You guys know that I like to think about media and communication and how we share information. Columnist Andrew Sullivan this week moved his writing from New York Magazine to Substack, a newsletter-based publishing platform. ￼This follows a number of big league writers who have moved from the mainstream to subscriber-based writing.￼ It has been suggested by tech thinker Benedict Evans that Substack is disrupting Medium. Or at least, subscriber-based newsletters are having their moment.
Medium as a publishing platform followed Blogger, Tumblr and others that came before. I was never impressed with the novelty of Medium except for its clean, modern lines and its capacity for branded publication channels. I’ve referred to Medium as digital sharecropping since few writers benefit financially from what’s created there.
Why is there increasing interest in newsletters?
There are a few reasons why newsletters may be having their moment:
Escape from editorial tyranny. To understand the plight of the writers look no further than the departure letter posted by New York Times firebrand Bari Weiss. Her resignation letter is a scathing repudiation of the the New York Times and other MSM publications with their broader creep of editorial single-mindedness.
Search for intimacy. Newsletters offer targeted, more intimate relationships between writers and a defined audience. I’ve found that some of the most successful email newsletters (and I get a few) carry the voice and rantiness that reminds me of the early, pre-social media blogs. I noted on Twitter this week that while I am a subscriber to the MIT Technology Review, my relationship with Karen Hao of The Algorithm (A newsletter of the MIT Technology Review)￼ is probably stronger than my relationship with the the Review itself. This feeling of connection and intimacy is critical to the emergence of the letter.
Making sense of a noisy world. The world is increasingly noisy and individuals are looking for voices they can trust to offer understanding.￼ Translation, filtration and interpretation will be key to making sense of a noisy, changing world going forward. I suspect that we will continue to see independent, unexpected voices rise who are able to do this very successfully. Too many to mention but Ben Thompson of Stratechery comes to mind (and yes, I’m a subscriber there, too).
The personal quest for a platform. ￼Substack’s timing is perfect since the idea of the personal platform, namely blogs, were reported DNR a few years back. And since that time the world has receded to ephemeral chatter platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Few physicians, for example, maintain blogs, or even personal sites, as many did in the pre-social era. This kind of conversation is now the core virtual presence of the modern public physician (barring the rare YouTube and IG celeb docs). But there’s an interest in sharing ideas longer than 240 characters. This is evident with the rising popularity of tweetorials and Twitter threads (and my concerns about them) among healthcare professionals.￼ Doctors are beginning to ask, ‘where do I put an idea?’
Opportunity to monetize writing. Substack is proving the sustainability of newsletters as a source of revenue. And while paid newsletters have been around from the earliest days of the internet, the barrier to entry has come down considerably. It’s important to note that many successful newsletters do not look to monetize what they do but rather see their letters as vehicles for keeping touch with a core audience.
Will medicine embrace the newsletter?
It has me thinking whether this is something that we will begin to see in healthcare as domain thought leaders are 1) amassing substantial ‘tribal’ followings while 2) lacking places and spaces for their thinking.
So I think it’s just a matter of time before we see healthcare professionals experimenting with the Substack platform or building an email presence around establish web platforms (Memberful and Mailchimp layered on WordPress, for example).
I suspect the future will come back to individuals owning virtual real estate the way it was 10 to 15 years ago￼. While I prefer to keep my writing archived on my own site, Substack is a reasonable start￼ for those who don’t have any kind of web presence beyond their social profiles.
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