246 Comments

I appreciate the desire for the platform to serve the users and not the other way around. However, I don’t know that you’ve done that as much as you think.

You highlighted the people who inspired Substack as a model and platform. What you didn’t highlight is the fact that they were successful before Substack was a thing. How many of the creators who are making money didn’t come from somewhere else and had success there? What number of creators are organic to the platform and now make a living doing it?

This is an important aspect that you should do more to offer those of us who are smaller creators.

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*"This is an important aspect that you should do more to offer those of us who are smaller creators."*

What more specifically can be done? Substack does a lot to support everyone's efforts here.

Unfortunately allure falls on the creator to solve and handle. No amount of cajoling or recommending (on Substack's part) can force people to subscribe and then possibly pay for a subscription. If the creator's content is subpar people won't engage.

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I would disagree with that on multiple levels. You assume that anyone who isn’t having success must by definition be creating subpar content.

They highlighted the fact that their top creators are making millions of dollars. How many writers are making $2,000 a month? Or $5,000 a month?

Highlighting the top creators is fine. But you don’t have to specify the particular creators names who are only making $2,000 a month. Just release the numbers for the percentage of writers who have not made millions of dollars. How many writers are making zero dollars? Why doesn’t Substack want to be transparent about that information? Would it make them look bad?

Your assertion is that quality is associated with money. But by that definition, drug dealers and pharmaceutical companies and weapons manufacturers are creating the highest quality content. Substack itself has made this error. Assuming that money is a reflection of trustworthiness. But do you trust the military industrial complex? The pharmaceutical companies? Drug dealers?

Some of the most well known writers in history died penniless and unknown. They only became widely known after their death.

You’ve made multiple logical errors in your theory of the platform.

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Gentlemen. As a career musician who made a living in New York for 30 years and has recorded, performed and toured with many of the biggest stars in the business, allow me to make a point.

The cream no longer rises to the top. Why? Because it's drowning in lowfat milk.

In order to be a successful solo artist (be it in music, writing, visual art, whatever) it is absolutely necessary to be in the public eye. That takes a budget and a staff. Otherwise you cannot break through the morass of mediocrity surrounding you.

Indie artists can never compete with companies who have a budget and a staff.

That explains the "overnight success" phenomenon on Substack. People make a name for themselves with Miles Davis or the equivalent, then if they parlay that cred effectively they can go on to have a great career.

I agree with Andrew that Substack could do more for the talented writers on its platform who don't have the benefit of their own budget and staff.

I must close my comment at this point, since I have neither budget nor staff and someone has to do the laundry and feed the dogs and then work on a new article.

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I appreciate the general support. That is part of my concern for sure.

I hope you get everything done you need to do today.

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what a swell reply!

And your earlier requests

for more info

on us writers

who are not rolling in dough

are bang on

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Thanks for considering my view.

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"Indie artists can never compete with companies who have a budget and a staff."

True enough, but not all Indie artists are trying to break out (or is it in?). Many simply do it out of love of their craft. For me, that's what makes them interesting. Free reign, no competing interests other than the day job you'd have to have anyway. What's not to like:)

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Yes there is that faction as well.

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yeah, that is what I am at present. But I have my dreams.

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"I agree with Andrew that Substack could do more for the talented writers on its platform who don't have the benefit of their own budget and staff." I am only hoping they will leave me alone. That's is ALL I even hope for. My views are not the same as any certified, viable, legitimate interest group. I am an actual individual. I just want to survive as that, that is ALL.

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"Only 2000 dollars a month," for doing what you love from the comfort of your home which can be anywhere because it isn't tied to a meat space employer? Maybe you need to adjust your expectations and move to a place with a cheaper cost of living, and be grateful if you are making thousands of dollars a year as your own boss, with your own schedule working from the comfort of your home with no commute?

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I’m not putting down people who make 2,000 a month. I would love to make that amount personally. I’m nowhere near that level.

My point is simply to contrast the “top performers” on Substack with someone who is making comparatively less than millions of dollars. They are just as valid as the million dollar earners. Yet Substack repeatedly fails to do so.

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You keep making this accusation but fail to substantiate it, I find the algo here shows me a good mix of authors famous and not famous. Now I don’t use “explore” maybe that’s more biased, but the home feed once it knows what you like here is excellent compared to other social media like Twitter, Facebook, Insta, etc.

Perhaps having a little more gratitude for having a good alternative would serve you well?

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I started this by saying that I appreciate it. I do have a lot of appreciation for the platform. But that doesn’t mean that Substack is perfect.

