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Hi Hamish, thanks for writing this! But it feels more like a description of the program, which I think was already pretty well understood, rather than a response to any of the questions about it. Specifically, some questions I have are:

Why is it secret who is being recruited for Substack Pro? I would think it would be to both your advantage and the writers advantage for Substack to put some extra promotional muscle behind these writers, which presumably you expect will be highlights and ambassadors of the platform. Keeping the Pro deals a secret is weirdly the opposite of that.

Several people who have chosen to reveal that they are Substack Pro writers recently have a history of transphobic writing, harassment and abuse, or both. You have said you don't intend to make editorial decisions with this program but recruiting writers and paying them to build an audience on your platform IS an editorial decision, whatever your intent. Are you concerned at all about how closely the Substack brand is coming to be identified with a particular group of extremely right-wing and transphobic writers, some of whom you recruited specifically?

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Thanks Rusty, there are a lot of Today in Tabs fans here at Substack.

Being in Pro is not a secret so much as it's up to the writers themselves if they want to share it. We are helping them jumpstart their independence, but we don't require them to be 'ambassadors' for us unless they choose to be. Some folks would rather avoid being in conversations like this one, and we respect that.

I don't think there is anyone in the program who can remotely be fairly characterized as "extremely right-wing and transphobic". While we are sensitive to (and have written about) the need for moderation, I worry about the degree to which some people conflate strong disagreement with charges of extremism, abuse, etc. We support writers' freedom to write for the people who have chosen to read them – as well of course, as others' right to disagree with them, make better arguments, or to simply unsubscribe.

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"I worry about the degree to which some people conflate strong disagreement with charges of extremism, abuse, etc." <-- This is it in a nutshell. There are a lot of great writers who have been unfairly smeared as bigots because they don't toe the correct tribal lines.

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Lmao I would also rather avoid being in conversations like this one! But your choice to fund some abusive writers has forced this conversation upon me, unfortunately.

What seems very reasonable, to me, is that a program of advances by a publisher would be at the very least done in the open. I don't think the amount you're advancing anyone needs to be public, but I can't think of any reasonable business or privacy reason a simple roster of the current Substack Pro writers would have to be secret. If you believe that the list of writers you have taken a buisness bet on needs to be kept secret, I would genuinely like to know why. Otherwise I think it would clear up a lot of the mistrust by simply being open about who's in the program.

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This seems like a pretty bad faith response when he explains the reason why in the second sentence of his comment. There are so many valid reasons a business might keep financial investments private. More to the point, I don’t think there’s anything Substack could actually do that would clear up the distrust. The pushback is pure tribalism - writers in the out group are being paid, therefore Substack must be bad. There’s so response or step Substack could take that would be acceptable. Even if they immediately fired all the writers who have committed thoughtcrimes, it still wouldn’t be enough because this isn’t some principled stand against injustice, no matter what you tell yourself. It’s just tribalism. And anyone who goes against the tribe must be punished, right?

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Dude, any writer who gets an advance for a book is public knowledge.

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I bet one of the main reasons is that many people here subscribe not just to access hidden content but to support (some writers barely paywall anything). They may rightly think that if people knew that their subscriptions during the first year went mostly to Substack, less would subscribe, affecting Substack's predictions on how many people would subscribe, and ruining the whole program. With books, people pay mostly for access to the book itself.

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Do you have some examples of writers in the Pro program that you think are abusive and that are very probably taking net money from substack due to the program?

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Have you read your own TOS? from the content guidelines;

"Substack cannot be used to publish content or fund initiatives that call for violence, exclusion, or segregation based on protected classes. Offending behavior includes serious attacks on people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or medical condition."

You allow Graham Linehan to write for substack, who has directed harassment towards trans women, written many articles advocating for trans women to not be in public restrooms, swimming pools, and other public places, and at times been outwards hateful towards transgender people. This violates the content guideline of content that "call for... exclusion, or segregation based on protected classes."

