News from Substack: First customers, a new hire, and what’s next

Hello and welcome to our first subscriber-only update!

We’ve been amazed and pleasantly overwhelmed by the early support for Substack. It’s great to see that people just get it. We want to help writers make money. We do that by dramatically lowering the barriers to starting a subscription publication. That approach has always made sense to us, but it’s gratifying that smart people like you seem to agree. Fixing the media’s business model problem is the first step in building a new ecosystem for publishing.

To that end, we’ve launched publications for our first two customers. They’re off to fast starts.

  • On October 16, Bill Bishop launched the paid version of Sinocism, a newsletter about the most consequential China news of the day. Bill started with a charter price of $11 a month or $118 a year and immediately converted enough followers of his free newsletter into paying subscribers to bring in six figures of revenue on day one. As he told the Wall Street Journal, within two weeks he was already making more money than he ever made with a corporate salary. After locking in his most loyal subscribers at the special rate, Bill is now increasing the price of the newsletter to $15 a month or $168 a year. Subscribe to Sinocism.

  • On November 1, Kelly Dwyer launched The Second Arrangement, home to some of the best cultural commentary on the NBA—including nightly capsule reviews of every single game—and a window into the curious mind of one of the most gifted writers in sports. It’s early days for Kelly, but, as he told his readers on Friday, his early subscription revenue has at least allowed him to turn his cable back on. Subscribe to The Second Arrangement.

In the news

The media has started paying attention to Substack.

  • Jack Marshall in the Wall Street Journal (Nov 1). Key quote:

    “Were I starting today I would certainly be interested in a tool like Substack”—Ben Thompson

  • Ricardo Bilton in Nieman Lab (Oct 5). Key quote:

    “Once you get into all these niches, you realize that there are so many of them. The area under the long tail is huge.”—Chris Best

  • Anthony Ha in TechCrunch (Oct 16). Key quote:

    “[These niche publications] are about doing something really good and really meaningful for a small number of people.”—Chris Best

  • Peter Kafka in Recode (Oct 16). Key quote:

    “Getting a thousand people to pay for your work is really hard. Having to have technical skillsthat easily scale to multiple authorsunrelated to what you produce is an unnecessary barrier.”Ben Thompson

  • Erin Griffith of Wired mentioned Substack in an article about new media companies betting on subscriptions (Oct 7). Key quote:

    “One venture capitalist has called digital advertising ‘a prank the tech industry played on the media industry.’”

What we’ve learned so far

  • Group subscriptions are hard to do well. Many of Bill Bishop’s subscribers took advantage of a group discount by signing up through their institutions. We set up a basic system to process those subscribers, but we’re working on a much better feature that will be more automated and intuitive.

  • Customer support requires a lot of TLC. Our CEO, Chris, has been personally replying to subscribers who have questions about billing or technical issues.

  • There’s still room for optimism about the future of media. People we’ve talked to about subscription publishing are so interested in the possibilities that it’s impossible to not feel a little excited about what this could all mean for the long term.

New hire!

We’ve made our first addition to the Substack team, bringing our burgeoning ranks to a total of three human souls. Jack Read, former CTO of Fansi (which let fans subscribe to independent musicians and pop stars), has joined as our product development lead.

What’s next

  • We’re working on new features across the platform to serve publishers, including the addition of analytics, upgrading the CMS, and optimizing the subscription sign-up process.

  • We have more great private beta publishers waiting just off stage. We can’t wait to tell you more about them.

That’s all for this week! Thanks for your continued support of Substack.

Any questions? Fire ’em at us: