What is Substack? An overview of the newsletter publishing service

Substack makes it easy for people to subscribe to newsletters on hundreds of different topics, or for them to create and send a newsletter themselves. The subscriptions to newsletters on Substack are usually paid-for, one of Substack’s USPs. Find out what Substack is, how to create and send out a successful newsletter and how to use Substack in business.

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What is Substack?

Substack is a US online platform where authors can offer newsletters in a subscription model. The company wants to promote independent journalism in this way. Because of this, there is virtually no censorship on the newsletter platform and only a few publishing guidelines. Unlike personalized newsletters, Substack newsletters are aimed at a more general audience.

Even though you might think emails are in the realm of pre-millennial generations, Substack raises the question whether e-mail really is dead. Substack newsletters add a lot of value to a medium often considered antiquated – showing that people are willing to pay to receive them. In some cases, they are also made available for free on the platform.

Substack has excellent UX form, boasting an interface that allows its users to create a successful newsletter with ease. Substack moves between a journalistic platform, a blog and social network due to the possibility to react to newsletters on the platform itself.

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How does this newsletter software work?

The principle of Substack is quite simple: Interested parties can register on the Substack website or in the app, which is currently only available for iOS. After completing registration (you only need to provide an email address), you can view various newsletters or create your own.

Reading newsletters with Substack

On Substack, it is possible to filter by different topics such as cryptocurrencies, culture, or politics. The algorithm then ensures that content is displayed that is relevant to you and fits the specified topics. Once you have found the right newsletter for you, you can usually subscribe to it for a fee. However, some newsletters are also available free of charge without a subscription.

Substack newsletter subscription fees start at $5 per month or $30 per year. Payments to the newsletter provider are made via the online payment service Stripe.

Writing newsletters with Substack

You can also publish your own newsletters on Substack and offer them as a subscription. For this, you need nothing more than your profile and a topic you want to write about. Apart from the content, the description that can be added to each publication is important for your publications. This is because potential subscribers will see it before they subscribe to your newsletter. It is similar in importance to a newsletter’s subject in traditional mailing newsletters. If you have chosen to make your Substack newsletters available for a monthly fee, you pay 10 percent of your earnings to Substack as a service fee.

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The best Substack newsletters

Substack is a platform that sends out loads of newsletters that reach a large readership. Some of the most popular authors generate up to six-figure annual sales via the newsletter platform and have very good newsletter-KPIs. Here are three of the best Substack newsletters:

“Sinocism” by Bill Bishop

“Sinocism” is a Substack newsletter that has been readable since the birth of the platform. Four times a week, subscribers receive information about the country of China and its political and economic situation by email for $15 a month. The author, who lived in China himself, now also produces his own podcast. This is also published via Substack.

“Popular Information” by Judd Legum

Substack’s Popular Information newsletter is a political newsletter by attorney Judd Legum, who specializes in independent journalism. The newsletter explores daily news stories and is published four times a week. Readers can receive the full scope of the newsletter for $6 a month.

“PETITION” by PETITION LLC

For anyone interested in the financial market, Substack’s PETITION newsletter is the right choice. For $29 a month, subscribers receive twice-weekly commentary and analysis on current financial events. According to its own information, the newsletter is read by investment bankers and lawyers, among others.

What’s the recipe for a good Substack newsletter?

Successful Substack newsletters have one thing in common, namely that they all focus strongly on a single category. Which category this is plays a rather subordinate role for the success of the newsletters. The most important thing is that the content demonstrates expertise and appeals to the readership. Continuity and newsletter release time are also essential factors for success on the platform. Newsletters published two to four times a week are more likely to attract paying readers. Meanwhile, many categories on Substack are already covered by top newsletters, so it can be worth finding a new niche for your own newsletter.

Traffic around a Substack newsletter is an obvious factor in the success of a newsletter. Twitter posts referring to content or mentions within other newsletters increase the awareness of a Substack newsletter enormously. To evaluate its success, Substack doesn’t even need special tools for newsletter-tracking. The click-through rates, subscription numbers and comments on your newsletter on the platform itself are good indicators.

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Substack for business use

Whether it is possible to use Substack as a platform for companies is a very individual matter. Above all, it depends on the industry of the company in question. It is feasible, for example, that IT companies could report on developments in information technology and software development and drive their newsletter marketing using the platform. However, the previous top newsletters have really been projects by individual authors who focus their attention on publishing paid newsletters and earn their living in this way.

Summary

Substack is a platform that gives freelance authors the opportunity to reach a wide audience. Substack newsletters can be interesting for a reading audience because they cover almost all subject areas. However, it remains to be seen how sustainable Substack’s success will be. The expansion of the platform to include podcasts suggests that Substack will continue to be successful in the future.