I heard about Substack for the first time today while reading the Stratechery newsletter. For those not familiar (like me before today!), Substack is a startup that makes it easier for individual content creators to create and monetize newsletters with the goal of empowering them to build their own media empires.
As I read the article I couldn’t help but think about the struggles Medium has had since its founding. It started as a blogging platform and had a variety of challenges with monetization over the years. At one point they had advertising but gave up on it in 2017. Since then they’ve shifted to a subscription model where once you hit a limit some articles end up being put up behind a paywall, very similar to a traditional publisher. I don’t know how Medium is doing but I doubt this is where they wanted to be - monetizing in the same way as the NY Times.
They’re very different businesses and the jury is still out on Substack but it seems this was a lost opportunity by Medium. They focused so much on the content and growing the Medium brand as a destination that they didn’t invest in improving the lives of content creators who are the bread and butter of the platform. Conversely, Substack didn’t focus on building a consumer audience and instead focused on getting high quality authors to start newsletters and gave them all the tools to do it efficiently and safely.
It may be nothing or me overanalyzing but this feels like a healthy change in the attitude of startups. Rather than focus on growing consumer attention at all costs they’re slowing down, thinking about monetization early, and investigating in the drivers of their business. There are likely many similar opportunities out there - find startups that are trying to aggregate attention and then build services for their cream of the crop suppliers.