Substack is the newest savior for independent publishing, powering an array of subscription newsletters that give hope to the rise of a new class of journalist entrepreneurs.
"On Substack there are people paying more for one individual newsletter than they pay for all of Netflix," CEO Chris Best said on the Digiday Podcast. "And it doesn't really make sense if you think about it just in terms of dollars per hour of entertainment or dollars per word that I read or something like that. There has to be something else going on there."
People "want to take back their mind" from the social media platforms that have dominated digital ad dollars, Best added.
The service launched in 2017 with just one newsletter: Sinocism, a newsletter on China by Bill Bishop that brought in over $100,000 on its first day (Substack takes a 10% cut of subscriber revenue).
"We think that we can make the writers much more money, and much more reliable money, by the way," Best said. "A lot of publications have seen their advertising revenue just tank over the course of the crisis, but people who have a subscriber base -- you know, it's much more steady as you continue to provide value."
To help them do that, the company has also been piloting Substack Defender, a resource for journalists who have been threatened by a "scary-looking letter on official-looking letterhead from a lawyer saying a bunch of blustery stuff," in Best's description.
Often these letters do the trick, intimidating writers who might not have the knowledge to know a legitimate case from a bogus one.