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Introducing Substack Pledges
A simple way for readers to express their support for writers
Today we are excited to announce Pledges, an easy new way for readers to support your work. Pledges help writers build confidence that readers love and value their writing, and that they could succeed with a subscription model. We started rolling out Pledges in December, and the feature is available to all writers today.
When I was a full-time writer, I obsessively looked for signals that my work mattered to people. I constantly refreshed the stats dashboard to see how many views my posts were getting and how those numbers compared with my peers’. I’d then go to Twitter and search for the post URL to see if anyone was discussing my piece there. It was needy and uncool, I know, but most writers do this. We’re driven by doubt and insecurity. We want to know if we are producing something that someone—anyone—finds valuable. When positive feedback comes, it peps us up a bit, a small high that lasts almost until the next post.
Those highs are expensive on today’s internet, and the lows are cheap. Often, the work we pour our souls into goes unnoticed or unremarked-upon. Sometimes the only feedback you get is negative—a drive-by comment from a stranger who casually, unknowingly ruins your day. The worst is when the negativity is performed on social media, especially in the hands of a possessed mob. We curl into balls, protecting our vital organs from potential attacks. Many of us forget to unfold again.
But what if there were a social system on the internet that rewarded great work? With Substack, we are trying to build a system that incentivizes exceptional thinking and writing. Our new feature, Pledges, advances that vision.
Pledges give readers the power to proactively express their love and support for writers. When subscribing to a free Substack, readers can now pledge and commit to paying for a future subscription to that publication. The writer then knows that they can rely on those recurring payments if they enable paid subscriptions. Writers can do all of this without changing what they publish. They just need to flip a switch.
Many writers don’t like to ask people if they would be willing to pay for their work, even if they would very much appreciate knowing. Pledges takes the asking out of it. They don’t need to do any work to set up or manage pledges. If they haven’t yet enabled paid subscriptions, their prospective subscribers will be presented with the option to pledge a monthly or annual payment at a price determined by the writer. The writer need not create a special marketing page, devise a business plan, or become a salesperson. Nor do they need to put an upturned cap at their feet. The readers can decide for themselves to put a little spark in the writer’s brain by pledging their support. (And if a writer doesn’t want pledges, they can turn the feature off at any time in their dashboard.)
We have been working with a number of writers to build this feature, which has been live since December. It has already proved powerful. In the first month alone, thousands of readers have pledged almost a million dollars to writers they love. This kind of feedback has been deeply affirming for those writers, especially those who were still deciding whether or not to turn on paid subscriptions.
When readers pledge, they can also leave a private message of encouragement. These pledges and messages appear in the writer’s dashboard.
We started Substack because we believe great writing is valuable. Pledges make it easier than ever for readers to show you that they value your work—that they appreciate and want to support you. Now you can get those signals of value without needing to hunt for them.
Pledges work on autopilot. If you have Pledges turned on, existing free subscribers will see prompts to “Pledge your support” from the subscribe buttons on your publication and in your posts.
If you have questions about Pledges, head to the support center. As always, please feel free to leave feedback and ideas in the comments.