Here’s a concrete example:

Substack highlighted a group of writers who started at the exact same time as me. Literally February 2021 for both me and them. According to the article Substack wrote, they were writing the same amount of content and the same schedule as I have.

The difference between me and them? They came from the entrepreneurial world and had started several companies with investors. I had a zero budget for marketing. They had investors giving them money to pay for ads on social media.

Yet they were highlighted as a “success story on Substack”. They didn’t succeed on Substack. They were successful people who came to Substack. There’s a difference.

Substack has done that consistently. They had an article about people “starring from scratch on Substack”. But the people who they highlighted were a tenured professor and the former editor of a magazine. They didn’t “start from scratch”. But it was portrayed by the platform as such. Literally the title of the article used those words.

Just because I have criticisms of the platform is not an indication that I’m not grateful to the platform for what I can do on it. But I want Substack to succeed and actually live up to the values it claims to have.

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" You keep making this accusation but fail to substantiate it, " I love this guy.

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"My point is simply to contrast the “top performers” on Substack with someone who is making comparatively less than millions of dollars." That's fair. I make ZERO. Think that will protect me somehow?

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that is the "successful" type talking. My I NEVER visit Mr. Rane's site. However u spell it. I don't care about him. Mney cares about him. He lves money. He does everything fo a few cents. Wow. 2000 ollars awesume bud. What do you think you are? My hero? Wow. 2000 dollars. Man, I cannot get over that!

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You literally can't read Jew. Proud of yourself?

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100% right on. “Just release the numbers … How many writers are making zero dollars? Why doesn’t Substack want to be transparent about that information? Would it make them look bad?”

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1) I still know many people who have never heard of Substack. They could start a marketing campaign to attract more readers (if they already have one great). 2) They could highlight stories from people who truly started from zero, not people who transitioned from journalism or ssm with large followings that 'started from scratch.' 3) They could facilitate a a free training courses for writers (like they are doing right now for those who are already doing well - not sure if they have to pay). 4) Encourage, incentivize, and make it easier for well-known writers to cross post with lesser-known writers. 5) Similar to how Pandora used to be (maybe its still the same, spotify does this as well), curate known songs you like intermixed with discovery songs. I think they do this with 'recommended posts.' There could be layers to this, but I wouldn't mind getting something more frequently to discover new writers in my areas of interest. 6) Maybe some type of awards show/opportunity that encourages, incentivizes, and makes it easier for both well-known writers and lesser-known writers to be recognized. 7) Facilitate opportunities for writers in the same topic or in the same location to connect and support one another.

These are the seven I came up with in 10 minutes. If I worked for Substack full time I could probably come up with more and/or put some of these into action.

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Ohh also showing stats on what's working: should I allow comments from free subscribers (is that a feature?), when to paywall, best days to send articles, titles not to use, best practices etc. This should be covered in the course but published as well as people who are wanting transparency on metrics of writers, paid subscribers etc.

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But how does one judge what "subpar" is? The point is to allow them in. It is called freedom of speech, and assembly, and the press. When you exclude sincere, non-violent persons then there's a problem. They will not ADMIT to excluding something like "sincere non-violent" persons, but that isn't the point. Somehow, it all comes down to fascist exclusion (probably, like Germany, under the pretext of "anti-fascism"). The POINT is they will do it. We need to fight back. And hard. But then you are being violent. See how they get you? I guaranteed this: any true "individuals" are already being targeted and lined up for removal.

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Yes I have been generating my own mojo for my paper cut here, and it is now a substantial part of my income.

https://whispertrees.substack.com/p/a-fully-gallery-of-paper-cut-art

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Exactly. " What you didn’t highlight is the fact that they were successful before Substack was a thing " So, there is big "club." And if Substack does not conform then poor Hamish also has no friends.

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"Today, for good or ill, the fate of the vast majority of the world’s creators rests in the hands of Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Sundar Pichai, and the Chinese Communist Party."

That is a massive ill. Glad Hamish, Chris, and the Substack team are ushering in the Sovereign Creator Era and defending free speech. They are the reason why all the best content, communities, and relationships are on Substack now. The culture is healing.

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I’ve often thought that gleaning was a beautiful practice. Not harvesting every square inch of my field’s abundance and allowing those with less good fortune wither through their circumstances or station in life to work a bit to gather sustenance might be extrapolated to business models. Might we think of a way the drivers and shakers on this platform could voluntarily share their wealth somehow without handing out or donating a portion of their abundance?

We could perhaps have a year of Jubilee where everyone’s subscriber level gets reset to zero every 7 years. ;0)

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Yes Tim,

A variation on a theme - Hand spraying thistles on the farm today, a few are flowering and the wild bees are bathing in the downy, purple heads getting at the pollen.

