Substacking isn’t a substitute for real blogging. If you’re not writing several posts per day, adding quick commentary to blocks of texts from other websites, posting in varying lengths and formats etc. it’s just not the same.
— Joe Weisenthal (@TheStalwart) November 24, 2020
I tend to agree with Joe: blogging is (and was) something unique. Blogging is not simply putting up some writing online. It is a unique workflow that has at its core – linking to other people’s work, commenting on it and adding to the conversation. Twitter was the single greatest thing to topple blogging as the tool of choice for getting your ideas across.
Now it seems wherever I turn these days there is either a writer starting up a new Substack or somebody commenting on the Substack trend.* Substack has been successful in a very important and specific way. It has a name that is notable and one that has the potential to be a verb, like Zoom or Google. Can Duruk on Margins (a Substack) writes:
The biggest accomplishment of Substack so far is to make so much of the media conversation about itself. That itself may not be a bad thing. Sometimes you need a shock to the system which can shake things up in surprising ways, even though the shock itself had nothing to do with the results…No reason to believe that Substack’s aggressive foray into newsletters might be the kick in the butt newsletters needed to become a thing again.
The rapid rise of Substack has engendered a lot of commentary, not all of which is positive. Here is a (somewhat) comprehensive list of all the posts about Substack – pro, con and neutral. I think one thing is clear is that writing a newsletter is different that blogging. I have certainly experienced that many times over, first hand.
As with most new-ish forms of media, there are going to be some disappointed. It takes a concerted effort to build a winning newsletter. A lot of writers who start up a new Substack with the hope that it will provide them with enough revenue to quit their day job. Hunter Walk lays out here why most creators are going to have to have multiple streams of revenue to make a go of it. Steven Levy at Wired thinks the biggest threat to Substack will be that the biggest names will eventually decamp for bigger and better platforms.
As Ben Thompson of Stratechery notes – there is a path forward for Substack, but it is a narrow one. My guess is that Substack, at scale, is going to look a lot different than it does today. That is because, in the end, it seems like all social media platforms eventually converge on each other. The companies borrow, or steal, functionality from each other until they all seem somewhat homogeneous. (Does anyone remember when all Twitter had was 140 characters? Seems like a million years ago.)
David Pierce at Protocol notes that this desire to own your space on the web understandable. If you hitch your creative and financial wagon to one, or more, of the big social platforms you are at-risk. He writes:
In a lot of ways, the current move to independent publishing and people wanting to own their own websites is a move back to the old days of blogging. The mid-aughts blogging era died out in part because social platforms aggregated everyone’s audience in only a few places, but also because there wasn’t really a business model for being a blogger…Now tools like Ghost, Squarespace, Substack and WordPress make the business part of the equation easier.
As with so much in life, everything old is new again. Here’s hoping that this go around the new platforms provide creators with a better, more stable path.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called: blog, substack, podcast or tweet. All that matters is that people have a way to get their ideas to a broad audience in an efficient manner. We certainly seem to have that today, but it was easier when it was all called one thing: blogging.
*Full disclosure: I spoke with the Substack team when they were getting started and greatly admire what they have accomplished to-date.