How newsletters can still dominate news media
Future News 141
Is Substack heading towards a revenue trap? That was one of the questions that arose when I grilled Adam Tinworth – journalist, lecturer, SEO expert and author of One Man & His Blog – about the current state of the newsletter industry on Tech, Power & Media. Adam’s recent post about moving away from Twitter-owned Revue caught my eye.
For the uninitiated, Revue was acquired by Twitter at the start of 2021. Thanks to Elon Musk’s acquisition of the social media platform and after only 12 months as a Twitter business, Revue is now shutting down. Writers had until 18 January to retrieve their data and set-up shop elsewhere.
So why didn’t Adam choose Substack like everyman and his dog’s favourite celebrity writer? Substack’s VC-backing (the company raised $65m last March in a Series-B round and is backed by Andreessen Horowitz) was a turn-off and so was another related factor: as Substack seeks to generate more revenue and make its users stickier, it has become more like a platform (rather than a simple email sender and list builder).
The problem? More friction is being created around the end-user experience. Adam’s point in case was the Substack app, which he now occasionally forgets to open and therefore fails to catch-up with his favourite newsletters.
For Future News, meanwhile, the newsletter will be staying on Substack. Its content management system is straightforward, its functionality is growing and the company’s ecosystem is improving. The latter element will be especially important to improving the core product going forward.
The blogosphere thrived thanks to cross-postings and interactions between writers and readers. Substack and other newsletter platforms have failed to emulate that experience. However, it now seems to be heading in that direction.
But, admittedly, Substack is still a long way off becoming the YouTube of writing, something which Medium tried and failed to achieve. YouTube itself is still very much in a growing-up phase, despite nearing its 18th birthday come February.
Switching from consumer to producer on the platform has been fun and I’ve already picked up a few tips and tricks away from the often well-touted YouTube advice: pick a catchy title and make an engaging thumbnail.
There are some hidden gems on the platform (like ColdFusion) and as YouTuber David Hoffman told me last year, using the network is an active (rather than passive) exercise which requires a bit of know-how to get the most out of it.
Side Note 1: Twitter Blue Troubles
As part of my conversation with Adam, we discussed the relationship between newsletters and Twitter. The social media platform is now rolling out Twitter Blue, its flagship blue checkmark product. I’m very likely to give the service a trial (I already have a blue tick, but will lose it if I don’t cough up some cash to Elon), but couldn’t help notice that three quarters of its main features haven’t even launched yet. How ‘soon’ is ‘coming soon’?
Side Note 2: Here Come The Barbarians (Sort Of)
The last edition of FN asked whether Nelson Peltz’s very public attack on Disney and Bob Iger would spark further activist investor engagements. US M&A banker Ken Moelis expects as much, predicting a “significant” increase in shareholder skirmishes. Meanwhile, whether you’re Team Iger or Team Peltz, you may enjoy the below video.
📺 Media and tech questions to think about
Will 2023 be the year of Semafor? Punchbowl News, Axios and Politico will hope not.
One of BBC Radio 2’s biggest stars is heading to a rival station. How many listeners can Ken Bruce take with him? We will be waiting on the RAJAR figures to find out.
How much money did media companies spend on covering Davos (and was it worth it)?
Will Netflix, which started to venture into video games, head in a radically different direction after Reed Hastings’ departure?
Media outlets (CNN, NBC, MSNBC and Buzzfeed) are cost-cutting with layoffs. What if inflation cools quicker than expected and economies bounce-back?