I stopped and left them to it realising that’s the best way - the bees will quietly give back. Give & take, ebb & flow…

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This is my dream feature for Substack subscriptions, based on what I've seen work in the TV industry.

Create a Substack $10 per month bundle. Allow people to subscribe to any three Substacks that opt in for the discounted price.

Yes, it brings each Substack less monthly revenue for those subscriptions. But the reality is that the subscribers who sign on for it are the ones who have been on the fence about subscribing. But being able to get a bundled discount of Substacks they are interested in supporting will be enough to tip the decision. Plus, it will help with churn, given that subscribers who struggle with the "is it worth full price?" question are the same ones most likely to stick with this plan.

Also, there's something catchy about the name "Substack Bundle."

One update. I wouldn't want this bundle to be vertical specific. In other words, let people bundle any Substack that agrees to it. I might pick a political Substack, one about woodworking and one from someone living in France who writes about French cinema.

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I’ve been hoping for the same thing to be introduced. As a writer I’ll confess to finding that checkmark motivating, but it’s so far from reach! As a reader, I’m always finding good reasons to pay for another quality Substack, but I’m also reaching the ceiling in terms of both time and cost. That said, I really love it here. 🥰🙏

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I understand about the cost ceiling. I'd subscribe to a hundred Substacks if I could afford it. And the bundle idea might also allow people to support Substacks in different verticals. For instance, a favorite political Substack, an entertainment one and one that just does some very quirky writing you'd like to support but can't at a full price.

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My thoughts as well. I began a political blog during the GWB administration in the lead-up to the Iraq War. It was a heady experience, and my subscriber list grew encouragingly. Then came the hackers and crazy stuff, and I abandoned it. Now I subscribe to half a dozen Substacks, and many of the readers I encounter there are starting their own. Some are interesting but it's prohibitive to keep adding subscriptions. That's why I haven't begun a Substack myself, and probably I won't. I am not interested in a new career, just staying informed and in touch with people with informed points of view in what I consider a pivotal time in our nation. Let's see how Substack performs over the next eight months.

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Ah, I remember that time very well. I broke some stories about Phil Donahue getting booted from MSNBC, which received a lot of attention at the time. It would have been nice to have Substack (or even Google Adsense) around back then to take advantage of it..

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Yes. I remember Phil from when his show was in Dayton, OH. His guests were easy feature fodder for the local paper where I worked. Media-wise, it seems like at least a century ago.

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Exactly: the diversified portfolio as sound investment strategy.

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Love this idea Rick - I'd also subscribe to many more if I could afford to. So much great writing on here and it feels good to support and encourage writers and creators. And I don't want to join for a month or two and then cancel due to costs.

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Substack has lots of nonfiction winners. Are there any fiction winners?

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Yes. Who are the top fiction producers, in both quantity and revenue? How long til all the NYT's bestsellers get here? Or are they already here? What is the best way to present a novel here? How can we make our stack our own little book shoppe?

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Let me know, as I'm new. And I'll let you know, when I find out. The best way to present a novel? Serialized weekly, the first three installments free, then paywalling the rest. At the end make the book available thru KDP Amazon, free to those willing to write an honest review. I don't see how this can miss. Of course it requires talent. Loads.

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I don't think 3 chapters is enough but it depends on the length of each.

I also am having second thoughts on having the books on Amazon at all because that reader becomes Amazon's customer instead of yours. Which defeats the whole purpose of being here.

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Heck the first paragraph should hook the reader. And if the first three paragraphs aren't enough, that's where my patience ends. As for Amazon, any publishing entails a split.

I think of Substack as a sort of magazine. In the past, serializing in magazines has led to great success in book sales.

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I am always advocating for a bundle. I’d happy share my revenue with other creators- it would be better than nothing (the case now)!

US based people are more prone to pay for subscription, Italian and European readers way less and this is a huge penalizing issue for European writers!

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Agreed - expect subscription burnout over time

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Let’s hope there is enough niches for everyone. Bundle is interesting idea - has pros and cons for sure!

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This was a fascinating read. As someone who found Substack by accident back in 2017, it definitely worked for my purposes at that time. Then, I went away for years and came back in 2023 after seeing that the world out there wasn't as creator-friendly as I wanted it to be. Now I have 3 publications here along with a brand new business, and I'm happier than a pig in sh!t with Substack as my actual living. 😂 You guys have done great things for creators here!

