Substack and paid newsletters

2020-10-21 2 min read

    It’s starting to feel as if everyone I follow on Twitter is launching a Substack newsletter. I don’t know how this plays out but my inbox is already overwhelmed and having more longish-form content to go through just won’t happen. It’s an interesting space that’s changing quickly and will look very different in a few years. Many seem to think that there’s a huge opportunity here for authors to build a niche audience that’s able to sustain their writing but i’m not wholly convinced. If you’re able to get the best of the best does it make sense to go for the second tier? Some people may want that additional depth but the majority will be happy with the highly skilled writer covering a broad topic. These will be the small number of authors who amass huge audiences and capture the majority of the revenue while the rest will be focused on niche topics with enough of an audience to keep them going. Inevitably, these “tail” writers will band together and offer their newsletters as a bundle. What’s old is new and we will see the rebirth of newspapers and magazines.

    A framework to look at these is to analyze them against two dimensions: their generality and their continued relevance. With the former, it’s more difficult to stand out when you’re trying to write for a broad audience but the total opportunity is much larger. A niche topic, on the other hand, faces less competition but may not have the necessary audience. With the latter, it’s more difficult to write evergreen content and much easier to run into a limit. There will be posts that cross quadrants but I expect many newsletters to fit squarely within a quadrant. I worry that those focused on the niche/evergreen bucket will run out of content and be forced to switch to topical content or become part of a bundle.

    The ideal spot is to have broad audience appeal and write topical posts. There will always be something to write about and so long as the writing is effective you end up with a large and growing audience. At this point there’s a pretty large first-mover advantage and it’ll be interesting to see how many remain after a few years.