As Twitter solves its discovery issue, a middle-ground of subscription outlets emerges 

Future News 87 

Welcome to the newsletter business, Jack. Or is it the subscription business or the long-form business or perhaps all of the above? The most interesting element of the Revue acquisition is that the Dutch-based enterprise will remain separate from Twitter, at least for the time being. 

The company has promised to continue to invest in Revue as a standalone service, cutting its revenue-taking rates down to 5% (Substack enforces a 10% cut, while Ghost takes a 0% fee) and has made its Revue Pro offering free. This crucially means that the platform’s users aren’t limited to just 50 emails before being charged. 

We’re also told that there will be a hiring spree across engineering, design, research and data science for Revue. How it plugs into and interacts with Twitter, whenever that time comes, will be when we see the real success or failure of the acquisition (FN is old enough to remember Periscope). 

Advertisers will presumably be given more scale (much like Facebook’s offering across its sister platforms), but what proportion of Twitter’s 187m daily active users will buy into long-form content served up on the otherwise pithy platform? There’s not an awful lot of detail to go by at the moment other than Twitter claiming that the partnership will work “seamlessly” on the platform. 

Inspired by technology analyst and newsletter author Ben Evans, Revue was founded in the first place (in 2016, before Substack) to solve Twitter’s discoverability and “information overload problem.  A new issue is that email is becoming crowded thanks to the unbundling of journalists from news media outlets, writers of all stripes using the delivery system and public and private sector decision makers cutting out the middlemen of journalism to publish their own analysis, thoughts and insights in their own words. 

If the blogosphere boom taught us anything, it’s that we are likely to be left with a few independent and full-time writers, others who have been absorbed by legacy media and many drop-outs. A clear winner at the moment, by way of example, is historian Heather Cox Richardson. And she built up her Substack audience by promoting her writing on Facebook, rather than the more fast-paced news-focused Twitter. 

With that in mind, perhaps the Revue-Twitter tie-up will see an over-indexing of journalists signing-up for the newsletter service? Either way, Revue, Substack and their peers and competitors are just one type of play on the subscription model business. 

As out-of-the-box solutions, they allow writers to easily set-up an offering ready to generate revenues. The key bit here is ‘set-up’. It’s still hard to build an audience from scratch (many of Substack’s stars are importing them in one form another from elsewhere). But what happens once that audience is built and writers become more savvy about technology, data and revenue? The logical next step is that they go their own way, unless Revue, Substack and the like can become more sticky (granted, a social media partnership is one way of achieving this, while creating a podcast network is another). 

Punchbowl News skipped this step altogether and decided to build its own stack to help bring in $300 annual subscriptions from its members. The same can be said of The Information, the technology-focused outlet which Punchbowl took notes from. They’re just two publications in a burgeoning middle-market of member-supported companies that concentrate on organic growth and are not reliant on advertising (in programmatic or display form) to pay the bills. 

There’s nothing new here. Investment magazines, stocks and shares tip sheets and trade titles have been doing this for decades. And because of their B2B or dual B2B and B2C attraction, readers are happy to pay a monthly fee. What’s changed over recent years is that streaming services, most notably Netflix, have got consumers into a habit of being charged every four weeks with a ‘no commitment, cancel anytime’ culture. Paying for quality information is no longer baulked at. 

As to how many subscriptions is too many, the research points to a ‘winner takes it all’ paradigm. Though, as with streaming, we are still in the early days of the reader revenue model being popularised. Oh, and of course, it now looks like Facebook could be getting in on the action. 

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