An answer to a mail bag question about the economics of writing a newsletter
I have argued from the first time I laid eyes on substack that their floor is too high! If I could pay $20-30 a year for a subscription, I would subscribe to double the newsletters and spread the love. I feel like many others would too. I would also love the option to just pay a few bucks to read beyond the paywall of a particular newsletter issue I find intriguing. Some writers don't entice me enough to throw down for a full subscription, but a couple of their stories would. That cash adds up If others feel the same way!
I do pay for some Substacks and subscribe to a whole bunch more for free - recently, i’ve realized that the way I read stacks for an hour or so on a given morning corresponds to the time I might spend reading the New Yorker - and I get far more pleasure from the stacks - I will likely dump my print subscription to the New Yorker soon, which means I can then pay for a few more stacks.
I like supporting writers and artists directly, i’m not thrilled by giving a cut to Substack and Stripe, but that’s the platform for supporting writers, so I’ll make that devil’s deal for the moment. For what it’s worth, I don’t like the idea of subscription bundles - you know three stacks + candy and a bonus roll of toilet paper - sounds like Amazon, and yes the wily Jeff Bezos gets us all paying for all sorts of stuff that should be free - I think he took econ and marketing classes, maybe not at Wesleyan.
I got the WORST haircut at my one and only literary salon, and I never went back 😉
I pay for many (an embarrassingly large number that I'm afraid to confront) of Substacks, because I want to support writers, because i want to support the Substack ecosystem, and because it's not a financial burden for me to do so.
I turned on a paid option without a paywall, but I contribute all paid revenues (gross, meaning $50 means $50, I don't subtract Substack and Stripe fees) to a favorite and trusted 501C3, the Robin Hood Foundation.
Here's a link in case anyone's interested in how I "market" the paid/donation option.
While I've never made the literary salon mistake, why not communal haircuts while discussing a story?
So here is MY question: What is the annual Situation Normal snack budget, and what sorts of snacks are typically purchased? I would appreciate a pie chart to illustrate, though you may refer to it as a snack chart.
I think what might be useful is to allow people to make donations! I would definitely do that type of thing myself. I do this with charities I make small donations throughout the year at various times as I feel able. I cannot make multiple $60 per year commitments since I am retired and prolifically interested in reading so very much. Somehow in my psyche and in my wallet it seems easier to every once in awhile donate five bucks. How about that idea? Or maybe each writer has to set up their own separate donation place, as on Facebook?
This is the only subscription I pay for on Substack.
I don’t know much math, but you publish 2 times a week for $5. That’s $1.60 per post. This price is not even a steal -it’s robbery. Not to mention Cesar takes his cut. I admire not only your work, but also your approach - everything at SN is free. At the same time you also reply to every comment (I think). You’ve inspired me to do the same with my Substack- thank you for being you.
I don't know how to get around what happens with paid subscriptions here at Substack--I would love more of them too, but I realize when I get to deciding which ones I'm going to pay for myself that picking and choosing which subs to pay for is pure torture. I can't pay for all of them! I can't even pay for most of them! DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE!!!
Still, I came here from Medium, where readers pay a single dues payment to Medium each month and the whole shebang gets spread around to the writers, based on performance or something much more mysterious (I don't know what). The complaints over there are similar to the complaints over here: the big guys get all of the rewards and the peons get peanuts. Well, peanuts can't pay the bills and there was no good way to rise up that ladder unless you wrote about the secrets of rising up the ladder or pretended to make gazillions while writing for Medium.
Maybe they can figure out how to make it work here but I think I prefer the subscription system, even though I'm still a peon and that's not likely to change. It's friendlier and more personal and it keeps the hucksters to a minimum. (Though not minimum enough.)
I like the bundle idea and have been proposing something similar for a while. As a reader, I follow more stacks than I can support. As a writer, I want readers and don’t want to have to offer paid vs free content. So my stack is free.
I pay for many Substacks and wish it could be more. I pay for work I admire, respect, learn from, and the writers I like as a person who creates community.
I appreciate the comparison Tab made to Amazon Prime, or something similar, but to me they are vastly different - not even in the same stratosphere. Prime supports the big rich guy and promotes the part of our world that I don't value. Paying for Substacks supports real people, promotes true art and fosters connection.
I've been thinking that with so many people within the Substack network subscribing to each other, I wonder how much of the earnings are just zero sum (except for the cut Substack takes, of course.) For example, Joe subscribes to me for $5, I subscribe to Daisy for $5, this is essentially no different to Joe subscribing to Daisy. Now, if Daisy turns around and subscribes to Joe.....
I don't remember the name of my Wesleyan economics professor but he and I were both a bit flummoxed as to why I barely passed the class. I 'seemed' to understand the concepts when we would talk about them together, but never could articulate them back sufficiently in exams to prove it. It was the lowest passing grade of my academic career. Enjoyed the rest of the discussion today! Turning on paid sometime in the future terrifies me, but having an income even a tiny one would be nice.
I pay for several Substacks and take on a similar approach as my friend David Roberts in donating proceeds of my Substack earnings from paid subscribers to philanthropy. I wish I could support everyone, I really really do! And that's why bundling would be so neat.
PS - I need you to know that I'm at 498 subscribers and am 2 away from achieving a new milestone but wanted you to be the first to know since you asked how I'd celebrate. IDK, probably eat some salmon. But YAY!
1. I pay for 14 Substacks with either actual dollars or in-kind payments. Obv I'm ride or die with Situation Normal and Extra Evil till the end.
2. Poison the competition and you'll win by default.
4. He went to Princeton, which specializes in creating supervillains.
5. Maniacs like me don't get invited to nice places.
This is such a great conversation. I'm new around here so I'm still evaluating and discovering Substacks to follow and then deciding which ones to pay for. My first reaction is that I don't want the floor lowered. I've worked in journalism and have freelanced forever, so I've seen that race to the bottom over and over again. It winds up killing everyone except maybe some folks who live in a place where the cost of living is low enough that they can charge pennies. I think retaining the minimum will keep the quality higher because subscribers will be a little choosier, and writers who want to charge will understand they have to bring their A game (also I know nothing about economics and didn't go to Wesleyan, so what do I know?).
I also feel like, if someone has a goal to make money here, they should treat this like a business and show up and provide value consistently. Otherwise, it's a charity. I'm totally on board with supporting the small Substacks and the up-and-comers, and love that this seems to be a place where that's doable. But there still needs to be value. Otherwise it's a GoFundMe, not a Substack. (Am I gonna get haters for that sentiment?)
1. I pay for Dennard Dayle's Extra Evil. I want to pay for more substacks, but between Patreon subscriptions and other bills, I have to draw a line somewhere. At least, according to Mint. Which keeps trying to get me to subscribe to its premium features.
2. Send me names. I got family that can pay them a visit.
3. See 2.
4. It made more sense when they had more things worth getting. And for holidays.
5. Nice try. You clearly made that up.
The question about paying Substack a monthly fee and having it disbursed among writers...that's pretty much what Medium does. It's a shitty system because inevitably, the smaller writers get a pittance and the big ones get richer. The way Substack is now is great because you can directly reward writers who fill your reading cup each week.
I only pay for a few right now (I'm new here) And I pay them because they provide me with a breath of fresh air. Everyone has their preferences and I love unique people and stories.
Currently I'm paying for:
Ash Ambirge - The Middle Finger Project.
Donna McArthur - The Bright Life
Erik Hogan (pledged) -Field Notes
Each of those provide me with something other pubs do not.