Let me start by saying that I appreciate what Substack is trying to do for journalism.
The promise of the hosted publishing platform is that anyone can start a subscription-based publication—primarily as a newsletter—without having to worry about building a website, setting up a membership system, and fussing with design. Just put good words in, and if your audience is devoted enough, money will come out. For a growing number of writers, it’s a welcome reprieve from feeding the algorithms of Google, Facebook, and Twitter—and a chance to make some decent money along the way.
But one thing I’ve realized in nearly five years of publishing my own independent newsletters is that doing things the hard way has its own rewards, from keeping more of the money to maintaining a stronger sense of independence. As more writers start building up their own newsletter businesses, I suspect a lot of them will discover this for themselves.
Starting from scratch
If we’re being honest, I…