most is Ben Thompson’s Stratechery, a one-man publication that sends its subscribers four emails a week that carry high-quality tech business analysis. Thompson’s coverage respects people’s time and intelligence because his business’s primary loyalty is to readers, not advertisers. He charges subscribers $10 a month or $100 a year.

Stratechery is an example of tech and media meeting perfectly in the middle. Thompson has taken a Silicon Valley approach to building the publication while taking advantage of online payments infrastructure and simple publishing tools to keeping overheads to a minimum. At the same time, he has not compromised any of the values that are important to good journalism, such as editorial independence, quality writing, and rigorous analysis. The tech gets out of the way while the writing shines.

Since revealing three years ago that he had two thousand subscribers, Thompson has been cagey about his subscriber numbers, saying only that Stratechery is “more than a business” because that $10 a month scales very well. But it is clear that, as well as becoming influential in Silicon Valley, Thompson has built an exceptionally profitable media business on a simple foundation: email plus payments.

No need for ads. No need for scale. No need for the middle man. The model is so stripped back. So simple. So beautiful. And Thompson has been telling anyone who will listen that they should copy it.

The question is, has anyone actually been listening?

News and views from the Substack team

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