Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Rise of the news DJs
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Nov. 15, 2021, 2:47 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Sarah Scire   |   November 15, 2021

Substack has cleared the one million paid subscriptions mark, the newsletter platform announced Monday. That’s twice as many subscriptions as it had just 10 months ago and four times the amount it claimed to have in December 2020.

That’s one million subscriptions — not subscribers — so how many people are we talking about? Out of millions of active readers, more than 500,000 pay for at least one Substack, said Helen Tobin, the company’s new communications lead. Paying subscribers make up a fraction — about 5 to 10% — of Substack’s total readership. (This lines up with what Platformer writer Casey Newton has written about making a living on Substack.)

“These are subscriptions that didn’t exist before — they’re not being siphoned off from traditional media outlets or redistributed from other platforms. They represent a rush of new money into the media ecosystem, the vast majority of it going directly to writers,” cofounder Hamish McKenzie wrote in a celebratory blog post.

McKenzie also highlighted that its top 10 writers generate $20 million in annual revenue. (I asked for the top 10 Substacks and was rebuffed because the list is “always in flux.” The category-specific lists are available here.) That particular stat won’t placate critics who point out the huge gap between the haves and have-nots on Substack. Some of the, uh, boldest names are raking in the cash. A number of others — including local journalists highlighted by Substack itself as successes — have been unable to create a full-time job out of newslettering.

Journalists — or comic artists or recipe writers or whoever else – don’t need millions of readers to generate “meaningful” revenue. “If you can convince a thousand people to subscribe for $5 a month, you’ll make more than $50,000 a year,” McKenzie wrote. “A few thousand subscribers is enough for total financial security.”

Many more platforms and publishers have made subscriber-only newsletters a priority since Substack launched four years ago and Substack sees one million paid subscriptions as “a good start” but “not enough.” Up next? McKenzie wrote that the platform’s “master plan” goes something like this:

  • Continue to improve Substack’s simple and powerful publishing tools, including expanding support for audio, video, and community-building features.
  • Grow the Substack economy to help writers connect with the services they need to do their best work and build thriving publications, such as editing, design, insurance, and financing.
  • Build, in partnership with writers, a discovery network that helps them cross-promote, collaborate, and connect with audiences independent of attention economy networks.

You can read the full post here.

Show tags
Join the 60,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Rise of the news DJs
“For an increasing subset of readers, ‘articles’ will be as invisible as CSS code.”
The future-of-journalism crowd stops ignoring local TV news
“The reality is that people of color in the U.S. are more likely to turn to TV news for local information than they are newspapers or digital-first local news.”
Journalism prepares for a post-search, post-social future
“The loss of reach for news publishers comes with a loss of visibility, which is likely to hit new, digital-born journalism organizations the hardest.”