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Why not go one step further? A consumption model. I pay 10$, that never expires. For every post I try to read, I am told what I will be charged in cents. I accept and my balance reduces. This way occasional readers also pay and creators make money.

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I think others have raised this point as well. It’s up to Substack how they choose to operate but I think the main goal is to “find your people” who are happy to pay to read your content regularly.

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This is what PlebPay attempts to do. More micropayment walled. It’s a really interesting take on the concept but it requires a Strike account which apparently utilizes Bitcoin’s Lightning Network. I would imagine Substack can do something like this but it will probably require a major shift in how money is transferred on the platform. Stripe likely isn’t the right fit for that IMHO and the most viable solution probably involves asset custody of some kind on Substack’s end. That seems to be the route Twitter/X is going too

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The trouble with this suggestion is that I have to read the first 5%-10% of any article to figure out if the rest is worth reading - and say it's about 50% yes/no- then half of what I'm paying for are articles that I 'reject' but to which I have already given my time.

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Most of my SubStack subscriptions send out emails that have a few teaser paragraphs and then a "subscribe to read the rest" link. So, the micropayment could apply to reading the rest.

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Fair point ... but not having a smart-phone I can't do that because I can't 'read' to QR code ... then again, I'm a techno-luddite.

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You're doing great work, Kristi - so happy to hear it's working for you financially :)

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Thank you, Hamish, for creating this platform. It's been amazing and awesome to watch creators leave their aggregators like the NYT, and move to Substack.

"Anything that takes the power and wealth that was previously concentrated in the hands of a few and distributes it instead to millions of the world’s most creative minds is a step forward for society."

Perfectly expressed.

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Aggregators like the NYT is "shots fired" lol

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Yes, if the subscribers have cash to spend, not a problem. Way back, in fact in 1986, I worked with an exiled South African journalist, David Coetzee, who was based in London and I was in Brooklyn, New York. Of course no Web, no broadband and email was in its infancy and very, very unreliable (there were no standardised protocols for exchanging data). David produced a weekly print journal on Southern African affairs and he had a handful of US subscribers but with money, the State Dept, the CIA, the UN, universities, researchers, etc it was an excellent, well written and authoritative publication but posting the publication was time-consuming and expensive and relied on the transatlantic mail service.

Desktop publishing was in its infancy but I had one of the first Macs, a laser printer and Pagemaker and access to a high speed, Xerox copier/binder, the size of a small truck that one of my clients owned!

David would (try) to email the copy to me, and eventually I'd pour it into my empty Pagemaker template, format, print and feed it into the Xerox and out the other end, would come a perfect-bound publication. I would take the copies to the post office and send them to our subscribers. All being well, I could turn it around in a morning. I also made it available via my Bulletin Board System that ran on Red Ryder Host BBS software as well as feeding the texts to a couple of commercial News Aggregators, whose names I've now forgotten but the problem of getting sufficient income never went away given the nature of the publication. We ran it from 1986 to 1992. Groundbreaking stuff really, the only comparable product at the time was the Wall Street Journal, that used essentially the same process to move WSJ editions from the US to Europe via satellite. I used a distributive software system that piggybacked on long lines as they were called then. Oh for the WWW!

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Thank you for sharing this. I was involved with launching a newspaper's 5x/week online edition in 1996 and remember the challenges then and can imagine the workflow you mention in 1986. Great stuff!

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It would be nice for the web to feel less like four feudal lords competing for the same quarter-acre of unclaimed land. Here’s hoping.

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But what if we don't crave subscriptions, don't need or want followers, have no ambitions to be famous or wealthy? Perhaps all we want to do is to try to say something original or rarely heard and just have interesting conversations?

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I echo Michael on his points. I am not interested in making money on Substack, I just want an audience for my stories and observations, a way to share what I have learned and experienced in a long and unusual life. I would write most of these essays anyway because after a life of writing stuffy science, I enjoy the creative freedom of less formal writing. The downside for me is that I feel a bit of a freeloader, because Substack makes no money on my essays. Might it be possible to offer very low-cost subscriptions (e.g. 10% of the basic subscription) that went entirely to Substack???

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I have paid inscriptions to six or seven substacks, so feel I'm giving back! For the uninitiated, Walter is one of the world's foremost authorities on Ants. and an artist of note, a brilliant experimentalist, and a master woodworker! Where else but Substack could one ask questions of such a polymath authority!?

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In that case... Substack is still for you!

Though some of your die-hard readers (which now includes me) might be happy for you to toggle on paid subscriptions — as it would give them a chance to give meaningful kudos and show extra support.