The same goes for Jesse Singal, except he's spent a lot of his time on trans exclusion from healthcare. He writes almost exclusively about trans issues, about how we shouldn't listen to trans people, we should listen to him, and about how he thinks that trans people are forcing children to be trans and therefore trans healthcare for children should be stopped (excluding trans people from healthcare).

These are both extremely right-wing and transphobic positions, being advocated for and funded on your platform. The idea that trans people shouldn't be able to use a public toilet would disallow trans people from travelling beyond their homes the same way it was used against women before public restrooms for women were available. The idea that trans children shouldn't receive healthcare is on its face laughable: why are we getting in the way of doctors and patients making informed decisions about their treatment?

This is a pitiful response. You aren't even trying.

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Literally everything you said about Jesse Singal is a lie. Like, every word is just straight up fabrication. I know people claim that about him on Twitter, but it doesn’t make it true. Just lies and smears and insinuations all the way down.

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You either believe in gender identity segregated spaces or sex-segregated spaces, people should be able to argue for women's privacy and safety even though it does not reflect your desires, beliefs or politics.

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The problem is that the platform promoted trans writers when it launched, and has gone on to give money directly to people who spread misinformation about trans people for their own profit. That misinformation often leads to hatred of the trans community, or is the result of such hatred. Many of those authors will then use their platform to direct their followers on a hate campaign against trans people. I won't name any names or cite specific examples because I don't want to be bombarded with hatred, and that honestly should explain who has the power in this dynamic. Hint: it's not trans people. We're just asking for people to not spread misinformation and hate speech about us

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The problem is that writers like Jude Doyle can lie about and harass other writers with impunity. Then, if those writers dare to defend themselves, even in the softest possible terms, Jude Doyle and her sycophants turn around and say "Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!" It's DARVO behavior, and it's gross. These are the same writers who are so quick to say "Free speech isn't a problem, you just don't want to face the consequences of your speech," or "Criticism isn't censorship!" Yet the second they face even the mildest pushback - in this case a professional request to correct an outright lie - they pretend to be the victim of a harassment campaign.

The problem is this ridiculous meme that merely by existing, writers you don't like are "directing their followers on a hate campaign against trans people." Of course, these claims are never, ever, ever backed up with evidence or screenshots. In fact, when someone like Matt Yglesias asks for receipts for these lies, Jude Doyle will turn around and say that is further evidence of harassment. (He's smearing Matt Y. on Twitter right now for "defending conversion therapy" and being anti-trans.)

Isn't Jude Doyle leading a hate campaign, too? People have been smearing and telling straight-up lies about Jesse Singal for years, and yet if he dares to defend himself, even in the softest possible terms, that's vicious and transphobic harrassment. It's absolute nonsense, and the height of hypocrisy. There's a viral thread on Twitter that claims to show what's so evil about Jesse Singal, and you know what it doesn't contain? A single quote or screenshot from his actual writing. A single piece of evidence that he's some kind of chaser or stalker. It's all about "reading between the lines," and how even though he's saying X, obviously he's REALLY saying Y and Z. If anyone is the victim of harassment and a creepy obsession, it's Jesse Singal, not the other way around.

What is even the argument here? That writers like Glenn Greenwald should be permanently unpersoned? That it's immoral for ANY platform to pay them ANY amount of money ever again? And I'm guessing you would also say there are no free speech issues to worry about here.

I think the real problem here is that a bunch of mediocre writers like Jude Doyle are frustrated that they aren't getting offered bonuses or paid more. They're dressing up their grievances in the language of social justice and making themselves into professional martyrs because that's the only way they can get attention.

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You are absolutely right. If people have problem with Substack, they should be on Medium, which tolerates Jude Doyle's intolerance, hatred, and spreading of disinformation. Believing in scientific knowledge and facts does not make a person a "transphobic hate-monger" (to quote Jude Doyle's descriptions of dissenting voices.

