The thinking behind Substack Pro
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?
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.
TL, DR: You just did a "both sides have points" regarding bigotry and those who are against it.
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.
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.
I wish there were transparency, here or elsewhere, about who Substack is recruiting for Substack Pro.
The respect is massive and the well-wishing sincere. Congratulations on building my favourite writing platform and may this just be the beginning.
I love this platform.
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!
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.
Bravo, good idea to continue building an ecosystem of free writers.
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.
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.
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.
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)..
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.