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OK, I'll give that some thought. I might have an unreasonable aversion to making money on my writing. And I want to avoid the repeated urging to Upgrade to Paid that I see on some of my Substack subscriptions (some of which are indeed paid).

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Welcome aboard! but your kudos or brickbats for that matter would be equally meaningful to me whether or not you were paying for the privilege! Besides, in real life I am a failed scholar-monk and am enjoined not to charge even a red pence for Dharma! Or for my amateurish content! I basically admire everyone and whether you were a high ranking Leader of the Free World or a placard waver in front of the local cannabis shop, I would be honored by your comments! Really.

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Smart analysis of this remarkable business model and mission. The challenge will be to keep innovating to sustain the ecosystem and ensure its longevity.

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I think Substack is a great idea in principle, but as with streaming services, the paying model is way too expensive for people who would like a wide exposure to ideas. I currently subscribe to two online newsletters (neither anywhere near $100/year) plus two print magazines, two print newspapers and one online newspaper (and 3 or 4 TV streamers). I'm probably spending well over $1000/year on all of these and can't easily add more. I read several of the free versions but haven't fallen in love with any sufficiently to buy a subscription (not to mention that my wife and I share a budget and she may not want to indulge my hobby).

The bundle idea suggested in one of these comments would be helpful. I don't want to undervalue the writers, but I wonder how many of the paying users are journalists or academics whose employers provide a budget for them, or professional writers themselves, who can claim a tax deductions for subscriptions as a business expense. I just read for fun, so I don't have those options.

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What do you think is the sweet spot real world price to charge for a subscription? 5 bucks seems to be the most common.

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$5 may be OK, but that's still $60/year. I think I'm paying $25 for one subscription and $50/year for another; I'm not entirely sure about that one since it renews automatically. I could probably do $25 for a couple more, but I really wonder when I read columns that reference a dozen or so Substacks how the poster can afford them all.

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Indeed. Part of me says to make mine two bucks a month and see what happens.

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Mine actually is $2 a month $12 a year.

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Not dismissing your logic, but that $5 a month is price of cup of coffee in USA (or €3 in Europe). So let’s say I subscribe to 4-5 newsletters that I actually read for fun and knowledge, developed liking to the style and authors - I just ‘give up’ 1 cup of coffee a week. That’s not much for value I get.

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Love this piece. I truly think that there's also a maturity cycle from a lot of audience worldwide, to actually pay for good content. It's true in media, education, etc.

Long live long-form content & passion!

https://aliveinsocialmedia.substack.com/p/substack-the-great-return-of-blogging

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If a writer is willing to do the work, to be consistent, and provide content that's interesting whether it's nonfiction or otherwise, there will be an audience.

As a screenwriter, I tested ideas for stories on Reddit's No Sleep. This was back when No Sleep was a default. In a few hours I had hundreds of upvotes and was on the front page. By the next day I'd amassed thousands. Reddit was liberal then, but it's gone left, and posting anything without breaking countless arbitrary rules requires a progressive skill I'm not keen to adopt.

I'm lucking to be a paid screenwriter and currently in production on a feature franchise, but posting fiction on Substack is also a goal. The one thing miss most about Reddit was the interaction with readers.

For now, I'm a voracious reader and subscriber to Dallas Ludlum's Substack (he's an incredibly skilled writer) and reading Sasha Stone on the weekly, among others.

Thanks Substack, for creating a free platform for readers and writers.

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Congrats on the screenplay successes. I know how tough it is to get a script optioned let alone made into a feature.

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Elon has devastated TwitterX, Post.news is turning off the lights and closing the doors in 7 days, Facebook doesn't allow reporting on anything that has value, and Mastadon with its; let's call it limited functionality...

This is a great time for Substack. Kudos to the creators of the platform and the writers who populate it. I am currently a reader, but even I can appreciate excellence when I stumble upon it.

Kudos Substack, you guys are Rockin' it. By and for the creators. Taking the internet back one article at a time.

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Lots of bloggers were experimenting with similar models years earlier than that. I was making a few hundred a month via my WordPress members, PayPal, ads for non members, etc, and it was ramping all the way back in 2013, when I decided to quit. Bad decision money wise, but it was the right call for my sanity.

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Great essay. I am so excited to be a part of this. I feel like I am early in something big.

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Your business plan fit my needs perfectly. I know how to code and was figuring out which tech stack to use for my satire news website but my brother told me to check out Substack first. The fact I could leave whenever I wanted and you would handle all the coding made it a no brainer.

So yes, people can leave the platform but if it weren't for that I wouldn't be here in the first place. Not having to deal with coding is the cherry on top. Thanks Hamish!

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