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I just joined Substack because of all the publicity about how journalists and writers can actually make a living here, but now I wonder if those were only the Substack-paid writers. I am not going to encourage my followers to sign up for the paid subscription until/unless I am sure I will stick to this platform. Does Substack provide any public information on how many writers are profiting from subscriptions?

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There are only just over 30 writers have participated in Pro so far, out of many thousands on Substack. Those writers still get readers pay to subscribe to them like anyone else.

We started experimenting with Pro in September 2020. By that point there were hundreds of thousands of paying subscribers across the Substack network, and there were already publishers making more than a million dollars in annualized revenue.

Successful writers would actually make *more* money if they didn't participate in Pro. Many choose not to participate for exactly this reason. Those who participate exchange some financial upside for extra security in the first year. Here is a firsthand account of this from a writer who chose to participate https://twitter.com/mattyglesias/status/1372637784075337733

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Chris-- I'm really encouraged by your responsiveness and helpful explanation of the monetization aspect. I wrote my first book (Emily Gets Her Gun) based on my reporting for a newspaper website in a series which made people want more each week or few days. I have an idea for another series that I think could be a book but may work in a newsletter format and then I can keep it in real time. I appreciate the reply so I can make a good decision before promoting my newsletter here. -Emily

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It's this kind of answer that doesn't build confidence in the platform. If the pro program isn't open to every user of the service, then it represents an editorial choice. If the cast of "pro" writers tend to show similarities, it may call into question your platform. By refusing to share that information, you naturally persuade others to merely assume that the worst case scenario is true.

So much hype around substack recently has involved banal "culture wars" topics, which has grown into its own market again. If it looks like your actively recruiting for that, a number of other contributors and writers may naturally be turned off by the "independent/content neutral" claims made regarding the company. The cynic in me is assuming the worst at this point, which is why I don't pay anything to the service.

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> If the pro program isn't open to every user of the service, then it represents an editorial choice.

Why can't it represents their honest best estimations on which writers underestimate the subscriptions they would generate, thus justifying the business decision of including them in Pro?

It might very well be the case that in pre-substack media, certain types of writers are overpaid and others underpaid (relative to the genuine willingness of readers to pay to read/support them). So then Substack arrives, and there just happen to be less trans-rights-activist writers out there who are earning less than they could earn (and don't know so), than transphobe writers.

I am not saying this is the case, but this would be the charitable default position if there's no reason to think otherwise. And if so, I wouldn't call this an editorial decision. They would be kickstarting everyone, for a limitted time, to the best of their ability, while earning money from each writer in the pro program on avg.

Also, couldn't anyone offer such a program to anyone else? If you think any writer would earn X money here but they think that's too optimistic, offer an advance payment of Y% of (X - sth) in exchange for Y% of their subscriptions and get the free cash as Substack is doing.

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I think if you’re going to position yourself as a publisher (which, by directly paying advances, you are), then you look to publishing for how that’s handled. Publishers don’t try to keep their book deals on the D.L. Deals are regularly announced via trade mags like Publishers Weekly. These do not include amounts of money or anything like that. Just hey, this publisher acquired this book by this author. It’s very normal and standard and helps everyone see what different publishers are putting out. It’s not a privacy issue.

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Christopher, it was kind of you to come to this public forum and admit that Substack has a collection of writers on your payroll with such terrible, broken brains that your establishment finds it necessary to hide them, and yourselves, from any sort of public scrutiny lest you pee in your collective dungarees.

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So in a nutshell: "We don't want to say if we purposely recruited a discrimination campaign to our platform to distribute hate speech to our audiences, but we would love to entertain questions of 'Are Trans people, really people?' to our platform."

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I also Love to make up quotations out of whole cloth to make people look bad. Perfectly normal way to have a discussion lol

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Was this you?

