Saturday 6 March 2021

The Substack Experiment

What is Substack?

I've been hearing a lot about Substack recently, mostly on technology podcasts and particularly on those that sit at the intersection of media and technology. In some quarters, Substack is seen as a way for writers/journalists to connect directly with their readers and monetise their output, and by all accounts some people are doing well with the top 10 newsletters bringing in $7 million a year.

I'm fairly certain that those writers didn't start from scratch on Substack - most of the stand out successes are well known writers with a large existing following and a great reputation. They brought their existing audience over with them, but have then been able to define their own price for access to their content and keeping around 85% of the money. They are also the first and have no doubt captured quite a bit of the audience that is prepared to pay, and if my experience with the Internet is anything to go by, there will be a limited set of giants and a large number scratching by. 

I suspect there's also going to be a limit to the number of separate subscriptions that anyone is prepared to pay. I don't know the specific numbers, but if I guess at $10/writer/month for the top tier, then subscribing to 10 quickly turns into real money, especially when compared to subscribing to traditional news media where you get access to a whole host of writers. Those that haven't decamped to Substack at any rate. By all accounts Substack expect to offer bundles, but based on writers wishing to bundle rather than pivoting to aggregation themselves.

I'd also have some personal concerns about limiting my reading in this way - it makes it far more likely that I'd descend into an echo-chamber and assume the whole world felt the same why I do about everything. I quite like reading things that I really disagree with, even if they make me angry sometimes, but if that took time away from the content I was paying for, I'd probably cut right down on it.

My Substack

All of this monetisation is very interesting, but in my case highly likely to be theoretical. I can't see myself trying to monetise my audience, particularly as the number of writers I would be prepared to subscribe to is a number pretty close to zero, and if I'm not doing it I can't really expect anyone else to. And, of course, clearly nobody would pay to read my ramblings, especially as I don't really know what I'm going to use it for.

I have signed up for Substack - in keeping with my history of creative names like the Bob Buzzard Blog you are currently reading, I've gone for the Bob Buzzard Stack - you can sign up to join me on the journey.

Right now I don't have a great sense of what I'm going to use it for, but as it's a regular newsletter it seems likely there will be links to things that interest me that I've found since the last issue, probably with some of my thoughts about those things or my opinion about something in the news. And they mystery of why I don't expect to monetise this deepens! 

I'll try to post regularly, but I make no promises about the cadence. Feast or famine seems the most likely outcome, but we'll see.

Why Substack?

Because it's there. Because it's popular. Because it's new and I like learning about new things. And because it's free - you only pay if you charge, and even then it's a cut of what you make rather than a flat fee.

I've tried other regular posting concepts before, like Medium Series, but I didn't really warm to the format and, maybe because of that, I didn't get a lot of interest. Series are deprecated now, so even if I wanted to continue with them I couldn't. I also added a News section to my Toolbox, but then it gets hard to provide easy access to the older links, and I didn't really want to build out a whole front end for it. 

My Substack may well go the same way, but you can't hit the ball if you don't swing, so I'm giving it a go.


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