Substack wants you to know that they’re actually doing really great and the “newsletter boom” is not a bubble that’s going to burst at any second, thank you very much. The company announced this week that they’ve reached over one million paying subscribers, which seems kind of low considering the fact that seemingly every person who knows how to type has a newsletter dedicated to the poetics of artisanal hot sauce or the intersection of gender and The Simpsons.
According to the Financial Times, paying subscribers have jumped over the last year from 250,000 last December to one million this month. That makes sense, seeing as the company has courted popular writers with six-figure deals to join their service. In April, for example, the New York Times reported that Daniel Lavery had scored a two-year, $430,000 deal with the company for his newsletter, The Chatner. More recently, former New York Times reporter Nellie Bowles started a guest column on her wife’s weekly cancel culture digest. Congratulations to both of them.
That one million paying subscribers number pales in comparison to Patreon, where six million people pay to support their favorite creators. Not to pit two beautiful start-ups against each other, but it seems like maybe people are more interested in audio and video content than reading.
Substack’s chief executive and co-founder Chris Best told the Financial Times, “What you read matters,” which does not really mean anything or inspire confidence in the currently unprofitable company.
What revenue does come into the company comes from taking a ten percent cut of the money made from paid newsletters. The top ten writers on the platform make over $20 million every year, which is great for them and, the mathematically-minded will note, only brings in $2 million to the 73-person company (which probably pays for about three of their in-house newsletters). Substack did not provide its revenue figures to the Financial Times, and I am not a numbers girl, but I would wager that Substack is going to be floating on venture capital funding for the foreseeable future.
The future is impossible to predict, so who knows. Maybe Substack will fulfill its promise and become the go-to place for all the world’s greatest writing, and history will remember a bunch of emails that often went to spam no matter how many times you tried to fix it as the great texts of the 21st century.