TBWerthMar 13

"I worry about the degree to which some people conflate strong disagreement with charges of extremism, abuse, etc." <-- This is it in a nutshell. There are a lot of great writers who have been unfairly smeared as bigots because they don't toe the correct tribal lines."

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Yes? You’ll notice I used an actual quotation instead of making one up lol

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Yep, read into that about how much I care about your opinion about discrimination.

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You've just made a rather McCarthyite accusation here: "Several people who have chosen to reveal they are Substack Pro writers recently have a history of transphobic writing, harassment and abuse, or both." Oh? Do you have a list? Do you wish to explain how or why these unnamed writers are "transphobic"? All you've done here is prove why a platform like Substack is necessary.

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In reality, they are referring to Glenn Greenwald, who outside of whatever he’s accused of this week, is a human pile of trash that has damaged my career for many, many years.

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I read a Reason interview with Greenwald recently. He seems to have gone full-blown Trump apologist. Compares him favorably to Bush and Obama. I don't have a high opinion of those two either but WTF? I think he's bitter because his one hit wonder didn't bring him the huge reservoir of acclaim on the left he thought he was entitled too. Of course Tucker welcomes him with open arms

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I have one more question which is: do you understand that the decisions you make about who to offer funding deals to will affect a lot of other people's decisions about whether to use or stay on your platform? Have you factored this into your calculations about who will be a good bet for an advance?

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It seems obvious that they have. They're a business. A toddler would have thought of this point (and it seems one did.)

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Glenn Greenwald has been a complete abusive asshole to me for like 8 years.

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I like the free speech offered here. All kinds of speech are allowed here, and as long as that keeps up, I will stay and participate.

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TL, DR: You just did a "both sides have points" regarding bigotry and those who are against it.

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While I agree with Substack's over point that because subscription is opt in, then folks are choosing to receive content that works for them. However, Substack explicitly funding writers who take certain viewpoints is not a neutral choice. If Substack chooses to fund whomever has a large following, it is signing on to financially support those writer's viewpoints. And if those viewpoints endorse bigotry, then Substack is funding bigotry.

I think it makes sense that you wanted to grow the program slowly, but at this point the lack of transparency seems to keep Substack safe from having to defend their choices.

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What if other people have a different definition of bigotry than you do?

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I'm sure some people do, since we redraw the lines one who deserves compassion a lot. But again, if Substack was willing to be transparent about who they were financially supporting, then consumers could make an informed decision.

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I’m pretty sure the dictionary clearly defines what bigotry means and so does federal law.

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Fair enough. So do you know any author who has been proved guilty under federal law?

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No. See. How this works is... It is your opinion that someone is a bigot, and your opinion holds no authority. Don't subscribe. If you feel the need to play this game where we all fight to de-platform anyone we dislike, eventually everyone else will play that game too, and people you agree with will be de-platformed.

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Thanks for sharing this, Hamish. It's very straightforward in terms of explaining that what the writers in who you invest are writing is less significant than your ability to make money off what they're writing, which is a sound capitalist principle.

Substack's a wonderful tool, which I've been using for the last three years, and I've always said that if I'm not generating as much income from my writing as other people who started from the same first square as me, that's on me, not on you. By all means, make the tool freely available to people with a wide range of viewpoints, and when they start to generate revenue from that tool, take a reasonable commission. That's a level, non-preferential playing field I can get behind.

Substack Pro is a different situation. In principle, Substack Pro is taking the money that I (along with everyone else) has generated for Substack and using it to underwrite other writers—writers who I may or may not have chosen to support with my own money, given the opportunity and the agency to make that choice. We can never be completely sure, because of your (entirely reasonable) decision to exercise discretion about who's getting Substack Pro money, but it seems fairly likely that, without getting into specifics that others might use to derail this conversation, Substack Pro IS supporting writers I wouldn't support with my own money, even if it is also likely supporting writers I would.

