Bookmarked Sovereign Writers and Substack (Stratechery by Ben Thompson)

Substack is at the center of media controversy, most of which misses the point that sovereign writers — not Substack — are in control.

Ben Thompson discusses Substack Pro the dilemmas of taking the money and the implications of this.

I am by no means an impartial observer here; obviously I believe in the viability of the sovereign writer. I would also like to believe that Stratechery is an example of how this model can make for a better world: I went the independent publishing route because I had no other choice (believe me, I tried).
At the same time, I suspect we have only begun to appreciate how destructive this new reality will be for many media organizations. Sovereign writers, particularly those focused on analysis and opinion, depend on journalists actually reporting the news. This second unbundling, though, will divert more and more revenue to the former at the expense of the latter. Maybe one day Substack, if it succeeds, might be the steward of a Substack Journalism program that offers a way for opinion writers and analysts to support those that undergird their work.

Replied to this email is being tracked by Alex Hern (The World Is Yours*)

The commercial economy might rely on data, tracking and surveillance – though I still think it could do just fine without it – but the email newsletter boom shouldn’t.

I initially followed you via email as a subscriber, but in recent times I have unsubscribed and started following via RSS. I am intrigued how that information is gathered?
Replied to How Heather Cox Richardson Became a Breakout Star on Substack by Ben Smith (

She is the breakout star of the newsletter platform Substack, doing the opposite of most media as she calmly situates the news of the day in the long sweep of American history.

The point that stands out to me in this piece is how long authors and readers can and are willing to maintain this for. As Heather Cox Richardson suggests:

Dr. Richardson isn’t sure what she’ll do next. She plans to keep writing her letters through Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s first 100 days as president. But her routine isn’t sustainable: She makes dinner most nights and eats with her partner, a lobsterman, then starts reading. She often falls asleep facedown on her desk for an hour around 11 p.m. before getting back up to write.

Liked music blogs by Alex Hern (The World Is Yours*)

I’m happy that the, or at least a, exciting content platform of the day is unambiguously focused on writing rather than video, and happy to that Substack isn’t trying to build a social network. But I’d be lying if I said that the incredible success of a small number of already-established US media figures on the platform wasn’t a bit depressing. The world wasn’t crying out for a way for wealthy American journalists with large followings to earn a higher share of the expenditure of their readers but, at least in the short term, that seems to be the problem Substack is gearing up to solve.

Clio Chang reports on the rise of Substack. Established in 2017 by Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie, and Jairaj Sethi, it was designed as a platform that allowed users to earn an income. A part of this move is to approach potential contributors. The problem is that it still replicates the patterns of marginalization found on other platforms. In addition to this, there is something sacrificed in going solo:

Writing is often considered an individualistic enterprise, but journalism is a collective endeavor. And that is the paradox of Substack: it’s a way out of a newsroom—and the racism or harassment or vulture-venture capitalism one encountered there—but it’s all the way out, on one’s own. “Holy shit, I work anywhere from fifty to sixty hours a week,” Atkin, of Heated, told me. “It’s a lot.” Harvin, the Beauty IRL writer, said she missed the infrastructure—legal and editorial—of a traditional outlet. “I just know how valuable it is to have a second ear to bounce ideas off of, someone to challenge you,” she said. “I’m very not big into writing in a vacuum, and I think that is the thing I miss the most.” Kelsey McKinney, a journalist whose literary Substack, Written Out, has accounted for about a third of her income during the pandemic, doesn’t do any reporting for her newsletter because of the lack of legal and editorial backing. Investigative journalism seems particularly difficult as a solo enterprise on Substack, which doesn’t reward slowly developed, uncertain projects that come out sporadically.

Chang closes with a reflection on some of these limitations and why it still is not necessarily the answer.

This piece me thinking about the Substack newsletters I am subscribed to:

I still wonder about Chris Aldrich’s point about ‘yet-another-platform’.

Liked S, M, L 1 – Wither Substack (

I’m with Ben Thompson – VC money doesn’t tend to play well with a mass of indie content creators.

See exhibit A: Medium. Remember, Medium started out all cool with the street cred and the high quality bar and gradually raised too much VC money, pivoted too many times, screwed over the very indie creators they saught to sustain and ultimatley limps along too bloated to either die or raise more money