The Substack company offers freelance writers a new forum for generating income even as traditional media companies are cutting newsroom jobs. Some freelancers find they can produce newsletters on Substack that generate a meaningful income. However, this new journalistic pathway has limits. Substack itself states that it is only a “platform,” not a “publisher,” however, it intends to provide an infrastructure for writers who publish on its site. Anyone can start a newsletter, though the successful writers Clio Chang cites in her article in the Columbia Journalism Review are primarily white and male, with large, active Twitter followings – thus exemplifying current trends.
Substack connects journalists’ newsletters to readers.
During the ten-year period from 2009 to 2019, full-time writing jobs contracted by 23%. This left many writers seeking new ways to make a living. Founded in 2017, Substack provides a mechanism for writers to create newsletters, charge readers for access to them and earn money – in some cases, a lot of it.
Substack began when journalist Chris Best wrote an article contending that “clicks, retweets and likes” were taking over substantive journalism. His friend Hamish McKenzie – now his partner in Substack – accused him of making quite an obvious point and challenged him to find a solution. The two agreed upon a “paid newsletter” business model.
Substack earns money when its writers do by taking 10% of their subscription fees. Its mission statement says the company is reinventing the newspaper business much as Lyft and Uber reinvented transportation.
Patrice Peck, a Black journalist in New York City, wanted to write about COVID-19 for her community. She created a newsletter on the Substack platform. Her first piece for Coronavirus News for...