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The Hungry

How Substack made a liar out of me.

Published 4 months ago • 4 min read

Ok, so that part where I said there wouldn't be another Hungry post for the rest of 2023? Yeah, that was a mistake, and I blame it entirely on bad timing because after I sent out the post on Friday, a story was shared with me that would have completely changed my view of some things I shared in the message. Let's talk about it.

On Friday, Business Insider shared a reaction post to another article written by The Atlantic earlier in the month about Substack's tolerance of extreme right-wing and pro-Nazi content.

Then co-founder Hamish McKenzie shared this post because of the backlash:

The gist is that McKenzie says they don't want to inhibit free speech, but they're also taking profit from these extremist accounts. Substack's position is a bad take, and I cannot support it.

This is problematic for me for a few reasons.

  1. I am a fan of Substack as a technology. It's a fantastic platform to help people start writing and grow a thriving email list.
  2. I've shared many articles propping up the platform, and supporting it further would be a bad judgment call.
  3. I am a micro-investor, participating in their public investment round earlier this year (I'm looking into how to get my money back now).
  4. I subscribe to many Substack accounts and have paid memberships with several of them.

That last one hurts the most because as much as I want to support other creatives, I don't want to give Substack any extra juice right now, at least until they see the error of their ways and stop allowing extremists to earn from the platform.

Going forward, these are the steps I'm taking to rectify the problem and fill the gaps left behind by my self-dismissal from Substack.

  • I will no longer post to the platform until they change their view. I'm not closing my account because there is good information on my account that some people may still find value in, and it's all free to view.
  • Cancel all my paid subscriptions to other Substackers. I hate this one, but I'm drawing a line in the sand here.
  • Find a new platform to share my personal stories. I announced this on Friday, as I was going to use my Substack account for that purpose, but I'll find a new home for it.
  • Completely rewrite some of the content for Choose Your Words because Substack would be a big part of the concept.

That last one is a doozie because I had such a good plan, and now I have to rethink it all. This is the biggest issue whenever we plant our crops in someone else's field.

The difference with Substack, as opposed to other platforms, is that we control our content and who we share it with, which I suppose is the core part of the problem—bad actors sharing harmful content with no filter.

The Alternatives

When I shared my view on this topic with people on Threads, some asked what I would do next. The Hungry will remain on ConvertKit as it has since August. Still, I won't be using it for my personal blog/newsletter because I wanted to share a more stripped-down and streamlined process for others who are intimidated or skeptical of starting their newsletter.

A few people asked about using platforms like Shopify, Wix, or Squarespace for their blogs and newsletters. There is no problem using those platforms for blogging, but it's important to note that you will likely not get any organic traffic to your posts. You will need to drive people to your blog, and since social media hates external links, the best way to get people to your blog is an email list.

Shopify has integrated email marketing capabilities, but it's very lean on functionality. Also, from my personal experience, my read-through rates were absolutely abysmal. Any message that got over 15% read-through was a miracle.

I don't know much about Wix, and it's been a long time since I've used Squarespace, but I can imagine if they have the same type of situation as Shopify, they will also suffer from terrible read-through rates. I attribute this to the fact that they do not put a lot of energy into the technology, whereas the platforms listed below make it their main priority and have better ways of getting user's emails read.

These are some alternatives I'm looking into:

  • Ghost.org - Similar to Substack with a smaller user base, and has a nominal annual fee
  • Beehiiv - Less of a network than Substack and more of an email-first service with more functionality. This is the next generation of email service providers, and you can start for free for up to 2500 subscribers (This will likely be my choice for the personal blog/newsletter).
  • Buttondown - Someone just introduced me to this one, and I don't know much about it yet, but one thing I do appreciate is that they offer the ability to manage multiple newsletters from a single account. This is similar to Substack, but strictly email and no network aspect. Also, it's the most costly of the platforms to get started—even more than ConvertKit for the same level of functionality.
  • LinkedIn Newsletters - The platform has doubled down on its newsletter aspect, but I'm not sure if I can get with the place's tech-bro/marketing guru vibe. It's not the most enticing platform for creative people, but I am investigating further. I also do not know if you have control over your email list. I doubt it, but I'll recon and report back.
  • ConvertKit - A great platform, but not for the timid. I am constantly researching the knowledge base and posing customer service questions to figure things out. The capabilities are more than most people need, but they offer the ability to future-proof your business so you do not need to keep puddle-jumping your way from one platform to the next.

I am grateful I started my alternate journey with ConvertKit earlier this year because it would have been one helluva hustle to get myself a new home in the middle of a holiday. I'm starting to love the platform, and if you ever have questions about it, hit me up.

On that note, I'm sorry to bring sad post-Christmas tidings a day after the celebration. The new year is coming, and I'm happy to share a fresh outlook on life.

Best wishes to you and yours.

Cheers,

Dave

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The Hungry

By Dave Conrey

The Hungry serves up practical and actionable creative business news, information, and insights twice weekly. Join thousands of other artists, designers, and creative professionals looking to demystify marketing, strategy, selling techniques, and the technology necessary to run a thriving business.

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