My assessment of the Substack model

I noticed the other day that a large chunk of the ‘broadcast’ emails I receive are now delivered by Substack…

Substack describes itself as an ‘online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters.’

As a subscriber the experience of Substack is similar to Patreon. You subscribe to follow people you’re interested in. When you subscribe, Substack will offer optional payment options to support the publisher, often in exchange for bonus content.

Across both Patreon and Substack I subscribe to a few people for additional ‘insider’ content. It’s the 80/20 principle in action; some portion of your subscriber base will always pay more for additional value. If I consistently like what somebody has to say, I’m happy to pay for additional insight.

I don’t see many marketers using Substack – mostly I’m following people from other fields. But conceivably you could well use it as a replacement for say Mailchimp. If you’re just writing and publishing messages fresh out of the pan, the baked-in monetisation mechanisms seem elegant. You can then place ‘upsell’ options within free broadcasts to encourage free readers to upgrade, so each free message has a route further into your world for people who want more.

Potentially Substack replaces the need for a WordPress website, Thrivecart/Stripe account, hosting, email delivery system. Essentially they manage and tie together a ‘stack’ of tools that is potentially confusing for a non-technical publisher.

Viewing yourself as a ‘publisher’ provides a solid long term foundation for trust-based marketing. Over time you can build up your body of work through regular publishing and repurpose the best parts to other formats.

The downside is that you can’t automate any messages. Increased simplicity always comes at a cost. You can’t send your ‘greatest hits’ when somebody first subscribes. You can’t automate messaging around a time-based event (birthdays, webinars, anniversaries). The business case for Substack is solely for people who publish – and publish regularly. I don’t believe Substack in any way replaces the need for a sophisticated marketing automation system.

My sole argument here is that the Patreon / Substack model is worth considering – IF you have plans to publish on a regular basis and zero aspirations to automate.

If you have first hand experience as a publisher on Substack I’d be interested to hear it.


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