The Substack model turns writers into investment opportunities


  • The publication platform Substack lately introduced the winners of its Substack Fellowship program, awarding 15 writers over $355,000 in funding for his or her newsletters.
  • Because Substack fees a 10% service price on monetized accounts, the funding acts like an investment.
  • The program reveals how platform’s expertise turns particular person writers into small companies, on which buyers (on this case, Substack) can seed with capital in trade for a revenue-share association.
  • Right now, solely Substack itself has taken benefit of the brand new enterprise model, but when the idea works different buyers may observe swimsuit.
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On Monday, the publication platform Substack introduced the winners of its latest batch of fellowships: 15 recipients in complete, divided into one senior fellow, 9 fellows and 5 honorable mentions. All informed, the corporate awarded $355,000 in funds.

Unlike in a conventional arts grant, Substack levies a 10% service price on the income generated by its fellows’ newsletters. Substack fees this price on all its paid publication providers, permitting writers to maintain 90% of the income they generate and sending the remaining 10% to assist Substack preserve the lights on. Charging such a price is normal apply for a free-to-use platform.

Where it will get fascinating, although, is that as a result of Substack income off the potential success of those newsletters, the corporate is basically investing within the publication merchandise — and by extension the writers — as in the event that they have been tiny startups.

The author as small enterprise

This total premise is made doable by Substack’s expertise stack, which permits writers to monetize their output by placing it behind an easy-to-use paywall. It turns a author’s expertise and physique of labor into an asset.

Imagine a preferred author determined to begin a Substack publication. They know that, over time, the variety of subscribers to their publication will develop, which can enhance their income each month. 

But maybe they may use an infusion of capital instantly, to repay a invoice. Or maybe a big sum of cash would assist the author focus extra totally on their publication, expediting its progress. Maybe the author isn’t certain their publication will succeed, leaving them extra amenable to the thought of accepting a lump sum cost in trade for a part of their “company,” i.e. the publication.

These hypotheticals open the door for an out of doors investor to supply this newsletter-writer capital in trade for both fairness of their “company,” or an ongoing revenue-share settlement, which is what Substack presently does.

The author will get entry to capital that they’ll both maintain on to or use to supercharge their publication. The investor will get in early on a possible monetary payoff if the publication proves profitable. It’s investing as common, apart from this time the “company” being invested in is a publication author.

Safe, small-scale bets

Peter Rojas

Investor Peter Rojas says that the Substack model resembles a small enterprise investment.

Peter Rojas


Peter Rojas, a associate on the enterprise capital agency Betaworks Ventures, says the premise is intriguing, however the restricted alternative for scale narrows its enchantment.

“From a venture capital standpoint, I wouldn’t invest in a Substack newsletter because it won’t generate a big enough return,” stated Rojas. “A newsletter is not going to turn into a $100 million business and IPO.”

But, says Rojas, who co-founded the expertise blogs Gizmodo and Engadget, the model presents ample alternative for smaller, however nonetheless sizable investments which are safer than enterprise capital.

“You can think of it like a small business: I’ll give you $50,000 for a share in future revenue. It’s a helpful investment tool for a project that you want to see succeed, though not necessarily one that is a financial powerhouse,” stated Rojas.

A publication portfolio

Investing in a publication may nonetheless be profitable. If an investor had a 10% income share in a publication that reached three,000 subscribers paying $10 a month, they’d web $36,000 a yr, assuming that the subscription numbers did not develop.

While such a return is small potatoes for a enterprise capitalist, it is a tidy sum for a person investor. Plus, if an investor seeded a number of newsletters and created a portfolio, they may simply up their returns into the six-figure space, which is strictly what Substack is doing.

The firm’s total enterprise model is based on the 10% service cost, so the revenue-sharing idea isn’t new. But Substack investing cash in its newsletters, then cashing in on its income share? That’s an investment portfolio within the making.

Right now, solely Substack itself understands the potential investment opportunities afforded by this new model. They are the one ones investing within the newsletters and the one ones benefiting from their subscription revenues.

But if Substack’s new fellows flip a revenue with their freshly financed newsletters, it may not be lengthy earlier than different buyers come knocking.



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