Substack is for independent writers
In recent days, we’ve heard from some people who are concerned that we might have been using Substack Pro, a program that funds writers to start publications on Substack, to support anti-trans writers. These feelings have been fueled by some misunderstandings of how the program works and our strategy around it. Some writers are considering leaving the platform. We have heard from others worried about drawing the ire of peers who are taking a hard line on these matters, and still others who worry that we will come under pressure and abandon our commitment to a free press.
We want to clear a few things up.
First, we do not fund Substack Pro with writers’ fees. We have designed the program to be self-sustaining, and it pays for itself. We reinvest any proceeds in the ecosystem and product.
Second, we are proud of the list of writers who are participating in Substack Pro. More than 30 writers have now signed Pro deals and they cover a range of issues, including politics, climate change, pop culture, sociology, feminism, history, health, literature, art, sports, and music. The program has already helped many writers make a living from their work – and in some cases, a fantastic living. The group includes a diverse set of viewpoints – though none that can be reasonably construed as anti-trans – and a range of backgrounds. More than half are women, and more than a third are people of color.
While we’re proud of the list, we don’t publicize it. The writers themselves can choose to share their own information if they wish, but we don’t require them to serve as ambassadors for Substack. Above all else, we believe in putting writers and readers in charge. That’s why Substack writers own their content, IP, and mailing lists. That philosophy extends to publicity around Pro. We defer to the writers.
So far, the small number of writers who have chosen to share their deals – coupled with some wrong assumptions about who might be part of the program – has created a distorted perception of the overall makeup of the group, leading to incorrect inferences about Substack’s business strategy.
We are dismayed by some reactions to the Pro program, especially among those who have been led to believe that we are using it to support anti-trans writers. We love, support, and read trans writers, and they have been an important part of Substack since the very earliest days.
We set out to build a system that gives power to writers, especially those who aren’t well accommodated by the dominant media structure. That’s why writers are free to leave the platform and take their readers with them, and it’s why they keep 90% of the revenue their publications generate through the platform.
We have been working to help writers from the very first day of the company, quietly reveling as more and more have made the leap into independence and seen their fortunes rise. We work closely with a wide range of writers and get to know them well. We commiserate with them through the low points and celebrate with them in the high times. We encourage them to believe in themselves, and try to show them that there is reason for optimism, despite the pervasive sense of despair in the media industry. We feel the same fears and excitement that all Substack writers feel, because many of us are writers and editors ourselves, or have worked in service of writers and creative people in other areas.
We have been thrilled with their success, in part because that’s also our success. Our business model makes that overt: Substack can make money only when writers do. But mostly, we are thrilled because the Substack model is working and has helped many of them change their lives for the better. They are producing some of the best writing on the internet.
In creating Substack, we knew we couldn’t cater to any one particular viewpoint or just a narrow slice of society. To build an ecosystem that could serve as a true alternative to the attention economy, we would have to host a broad range of views. And that’s what we have today.
Of course, we are not comfortable with everything that is published on Substack. We don’t endorse everything anyone says. But we endorse writer independence and autonomy. We endorse the free press. We endorse the ability to speak truth to power. We will support these rights for all writers, even when it is costly to our business. Always.
We understand the sincerely held concerns of the people who are calling for a more stringent approach to content moderation on Substack – and we know those concerns are rooted in valid experiences. We will continue to require all writers to abide by Substack’s content guidelines, which guard against harassment and threats. But we will also stick to a hands-off approach to censorship, as laid out in our statement about our content moderation philosophy.
We recognize that this is not a neutral position, but rather a principled one that reflects our beliefs. We don’t expect everyone will share those beliefs, nor will we try to force them to. Ultimately, some people will not want to participate in an ecosystem built around these values – and that’s okay. We respect their conviction, just as we hold to ours.
To writers who publish with Substack: thank you. We know there are other options – including from well-monied competitors who built the empires we are attempting to counter – and we will do everything in our power to reward your trust in us. No matter what, we are rooting for you, and we will be here for you, all the way.