The New Age of Journalism: Subscriber Platforms
Free market employment is gaining popularity with the rise of platforms like Substack. As the journalism world becomes unhinged, writers and analysts are taking full ownership of their work, empowered by the personal, permissible nature of these subscriber-based models.
The information consumption landscape has drastically changed in just the past few years — and 2020 really moved the needle. Last year, more than 30,000 journalism jobs were cut. Many of those writers were drawn to Substack in effort to gain more control over their careers moving forward.
There are currently over 500,000 paying subscribers on Substack, a number that has nearly doubled in the past four months alone! The top 10 authors on the platform, most of whom write on political topics, make a collective $15 million dollars a year. Patreon, which emerged in 2013 and serves as a model, boasts a collective $1 billion in annual revenue for all creators. The industry, it seems, is limitless.
Here are 5 ways that paid, independent platforms offer writers and creators unprecedented opportunities.
1. Personal Control of Content. No more pitching stories or ideas to editors. Substack and Patreon give users full control over what they publish. Content and copy are no battle for a writer with a subject matter that attracts readers. After journalist Glenn Greenwald claimed he was being censored at The Intercept, he quit and started what is now one of the most successful Substacks of all.
2. Ownership of Email addresses. Anyone in marketing knows that email addresses are king. More than social media followers or a media buzz, email addresses are the key to your audience’s heart — and pocketbook — especially if you are selling a book or subscription. Social media platforms don’t deliver email addresses to you, nor do publishing employers intent on racking up their own lists. Building up a personal email list that you can take with you when you go is priceless.
3. New Business Opportunities. Writers Jonah Goldberg and Stephen Hayes, formerly of National Review and The Weekly Standard, started an entire business on the premise of Substack. Their media venture, The Dispatch, exists as a paid Substack newsletter and boasts tens of thousands of paying subscribers. While most won’t make it to #1 on the popularity list, you can build a substantial following and gain an income if you hit the right note. Similarly, on Patreon, The Popcast podcast has over 10,000 patrons at a minimum of $3/month.
4. Reaching Your Target Market. There’s a phrase creators use and it’s this: The riches are in the niches. So seems to be the case in the newsletter market. Journalist Emily Atkin’s popular Substack “Heated” speaks exclusively to climate change and environment issues. Another example? The “Garbage Day” Substack, which covers online memes and viral trends.
5. It’s a Great Side Piece. Shooting for Patreon or Substack to be your entire income may not be a good starting point, but these platforms can certainly serve to amplify what you are doing elsewhere. Adam Wren is a freelance reporter based in Indiana. As Wren wrote regularly for places like Politico and Indianapolis Monthly Magazine, he also began an Indiana-focused politics newsletter called “Importantville“. He was able to showcase his own reporting and carve a niche newsletter out for a specific audience — and great a healthy monthly stream of income as well.
The evolution of paid, independent platforms gives individuals an opportunity to create and control their own success. The middleman,, who may censor or tweak the narrative in a way a journalist or entertainer may not prefer, is eliminated. Creators can thrive on their own merits and pursue stories or avenues not previously available to them. Luckily, there is also flexibility — to use them to make a little money, or a lot, if you can manage it. It will be interesting to see where the newsletter platform goes next, as social media algorithms bury creator posts and Big Tech continues to censor voices they dislike. Creators are going to stand for it and thankfully, there are innovators making it possible to survive and thrive in new spaces.