Written by Jenna Mangan
Before the invention of the internet, the most popular way for journalists to share their work with the world was to have it featured in written publications such as newspapers and magazines. However, that is not their only option anymore.
Online newsletter publishing platforms that allow writers to publish their own content are quickly becoming more and more popular among journalists. In fact, 66% of journalists now say that their readers first followed them as individual writers rather than the publication they were working for.
One online newsletter platform that has caught the attention of many writers and consumers over the past few years is Substack. Substack is a digital newsletter platform founded in 2017 with over 500,000 paying subscribers that allows writers to distribute their work directly to their readers. The main selling point of Substack is that it is completely independent from corporate media models. Unlike traditional journalism, Substack represents a radically different alternative in which the ‘media company’ is a service and the journalists are in charge.
The platform allows journalists to fully own their content and make a direct profit off it which is why many freelance journalists have flocked to Substack since 2017. In fact, many notable writers, such as Glenn Greenwald, Emily Atkin, and Seymour Hersh, who have worked for big-name publications in the past, have begun to steer their audiences toward Substack and publish their own personal newsletters to paying subscribers only. Ben Smith, a writer at The New York Times, commented on this shift stating, “ We're coming out of this era where platforms own people and moving into this era where people own platforms.”
Not only are journalists who publish on Substack taking charge of their own writing, but they are also starting to hold more power over their income. Substack allows journalists to provide their readers direct access to their digital articles and monetize their work by putting it behind a paywall. This direct-to-consumer publishing method makes it easy for journalists to make a living directly from their own content.
Rather than being paid a set income by a corporate publication, journalists on Substack make revenue in a similar way that influencers make money on TikTok or drivers make money through Uber. Substack takes 10% of its writers’ subscription earnings and the journalists take the rest. If a newsletter is popular enough, Substack will also contract with writers, offering them a fixed amount of money that the subscription platform knows they will make back off the subscription income. The top 10 authors on Substack collectively made more than $20 million in a year as of October 2022 which is significantly higher than the average salary of journalists who work for big publications in the United States.
Between the writer’s ability to publish whatever content they want, the revenue they can generate off their subscriber platform, Substack is captivating larger audiences and introducing them to a new era of journalism. One in which the media is the service, and the journalists are in charge.