Substack has attracted various high-profile writers to its publication platform — and it hasn’t been a secret that the venture-backed startup has lured a few of them with sizable funds.
For instance, a New Yorker article late final yr recognized a number of writers (Anne Helen Petersen, Matthew Yglesias) who’d accepted “substantial” advances and others (Robert Christgau, Alison Roman) who’d began Substack newsletters with out placing offers with the corporate.
Nevertheless, various writers publishing by way of Substack have begun declaring that this technique makes the corporate appear much less like a expertise platform and extra like a media firm (a well-recognized debate round Fb and different on-line giants) — or on the very least, like a expertise platform that additionally makes editorial selections that are topic to criticism.
Final week, the author Jude Ellison Sady Doyle pointed to writers like Yglesias, Glenn Greenwald and Freddie de Boer (a number of of whom departed larger publications, supposedly turning to Substack for larger editorial independence) and recommended that the platform has change into “well-known for giving huge advances […] to individuals who actively hate trans individuals and girls, argue ceaselessly towards our civil rights, and in lots of circumstances, have a public historical past of instantly, viciously abusing trans individuals and/or cis ladies of their trade.”
Doyle initially mentioned that they might proceed publishing by way of Substack however wouldn’t cost a subscription price to any readers who (like Doyle) determine as trans. Later, they added an replace saying they’d be shifting to a distinct platform known as Ghost.
Equally, science journalist and science fiction author Annalee Newitz wrote yesterday that they might be leaving the platform as nicely. And as a part of their farewell, they described Substack as a “rip-off”: “For all we all know, each single certainly one of Substack’s prime newsletters is supported by cash from Substack. Till Substack reveals who precisely is on its payroll, its guarantees that anybody can become profitable on a publication are tainted.”
Substack has responded in with two posts of its personal. Within the first, published last week, co-founder Hamish McKenzie outlines the small print of what the corporate calls its Substack Professional program — it presents choose writers an advance fee for his or her first yr on the platform, then retains 85% of the writers’ subscription income. After that, there’s no assured fee, however writers get to maintain 90% of their income. (The corporate additionally presents authorized help and healthcare stipends.)
“We see these offers as enterprise selections, not editorial ones,” McKenzie wrote. “We don’t fee or edit tales. We don’t rent writers, or handle them. The writers, not Substack, are the homeowners. No-one writes for Substack – they write for their very own publications.”
The second post (bylined by McKenzie and his co-founders Chris Finest and Jairaj Sethi) gives further particulars about who’s in this system — greater than half ladies, greater than one-third individuals of coloration, numerous viewpoints however “none that may be fairly construed as anti-trans” —with out really naming names.
“To date, the small variety of writers who’ve chosen to share their offers – coupled with some unsuitable assumptions about who may be a part of this system – has created a distorted notion of the general make-up of the group, resulting in incorrect inferences about Substack’s enterprise technique,” the Substack founders wrote.
As for whether or not these writers are being held to any requirements, the founders mentioned, “We are going to proceed to require all writers to abide by Substack’s content guidelines, which guard towards harassment and threats. However we can even persist with a hands-off method to censorship, as specified by our statement about our content moderation philosophy.”
Greenwald, for his half, dismissed the criticism as “petty Substack censors” whose place boils right down to, “since you refuse to take away out of your platform the writers I hate who’ve constructed a really massive readership of their very own, I’m taking myself & my couple of dozen readers elsewhere in protest.”
However once I reached out to Newitz (a pal of mine) by way of e mail, they advised me that the important thing concern is transparency.
“If Substack gained’t inform us who they’re paying, we will’t work out who on the location has grown their viewers organically, and who’s getting juiced,” Newitz mentioned. “It’s blatantly deceptive for people who find themselves making an attempt to determine whether or not they can become profitable on the platform. Plus, maintaining their Professional checklist secret means we will’t confirm Substack’s claims about how its employees writers are on ‘all sides’ of the political spectrum.”