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Everyone Quietly Missed the Point of Substack’s New Update

by | Apr 10, 2023 | Writing

Writers have been used and abused for years.

We’ve been paid pennies for important work, been manipulated by algorithms, and told by book publishers to “go build an audience, mate.”

Substack came along and said F U to the attention economy. In a recent update, many creators/writers missed their big pivot.

Let me break it down for you in a quick read.

Twitter … but better (and no Elon)

Short-form text content is amazing.

Twitter has always been the only real place to get it. Since Papa Elon took over things have been, shall we say, pretty lit. Some love him and want to have his babies.

Others wish his head ended up under one of his phallus-shaped rockets.

Substack watched from a distance and said “How do we do this better?” The answer: Substack Notes.

The label is a misdirection. Substack will now allow the equivalent of tweets on their platform. Can I get a hell yeah?

Short-form text content is crucial for writers because readers’ behaviors have changed. We don’t go get drunk on an author’s 10-hour book anymore or read their 10,000-word essay until we’ve got to know them.

Short tweets are how we get to know new writers. They’re the entree before we get to the main course.

You might wonder how Substack Notes are different from tweets. They’re not.

What’s different is Substack is run on paid subscriptions, not ads. This means the intent behind readers is different. We don’t consume trash on Substack because we’re paying for it.

It’s not about sexy headlines. It’s about building an audience, delivering, and therefore, earning their trust.

Substack staff members don’t tell us what to read anymore. The writers we love do — and we’re free to tell them to bugger off and unsubscribe if we choose.

The even bigger news that got hidden

Substack now has tweets. Great.

What’s more important is that Substack has always missed one big feature: discoverability. As a writer you had to bring your own audience in the form of an email list.

As they’ve added new features that’s slowly changed. When I first started writing there the Substack reader network drove about 10% of my traffic.

As of last month, Substack now drives 50% of new readers to my work without me doing anything. Substack Notes will take that number higher.

There will now be a traditional newsfeed on both the Substack mobile app and desktop version. Users can go there and discover new writing without having to read a tweet thread that links to a Substack.

What this means for writers is more control.

Once readers are in your paid ecosystem you have the ability to shape their journey. One big way this is now done is through recommendations.

The most common question I get asked as a writer is “who do you read?”

Substack recommendations allow you to answer that question without a fuss. It helps you form unofficial partnerships with other writers, too, which I’ve found can blossom into beautiful friendships as well.

It’s been a long time since we’ve had an opportunity like this

There hasn’t really been a new platform for creators for a long time.

LinkedIn and Twitter are over a decade old. WordPress is older than my grandmother. And Tumbler, Myspace, and others have died.

Substack has been around for a few years, but without discoverability, many writers weren’t willing to take the plunge.

Now there’s a newsfeed and short-form content, I predict that will change. The part to remember is Substack is an email newsletter platform with social elements, not a traditional social media app — although more and more the lines are being blurred.

I, for one, am sick of the attention economy.

I’m sick of all the censorship, elitism, and privilege. The Twitter blue checkmarks handed out under the old regime is a classic example.

It’s just unacceptable.

Bring back citizen journalism that doesn’t require painfully boring experts. Bring back personal stories and anonymous usernames again.

The world is changing. We want better content diets. We don’t want to spend hours scouring google trying to find answers or good writers to read. We don’t want to constantly have to follow writers from one place to another.

The age-old idea of an email list makes the most sense.

Earn an audience from a place you don’t own, then keep them on your email list once you’ve earned their trust.

If you abuse their trust or their attention, then a simple unsubscribe button is all that stands between a writer and being ghosted for life. Nice.

Bottom line: if you’ve always wanted to write then launch a newsletter of your own. The time is now. This is the golden age of the creator economy and I’m bloody excited.

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