I do not want to generate revenue that would be used to underwrite and promote illiberality. But I love using Substack to produce a newsletter that many people are reading for free—certainly more people than are currently paying for it. With that in mind, I'm exercising the option to suspend the billing cycles on my few paid subscriptions, and making my newsletter entirely free for the foreseeable future.

This will, at a practical level, frankly not hurt Substack much, but in the same way that you take comfort in knowing that you've done as much as you can to generate as much revenue for Substack and its investors as possible, I'll take comfort in knowing that I've done as much as I can to avoid supporting the careers of writers I cannot support.

This is a decision I'm making individually, and I neither encourage nor discourage anyone else running a newsletter on Substack to follow my lead. I see other writers doing nothing; I see other writers preparing to relaunch their newsletters on what they hope will be more better platforms. This is the choice that works for me.

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I wish there were transparency, here or elsewhere, about who Substack is recruiting for Substack Pro.

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Read the article again. They are NOT "recruiting". They are giving a form of interest-free loan. Do banks give you a list with all the names they give loans to? 🙄

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The respect is massive and the well-wishing sincere. Congratulations on building my favourite writing platform and may this just be the beginning.

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I love this platform.

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This program sounds excellent. As someone new to Substack and just beginning my writing career (though I've been writing for a long time), I'm excited to hear of the resources and programs you all at Substack are investing in and offering. Thank you!

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I am a 74 year old woman who has a lot to say. I would like to post my thoughts or discuss my journey through life via contributions on my Substack site. I haven't been that active due to various setbacks. but remain energized by the existence of the Substack community.

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Bravo, good idea to continue building an ecosystem of free writers.

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I guess s'stack is a community. It is a difficult decision to triage those who are different. I never thought this would happen because Fox News and other outlets are available. At the end of the day those with alternative opinions can have their own s'tack sites. We have choices and S'stack should not be closed to those who think differently. There is a list of contributors and we choose accordingly. A community is diverse in many ways and I earnestly hope that s'stack will be there for all of us no matter what we think or who we are.

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Many of the comments below are suggesting that freedom of speech be banned just as it is on facebook, youtube etc. The refreshing thing about substack is that it is uncensored. The rest of the media only tolerates the views it is paid by Bill Gates, Klaus Schwab et al to push. Whereas here on substack I can learn true facts about lockdowns and why demonstrations for freedom are cruelly policed. I can discern for myself whether a writer is telling the truth. This is a place where we can disagree with one another. But if you want censorship or the banning of opinions that you do not share, then go to the platforms where one is only allowed to spout the propaganda on TV tthat has been hypnotising so many millions of people over the last year so that they have sleepwalked obediently into losing their freedom.

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Am so glad John Waters told his followers about his newsletter on Substack, and also so glad to have thus found Substack. A rare censorship-free place to go to read and write.

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John Waters--I didn't know whoa!!!

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Hi Suzanne, am not sure what you didn't know. Do you mean you didn't know John Waters publishes his writing on substack? He does, and his writing is a rare voice of sanity. Thank you for commenting.

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Thank you for this article Hamish, have been very impressed with the writers and articles on substack, Does one apply to substance pro or are they contacted after being chosen... Kind Regards, Regards, Sarah (w Jacques)..

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If you’re interesting, or different, or disabled, don’t count on them contacting you. The “white power” of Substack is staggering.

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You are right. One world is not so one after all. What if someone like Cornel West or other outstanding Black thinkers would join. I used to adore Ta nehisi Coates but he has gone to the dark side of comic books or whatever. Let's invite them!!!! Read Coates article in the Atlantic called "the case for reparations." It's incredible. You will learn things that thought you already knew. Or "Between the World and Me" such a beautiful book.

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I would buy stocks at Substack if I could. Long live all of those who truly care about the decentralization of knowledge, information, and also, money. Facebook and Twitter may, could, thrive with similar products, but those juggernauts won't have the loyalty that Substack will have. There will be "Substackers." Culture, values, and principles are everything.

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