Larger than Medium

The tech isn’t the issue. Neither is the trend.

Setting up this Substack was super-easy. And although I’m not charging for it, I’m sure that if I did, that would be easy too. The tech side of this platform is slick.

Then again, the notion of software-enhanced publishing platforms is hardly new. There are newsletter platforms (Constant Contact, Mailchimp, TinyLetter, etc.) and web-design platforms (WordPress, Squarespace, etc.) and blogging platforms (I now have mine on Wix) and platforms that claim to help you create something closer to a magazine than a blog. Indeed, several years ago I started a magazine on Medium. It quickly bombed, but it was a fun experiment.

What feels new about Substack is the trend, the way so many writers are moving their content to this platform. But even this isn’t really new. I remember when I joined Twitter 12 years ago, I realized that the Red Sox beat writer for the Boston Globe would try out all of his best lines on Twitter during the game, before publishing them in an article. I could read them on Twitter instead of paying for a Globe subscription.

Writers have always wanted to publish in more seemingly-intimate, seemingly-immediate, seemingly-monetizable media. We’ve always tried to get our day jobs to pay for it. If more writers are now abandoning their day jobs for Substack, it may be due less to Substack’s monetization tools, and more to the failure of traditional media employers to remain swimming in cash.

If so, that means Substack is less of a triumph and more of a desperate last gasp. It is, as we’ll discuss tomorrow, exactly the opposite of what the world needs.