A new economic engine for culture
What comes after social media as we know it
We have always believed that the internet’s powers for good could be realized if they were tied to a business model that produces better incentives than what the dominant online media platforms currently offer. When we started this company five years ago, we thought that the world might look a little different if readers and writers, rather than the companies that want to sell them stuff, were the customers. And we believed that interesting things could happen if writers were rewarded for building trust with readers rather than making viral content.
And interesting things have happened.
Today, there are more than 20 million monthly active subscribers and 2 million paid subscriptions to writers on Substack. Some of the world’s most celebrated writers are here—, , and , to name a few—and they have been joined by a new generation of writers who are building their livelihoods on Substack, a cohort that includes , , and , as well as new institutions such as , , , and many more.
Even more interesting things are still to come. As we move into a new phase of growth, we are eager to push the Substack model further.
Recently, a small team from our San Francisco office visited New York to meet with writers and get feedback on how to evolve the product. Some of these writers were just getting started on Substack, but most were well established, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from subscriptions. One of the key themes that emerged was their belief in the Substack model—which guarantees their ownership and independence, as well as control of their relationship with their audience—and their desire for it to translate to more of their online experiences. A common refrain was: Please save me from social media.
In the months ahead, we will work with writers to explore how we can give them more power to publish in whatever formats they want and to find new audiences on their own terms. We will also work with readers to help them be part of conversations that add to, rather than subtract from, their lives, and to reclaim control of their attention.
As we do this work, we will remain extremely conscientious in making sure that Substack remains Substack. With every feature we build, as ever, we will stay true to the following principles:
Great work is valuable and deserves to be rewarded with money. That means that publishers should have a way to make a living, or even a fortune, from doing the work they believe in. Money is the fuel that makes the entire engine work, and it’s a healthier, more honest metric than “eyeballs” or engagement.
The people have the power. That means that publishers own their content and relationship with their subscribers, that they have complete editorial control, and that they keep the lion’s share of the revenue generated on the platform. It also means that readers and consumers choose who they enter subscription relationships with.
A free press and free speech are fundamental to a trustworthy media system. That means we take a hands-off approach to content moderation and instead support community moderation, where publishers set their own terms of engagement for their community, and readers choose which communities suit them.
We help readers take back their minds. On Substack, you are the customer. We want to help you be intentional in determining your media diet. We don’t seek to trap you in an attention game that can never be won, and instead we want to help you find and spend time with work that you deeply value.
These principles act in service of the broader Substack mission: to build a new economic engine for culture.
We believe that by working with culture makers to build this engine, we can do more than simply halt a decline; we can contribute to a system that can be better than any in history—a system where there is growth instead of decay, where people have more power than unaligned algorithms or mad kings, and where the central currency is trust.
This mission is about creating alternatives to old models that are reaching the end of their usefulness. It’s about improving the economy behind the cultural systems that drive society. And it’s about more than just writing and journalism; it’s about all of the arts and sciences, and all other expressions of culture.
Our goal is not merely to offer an alternative to social media, but to create the conditions for culture makers to produce amazing work that would never have been possible under the old systems. That doesn’t mean a wholesale redesign of the technologies, but it does necessitate a full reconsideration of the business models that are pushing those once-great platforms into ever more compromised territory.
We believe that together we can build the most valuable media economy the world has ever known—an economy where value is measured not only in dollars but also in quality, in good-faith discourse, and in creating an internet that celebrates and supports humanity.
That is the internet we want to live with. That is the world that we want to live in. Thank you, to all Substack writers and subscribers, for your continued help in trying to build it.
A new economic engine for culture