What is a Substack publication?

At its simplest, a Substack publication is an email newsletter that you can charge money for. You write it, readers pay you, and everyone goes away happy.

As well as the newsletter, however, you get a free website, hosted by Substack at a subdomain of your choosing. Example: you.substack.com. Everything you send to your subscribers also gets published on your website. You can also choose to publish articles to your website that don’t go out by email.

You can decide on a case-by-case basis which articles are for subscribers only, and which ones are free to all. For email delivery, the free articles go to readers who have given you their email addresses but not their credit card details. Each time you publish a free article, the readers on the free list receive it by email with built-in buttons that encourage them to become paying subscribers.

On the web, articles that are available for subscribers only appear as a series of links at the top of your site under the heading “Subscriber updates.” Articles that are free to all are published in full on your site in reverse chronological order.

There are some characteristics that we think lend themselves well to this mode of publishing. For instance, we believe it’s more important to have a few people who love your newsletter than a lot of people who kind of like it. To achieve that, it usually helps to focus on a niche, such as local politics, endurance sport, or sustainable investing. In such a world, scale doesn’t matter as much as connection, and there are several paths to profitability. You might have 20 people who are willing to pay you $500 a year, or 40,000 who pay $50 a year.

This is the same logic behind Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 True Fans” concept—a core devoted following, even if it’s small, will help you to profitability. For paid newsletters, we set the minimum price you can charge readers at $5 a month or $50 a year because we want to serve writers who are serious about professional publishing. For some writers, Substack will help them earn meaningful income that supplements other earnings. For others, their Substack publication will provide their main source of income.

Our goal is to make a simple unified toolkit for people who want to publish newsletters and charge for them. We aim to do everything for you except the hard part: writing great stuff. If you want a DIY approach, there are plenty of options, such as those that can be found in the WordPress ecosystem. But our focus is on helping Substack writers maximize their earning potential under this model. Our product decisions are informed by everything we learn from the writers who use our software.

Here’s what you get with Substack:

  • A content management system that has been purpose-built for publishing paid newsletters.

  • Connection to a Stripe account to manage payments and receive money in your bank account.

  • A website built with mobile in mind that looks great and loads fast on any device and in any browser.

  • Analytics that show your email open rates, website pageviews, and subscriber counts.

  • Access to a growing knowledge database of best practices for running a paid newsletter business.

Here are some example Substack publications:

Do you want to get paid for your writing? Get in touch: hello@substack.com.