We believe that great writing is valuable and what you read matters, so we have made it our mission to help writers flourish. Over the last four years, we have been building tools that make it easier than at any time in history for writers to connect with readers directly and make meaningful money.
Our bet is that, ultimately, millions of people will discover they can make money from their creative work and billions will find better things to read, watch, listen to, and participate in. We envisage a blossoming of culture, and a massive market correction that gives writers the financial respect they deserve.
We are in the very earliest days of this shift, but we are happy with the progress so far. Today, we can announce that there are more than 1 million paid subscriptions to publications on Substack.
These are subscriptions that didn’t exist before – they’re not being siphoned off from traditional media outlets or redistributed from other platforms. They represent a rush of new money into the media ecosystem, the vast majority of it going directly to writers.
Building for a new era
While Substack started off being most popular with bloggers, journalists, analysts, and academics, the platform has since also become home to podcasters, finance writers, comics creators, musicians, and authors who are serializing their books. There are Substacks about Dracula, animation, cocktails, bread, insect cuisine, construction physics, opera, text games, and textiles.
Our pitch to writers has always been: “We’ll take care of everything except the hard part.” You don’t have to know anything about tech or business to succeed on Substack. You can set up your personal media empire in minutes. With the subscription model, you can generate meaningful revenue without having to reach millions of readers. If you can convince a thousand people to subscribe for $5 a month, you’ll make more than $50,000 a year. A few thousand subscribers is enough for total financial security.
Substack writers have broken major national stories, brought calm in a time of tumult, and spurred a renaissance in culture writing. Many writers make their living on the platform, and others are building new empires from scratch. We’re accelerating the growth of a new generation of publishers through education and support programs such as Substack Grow, Substack Local, and Substack fellowships. Many millions of people are reading Substacks every week. The top 10 publications collectively bring in more than $20 million a year.
This is a good start, but it’s not enough.
If there is to be a blossoming of culture where writers and readers are in charge, our media habits need to shift away from the attention economy; there needs to be an alternate media universe based on different laws of physics: payments, not ads; trust, not engagement; considered thought, not impulsive reaction. Writers need to be able to build readerships in a system where great work can spread while they retain control and dignity.
We have started building such a system to unlock the power of human recommendations while ensuring that writers have full ownership of their content, intellectual property, and relationships with their readers – as well as the vast majority of revenue generated on the platform. As we look to the next phase of Substack, we will focus on giving ever-greater powers to a growing community of writers and readers.
In short, our master plan is:
Continue to improve Substack’s simple and powerful publishing tools, including expanding support for audio, video, and community-building features.
Grow the Substack economy to help writers connect with the services they need to do their best work and build thriving publications, such as editing, design, insurance, and financing.
Build, in partnership with writers, a discovery network that helps them cross-promote, collaborate, and connect with audiences independent of attention economy networks.
We embark on this next phase with optimism. The media landscape is still beset with problems, but we know now that there are reasons for hope. People are willing to pay for writers they trust. New types of publications serving previously ignored communities can succeed. Writers who pursue the work they most believe in can do better than merely support themselves – they can build thriving businesses and hire others to work with them.
We are betting that these dynamics will lead to a lively and incredibly valuable media ecosystem with low barriers to entry and a model that works for a much larger range of people than previously possible. Entirely new types of businesses will be created.
Four years ago, it was far from accepted that people would pay for newsletters en masse. Today, there are a million reasons to believe this opportunity is larger than anyone guessed. We see no reason why the trend will slow down. Next stop is 10 million subscriptions. And then we keep going.
Come with us.