Turn on your growth engine
Spend less time on marketing, and more time writing.
At Substack, our business model is simple: we only make money when you make money. This means we are eager to help drive long-term revenue growth for each Substack publication, encouraging us to invest in ways to help build your audience and increase your earnings. That’s why when you publish on Substack, you not only get the best, easy-to-use tools for subscription media businesses, you also get a world-class growth team that is always searching for ways to drive growth for your publication.
This year, I’m proud to share that we've made tremendous progress in helping writers grow.
One year ago, growth and marketing still mostly sat on the writers’ shoulders. The Substack network drove closer to 10% of free subscriptions in January 2022.
Through a suite of new features we launched this year—recommendations, our new apps, improvements to the web and discovery platforms, and more—Substack is now driving 40% of all free subscriptions and 12% of paid subscriptions.
And we’re just getting started. Our team is in the early stages of building a growth engine for each Substack publication. Next year we will continue to focus on building network effects to help expand your audience; creating an unmatched monetization machine; and further strengthening our process of continuous experimentation and improvement throughout the product. As always, you’re in control. If growth isn’t your priority, or if a particular feature isn’t a good fit, you can opt out.
Below is a more detailed look at the most impactful work we’ve done for writers in 2022.
Launched in April this year, our recommendations feature has driven millions of new subscriptions across thousands of publications, now representing 20% of new free subscriptions.
When writers turn on recommendations, they can choose to recommend other publications to their audience. These recommendations have been an extraordinary tool for audience expansion, while also keeping writers and creators completely in charge. For some writers, such as Lenny Rachitsky, the feature has been “game changing.” Lenny shared in October that 78% of his new free subscribers and 11% of paid subscribers were now coming from other Substack newsletters recommending him.
Most of these new subscriptions are generated by recommendations in the signup flow, where we continue to iterate on the optimal balance of driving free and paid subscriptions. As an example, we recently lowered the maximum number of recommended publications shown in the signup flow (from 7 to 3), optimizing for longer-term engagement and conversion to paid.
Beyond the signup flow, Substack sends a recommendations digest email, showcasing recommended publications and a blurb on why they were recommended. The digest email has opened up another channel of meaningful new subscriptions with a solid conversion rate to paid subscriptions.
Recommendations have been a definitive step toward building network effects within Substack. We’ll continue to evolve the feature to create the most long-term value for participating publications.
You can turn on or manage your recommendations in your publication dashboard:
Through Boost, writers like, , , , and more entrusted us to ensure their publication benefits from cutting-edge growth features and experiments, all aimed at expanding their audience and increasing their revenue. Today, Boost is mostly centered on using discounts and special offers at the right moment to maximize revenue. This is happening primarily on existing parts of the product—for example, showing a special offer when publications are being recommended in certain segments of the subscribe flow, which has driven a significant lift in the conversion rate to paid.
Another example is the recently launched pre-cancel offer, which is aimed at preventing a segment of paid subscribers from canceling, especially those who are on the fence. For publications opted-into Boost, when eligible paid subscribers are in the process of canceling a paid subscription, we offer them a free month as an incentive to not cancel.
So far, results have been promising. About 5% of people who see the free-month offer take it. Over 50% go on to renew their paid subscription after the free month. We’ll continue monitoring conversion after the free month and longer-term retention to improve the pre-cancel offer.
Longer-term, we want Boost to act like a light switch—turn it on when you’re ready to put the full force of Substack’s growth team to work for your publication. In the future, Boost could help you find the optimal price point for paid and founding tiers. We could also use Boost to optimize key surface areas, like choosing the best version of the cover page or subscribe flow depending on whether the user is a first-time visitor, where they came from, and other key factors.
As we look to next year, we’re excited to further build out Boost. If you have paid subscriptions on for your publication, you can turn on or manage your Boost setting in your publication dashboard:
Continuous iteration where it matters most
We’ve made a lot of progress on launching new features and opening up new growth channels. But nothing has been more impactful than setting up a process of consistent experimentation and improvement across key parts of the product.
As an example, over the past few months, we’ve shipped a series of new designs for the subscribe flow. Collectively, these improvements have driven a 7% lift in paid subscriptions platform-wide, so any writer with paid subscriptions turned on is making more money because of it. We’ve also seen a shift from monthly subscriptions toward annual subscriptions, which are better for the writer’s pocketbook. (Yearly subscriptions usually drive 10% to 15% more revenue in the first two years.)
Any writer who publishes on Substack will benefit from these constant improvements throughout the product. These gains won’t show up in your stats, but are often the most impactful benefit of publishing on Substack.
Supercharging the growth engine
We’re in the early stages of building a mighty—and ever-improving—growth engine that will give each Substack publisher the benefits of having their own 20-person growth team.
The platform we are building is one that empowers writers and creators. Expect our team to build tools that will give writers and creators the full powers of the internet so their work can have maximum impact, reach, and revenue without most of the drudgery that comes with running their own media operation.
We’re excited to continue building powerful network effects and growth features aimed at expanding your audience and growing your earnings. Leave us a comment to let us know how you think we can help you grow next year.
And if you’re considering creating a Substack, there’s never been a better time than now to get started.