What I'm reading on Substack

I love that they are promoting individual voices. Jury is still out on supporting the platform, though.

What I'm reading on Substack
Photo by Alejandra Cifre González / Unsplash

I may not have read many books in 2023, but it doesn't mean I didn't read. As I said in my last post, I read a lot of other things.

One of those other things -- really, many things -- are three independent newsletters on Substack. If you don't know, Substack is a blogging platform that allows writers to independently distribute their work and build both a following and a direct-email distribution list of subscribers.

It's billed as an easier way to distribute your work - you don't need to know anything about designing a webpage or managing an email list. You just write and they take care of the publishing, marketing, etc.

It's become kind of the preferred platform of subject-matter experts in different areas, who want to communicate their knowledge, opinions and ideas without the hassle of starting a blog, or finding an outlet in the traditional mass media that will a) accept their work; and b) not butcher beyond recognition.

The platform encourages readers to subscribe to the newsletters for a fee, though most of the letters also offer a free version. The subscription fees provide revenue to support the publication without the need for advertising. The platform receives a portion of subscribers fees for hosting.

Many people first became familiar with Substack through Letters from an American, the newsletter started by Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson in the wake of the 2019 impeachment trial of former U.S. President Donald Trump. As of 2020, Richardson is Substack's most popular individual author, and the newsletter generates more than $1 million (U.S.) annually.

My current Substack reads are:

20 Percent Berlin by journalists Andrew Bulkeley and Maurice Frank. Berlin news in English. The title refers to the proportion of the city's population without a German passport.

Zeitgeist by Katja Hoyer. A German writer living in Britain, Hoyer is the author of Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire, 1871 - 1918, and Beyond the Wall: East Germany, 1949 - 1990. Zeitgeist contains her reflections on German history, politics, and culture.

The Laughing Gallows by Jim Hodgson. Hodgson is an American comedy writer whose humorous takes on current events can make you laugh while making you (hopefully) think.

None of these folks are millionaires, yet, I don't think. But they are all excellent writers sharing useful, well-written articles that inform and entertain. And though I love reading them, I am not sold on Substack as a writer, myself.

For one thing, I hate emails. I have three different email addresses that I use regularly and getting rid of the clutter so I can see what I actually need to read is a never-ending battle.

I don't want to sift through my inbox(es) looking for the latest newsletter.

I really miss the old days when bloggers published RSS feeds for their websites and we could use a third-party aggregator to get all of our niche content in one place!

Substack has recently added an 'Inbox' feature that lets you see all of your newsletter updates in one spot. That's a start.

They've also added 'Notes' a micro-blogging feature that is reminiscent of old-school Twitter. I may play around with that a bit and see if it serves as a useful X replacement.

Like many platforms hosting user-generated content, Substack is not without controversy. Though its terms of service prohibit misinformation, hate speech or calls for violence, several newsletters promoting white supremacy, neo-Nazi ideology and COVID denialism, to name a few topics, have been found on the site.

The company's response - mainly, its lack of one - has recently prompted some of its bigger authors to leave.

That further cements my decision to hold off on participting on Substack as a writer, though I will still continue to follow the individual newsletters, whether they are hosted there or not.

If you are reading this and have a Substack, feel free to share it in the comments. And, if you have a favorite read - on Sub or elsewhere, share that, too.