In 2010, at 29 years old, I came to the US as a freelance journalist. At the end of the year, I tallied my pre-tax earnings and found I had made $35,000.
This is so powerful.
I started my career as a journalist at The Times in London. After that, I was a freelance for several years, writing for UK and international newspapers and magazines. I've seen firsthand the steady decline after 2008; and now this.
Hamish, I share your belief that the subscription model can be a revolution for journalists. And for writers of other kinds too. I'm building a readership on Substack around technology, social change, and our shared future. Building and owning your own email list is deeply empowering for any writer. It means true independence, and a direct relationship with readers, which increasingly I think is pretty much the most precious thing any writer can have.
That's there's 100,000 paying subscribers to Substack publications is something to celebrate. But there's clearly scope for this to be 10x, and then 100x. This is an insane and difficult time for writers, but massively exciting things lie ahead.
Substack is definitely one of the few platforms that gives me hope for the future of journalism and digital publishing in general.
Intuitively, many of us think that the internet and its scalability should lead to an increase in high quality content. However, ad based journalism has slowed this process down, and added unnecessary layers, middlemen, and costs, making this hope seem difficult to achieve.
I love how Substack cuts through all of this noise, and does what many platforms claim to do-let writers spend their time writing and connecting with their audience.
I recently wrote a post comparing over 50 blogging platforms:
Substack was pretty much the only option on this list that was:
2. Simple enough to allow anyone to use it
3. Offered integrated subscription based publishing, a website/blog, CMS, and an email marketing system
That, coupled with Substack's clear efforts to put there money where there mouth is and support writers, should allow Substack to win in the long run as a business. However, the best companies don't always win.
My greatest fear is other companies aggressively pivoting to adopt some of these features (enough to slow user growth on Substack and maintain the status quo). Luckily for Substack, most of these players are asleep at the wheel. But these entrenched platforms will eventually catch on.
My hope is that Substack makes an aggressive effort to expand its user base and begin building a moat around its business. Not just through luring in well known former journalists (which is amazing and I do personally enjoy) but by building a digital publishing "middle class" comprised of many writers, who are able to validate the 1000 Fan Theory.
Hamish, first of all, big thanks to you and your team for creating Substack. Reinventing (vs "saving") journalism is exactly what it needs. It's a matter of a business model not of the importance of journalism. If anything, these days, clear independent professional voices are more needed than ever, given the dominance of platforms that reach us everywhere, while being less than transparent about thier distribution algorithms. Substack has started providing a viable alternative to the old models and has been paving the way for the new generation of content distribution mechanism -- the one that puts the creators in charge while giving them a simple way to be compensated by their readers.
So far, Substack community connection has been one of the areas that appeared to prioritized lower than other features, so it's great to see you taking a step in this direction. Stronger connections within the Substack community and improved discoverability of publications will create network effects that will help taking Subsctack and all publications that use to the next level.
Looking forward to what comes next.
Yuri Alkin (publisher of Storius Magazine, now with a Substack edition)
Such a great post! I started in journalism in 2005 and there was no big digital publishing then. Yet, I made my space for my storytelling but often, I was worried about the lack of freedom as far as my writing was concerned. Substack has set me free, given me so.much power in my hands to let my writing flow, and I am loving it. I would love some mentoring to get myself more exposure and subscribers. I have filled up the form and am looking forward to getting on a call with someone cool :)
Last week has been incredibly sobering for journalists everywhere.
I've been a journalist for more than a decade, and currently work as an editor, but your post really struck a cord with me. In a way it's about future-proofing and diversifying your income stream. Long story short - I signed up last night and launched today. Thank you giving me the kick I needed.
Thank you for sharing this!
Though I am not a full time journalist, I do teach Journalism to middle schoolers and am a side content writer. We definitely undervalue words, clear communication, and good writing in our culture (we can see it playing out on social media where misinformation is lauded and shared widely). I've been encouraging others to support their local newspapers for this very reason.
It is a shame full-time journalists have a hard time receiving a proper salary. Like David posted below, I am excited about the future of supporting writers and journalists. Thank you Substack for providing this space for us to publish!
Yes I'm a writer of on-line content at https://colognehunt.com/ produced by way of a tribe of passionate warriors running voluntarily online from locations spanning the globe, I'm eager to nurture their ardour to make an impact using this platform.
As an author/editor/publisher of online content produced by a tribe of passionate warriors working voluntarily online from locations spanning the globe, I'm keen to nurture their passion to make an impact utilising this platform. We may not be professional journalists, but we are determined to persevere. Likewise, fellow Substackers, hang in there!
Great post Hamish, thanks for sharing. I really appreciate your honesty and offer of support. I love how you run your business, with transparency and openness. You personally answered my support emails when I was getting set up on here, and your team seem really connected to the needs of your users :)
Great post, Hamish. I have seen the decline take hold, not from the side of the journalist, but from the side of the editor. Less articles, less quality, less meaningful work reaching my computer screen. I was very excited when I first found Substack and I will be the first to kampai the champagne when the experiment pays off, but:
Substack makes sense but only if it takes the opportunity to mimic some of the best features of its competitors. I still love and hate Medium (love it because it makes it easy to search for great writing and hate it because 80% of its content is self-help BS) for its community features and it is a time when we need community more than ever. With Patreon, ko-fi, and so many other support/subscription models, Substack needs to differentiate itself enough to bring in people from all walks of life.
I have yet to start my newsletter here. I am following about 10 free. I have subscribed to none. Don't forget that you can get quality writing in great online sites of traditional publications for 8 dollars a month and all of Medium for 5. Email newsletters? Hell yeah. Sign me on. Lack of community features? It's not going to work in the long term. Separate subscription for each newsletter? That can pile up so quickly that this quality writing is going to be available only to the more comfortable wallets.
Let's see where this goes. I, the amazing people you mention in the newsletter, and all the wonderful writers who already commented will be here to see it through.
Honest, poetic, and full of purpose. Well done, Hamish. You've inspired me.
Interesting in 2009 on my PJNet.org blog I was pushing an idea I called Representative Journalism, which basically asked: Can you find 1,000 people who were willing to pay $100 a year or whatever to support a niche topic like endangered species in Florida. Although I got funding, I never successfully found a model to help make it happen. (However, I did built a niche site looking at youth justice issues, which still thrives. See. JJIE.org.) Apparently you have found the right model, congratulations. See more about RepJ here: http://pjnet.org/representativejournalism/
I am writing here. It is a fantastic tool.
I would like to know if i am free of censorship in your tool.
Thanks (read it)
I feel that this is a turning point for writers. The tech is there and niches are being carved all over the place. The question is where is your spot on the ecosystem and how do you get an audience.
I was a newspaper journalist for 6 years. I left because the pay wasn't sustainable for the life I wanted. I'm now in digital marketing but still enjoy writing.