Monday, December 20, 2021

and then the skepticism set in

Good thing I did a Google search on "Substack criticism" because, as it turns out, there's a lot of criticism out there. Most of the critical sources are of the woke/PC/leftie variety, and Substack has garnered a reputation as a free-speech haven for conservative voices. That said, almost all of the articles talk about how Substack was involved in a payment scandal that calls into question its financial model. Terms very much like the ones I used in my previous post—phrases like "pyramid scheme" and "scam"—appeared everywhere.

Near as I can figure, according to these articles, Substack was offering lump-sum advances to prominent writers, mainly journalists, who jumped ship to join the platform. The idea was that, in exchange for the fat advance, the new arrival had to forfeit 85% of his first year of Substack income before reverting to the regular financial model the following year. (You'll recall, from my previous post, that the regular model = Substack takes only 10% of your earnings; you keep the rest, minus credit-card transaction fees.) By offering these lump-sum advances, which were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Substack was skewing, or possibly even putting the lie to, its purported financial model. 

Also, the Substack higher-ups, by allowing this privileged class of writers to muscle its way into the space, was basically falling into the same trap that YouTube has fallen into, i.e., allowing big-media types to pollute a space that had originally been meant for regular-folk content creators (who have often proved to be capable of doing better-than-big-media quality work). These days, YouTube's algorithm is more likely to suggest that you watch the channel of a media bigwig than that of someone from the alt-media. It's not just; it's not fair; it's also not surprising to see this sort of thing happening. The nature of reality is to clump; the big dogs come into existence and, like black holes, suck away the light from all the smaller dogs. (How's that for a jumbled metaphor?)

These critical articles also point out that, as with pyramid scams, Substack doesn't let on how hard it is to accrue an initial list of faithful subscribers. According to the critics, a newbie writer on Substack can probably never expect to ever earn enough money to break away from his day job and pursue writing full time. I kind of suspected that, so it's not too surprising. All the same, I might give Substack a try, anyway, and if I end up earning an extra few hundred bucks per month, well, I can toss that money into investments and keeping increasing the number of my revenue streams.

Upshot: I'm glad I read the criticism and caught up on the scandal. I understand that the criticism is mostly politically motivated, but that doesn't mean it's without merit. At least now, I can go into the experience with my eyes open and enjoy it for what it's worth.

1 comment:

John Mac said...

I don't know, I'd never heard of Substack until Glenn Greenwald started writing there. He left his previous gig (at The Atlantic if I recall correctly) because they were censoring his writing. Greenwald is the rare liberal who will actually criticize other liberals and stupid shit like wokeism. I'm glad he found a platform where he can publish whatever he wants. If they paid an advance to get him, I see it as a way to promote the site and bring regular readers to the platform. Yeah, the left hates it because they can't control it...yet.

I hope you go for it. I'll be your first subscriber.