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Substack Is Taking Over the World (Kind of)

Substack is a hybrid blogging and email marketing app that kind of snuck up on me. I heard about it, and then I started seeing it mentioned all over the place. Now I’m digging in to better understand it – and share my research with you.


What is Substack?


From their home page:


“Substack is a place for independent writing. Subscribe directly to writers you trust.”


So … it’s like Medium, a fantastic platform. Their home page reflects this, as it displays a list of featured stories and a bunch of categories you can browse.


There’s a twist. Unlike Medium, writers can earn income through paid subscriptions.


The about page explains why this is a win-win:


When readers pay writers directly, writers can focus on doing the work they care about most. A few hundred paid subscribers can support a livelihood. A few thousand makes it lucrative.


Readers win, too. By opting into direct relationships with writers, we can be more selective with how we consume information, honing in on the ideas, people, and places we find most meaningful.


But there’s plenty of free content out there


Yes, there is. However, a lot of top content is behind a paywall. For example, you can only access four articles per month for free on The Atlantic. And writers on big sites don’t control their own work.


As a result, journalists, bloggers and other thought leaders are quitting their jobs and moving to the platform. As Forbes noted in this article:


“Journalists are flocking to Substack in hopes of gaining back … freedom—creative, editorial, as well as financial freedom…. They also have no obligation to stay on the platform. They can leave at any time—and bring their subscribers with them.”


If your favorite writer moves to the platform, you might need to pay to consume their content.


Former Yahoo News White House correspondent Hunter Walker, New York Magazine columnist Heather Havrilesky and New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel are all leaving or have left their full-time gigs to publish exclusively on Substack.


So, what does this mean for me?


A big benefit of publishing on a platform with such wide reach is discoverability.


Unless your search rankings are high, it’s hard for people to find your blog on their own. And unless they visit your site, they don’t learn about your newsletter/email list.


On Substack – just like on Medium – they can find you as they browse topics.


Also, you can port all of your previously published blog posts and emails into Substack, so it’s not like you have to start from scratch.


But if you do want to make money through subscriptions…


Last week I wrote about the uphill slog that is content monetization. Making money on Substack isn’t quite as steep a hill – as long as you have a solid email list of people and hope that many of them want to pay for your thoughts. (Plenty of ideas for growing your list can be found here.)


If you want to try to monetize it, I suggest looking at the top writers in your topic category and finding a niche.


Will you give it a try?


I am super intrigued – but I’m also moving across the country next month and don’t have the mental bandwidth for anything new. I want to hear from you – will you start publishing on Substack? And will you charge a subscription?

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