Substack: History, Features, and Impact

Substack history, features, impact

Substack: History, Features, and Impact

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned from the last few years, it is that the media industry is a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. As the pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, it also swept through the media landscape, leaving over 30,000 job cuts in the U.S. alone in 2020. However, don’t despair because a game-changing platform has emerged from this turmoil, shaking up how we consume and create content —  Substack. This revolutionary newsletter platform has breathed new life into the media industry and has been a beacon of hope for many talented writers seeking a fresh start. So this article takes you through an exciting journey as it delves into the fascinating world of Substack, exploring its history, its features, and its incredible impact on media.

What is Substack?

Substack is an incredible American online platform founded in 2017 that gives writers everything they need to send subscription newsletters straight to their subscribers. With publishing, payment, analytics, and design tools all in one place, it’s a game-changer for the newsletter world.

This tool has truly revolutionized the world of online publishing since its inception. As an email newsletter platform, it has empowered writers of all skill levels to easily publish and monetize their content on the web. Its user-friendly interface and minimal barriers to entry have attracted a wide range of creators, including trailblazing journalists and some more contentious voices. 

Despite having some basic publishing guidelines to prevent explicit content or hate speech, Substack remains largely hands-off regarding censorship. This has contributed to its phenomenal growth, with over 1 million people paying for subscriptions to various Substack publications monthly. As a Y Combinator alumnus backed by Andreessen Horowitz, Substack has proven its mettle, amassing over 250,000 paying subscribers. 

The platform’s top ten publishers generate a staggering $7 million in annual revenue. While there is some debate about the longevity of this shift from algorithm-driven news feeds to traditional email newsletters, many believe we’re witnessing a renaissance in the media landscape. By embracing the age-old simplicity of email newsletters, Substack is carving out a unique niche and demonstrating that sometimes, what’s old can be the driving force behind a new era of communication.

Types of email accounts
Substack’s championing of the simple newsletter has brought about a change in the media landscape.


History of Substack

Substack is a relatively new player in the media world, but it has significantly impacted how we publish and consume news. Launched in 2017 by Chris Best, Jairaj Sethi, and Hamish McKenzie, Substack was founded to help writers earn money directly and on their own terms. Best said the goal was to allow writers and creators to own personal media empires.

The founders were well-equipped to take on this challenge. Best, a co-founder of the Kik messenger, Sethi, a developer, and McKenzie, a former tech reporter, had the skills and experience to create a platform to revolutionize the media world. Substack was designed to address the limitations writers, bloggers, podcasters, and creators face on modern publishing platforms. Many platforms restrict what can be published and require writers to tiptoe around political leanings. Cancel culture can also be a major issue, stifling creativity and free expression.

Substack’s primary agenda was to create better ways to connect readers with thought leaders and creators they want to hear from. Unlike traditional media outlets, which often filter and censor content based on algorithms or other factors, Substack allows readers to connect with writers who share their interests.

Substack is shaking up the media world by giving writers more control over their work. It also connects them with readers interested in what they have to say. While it’s still a relatively new platform, it has already shown great promise. It has the potential to transform how we consume media.

Features of Substack

If you’re looking for a user-friendly newsletter tool that offers a variety of features, then Substack is the answer. One of this platform’s standout features is its ability to give subscribers something they can’t turn down. This builds loyalty and encourages more sign-ups. This newsletter platform is about helping you express your unique voice. Plus you can choose to use it for free or with a paid plan. Either way, you’ll have many special features at your fingertips. Let’s get started and check out some of the cool things Substack offers.

Free Newsletters

Starting with a free Substack newsletter is a fantastic way to expand your brand. You can quickly refine your writing style and make a name for yourself. Equally, it will enable you to use the newsletter to connect with potential readers and showcase your expertise. Additionally, it will help you establish your online presence quickly. Substack can be a game-changer for those building a following. It provides valuable content to the audience at no cost. However, remember — don’t use Substack all by itself. Combine it with a website, and you will have the perfect recipe for success. Entice your readers with a compelling call-to-action (CTA), inviting them to your site where you can turn them into loyal customers.

Paid Newsletters

While free newsletters can boost your income on the backend, paid newsletters let you rake in the earnings upfront. With Substack, you can publish as many newsletters as your heart desires, and there are virtually no restrictions on your content. However, remember that your subscribers will weigh the value they’re getting against your price. Your subscriber count might dwindle if you ask for $75 monthly but only publish two newsletters.

The secret to success? Consistency. When people are willing to pay for your content, it means they’re eager to read it regularly. Establish a reliable publishing schedule so your readers know what to expect, and you can plan your content like a pro. Generally, Substack is a powerful tool for writers seeking to engage with their audience and grow their brand. So, go ahead and start crafting those captivating newsletters, and watch your writing career soar.

Scribd vs Kindle Unlimited
Substack offers an easy way for writers to engage more meaningfully with their readers.

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Strong Offers

You can create exclusive social media groups for subscribers and offer one-on-one coaching or conversations. You can also provide subscriber-only discounts on any products you sell. Writing to your audience and including a call-to-action to encourage clicks on your offer is essential. This can be an excellent way to convert hot leads into paying subscribers.

Multiple Publications

Another great feature of Substack is the ability to have multiple publications. This lets you engage with your audience by offering free, paid newsletter versions. You can make your paid content more exclusive, valuable, and personal to encourage readers to upgrade. You can also have multiple free publications to cater to different niches and drive more traffic to your website.


Substack offers annual and monthly subscriptions, which is an excellent way to appeal to subscribers who want flexibility in their payment options. You can even provide yearly subscriptions at a discount to incentivize subscribers to commit to your newsletter for extended periods.

This tool also allows you to sell group subscriptions. This can be beneficial if you think organizations or companies might be interested in purchasing multiple subscriptions for their members. Administrators can sign up and pay for multiple subscriptions through a particular page on your Substack site. You can even sell gift subscriptions for people who want to give your newsletter as a gift. Equally, as a publisher, you can give complimentary subscriptions to whomever you want via the settings page in your dashboard. This is a great way to build relationships with other publishers, influencers, and collaborators.

Ideally, Substack is a robust newsletter tool with many features to help you build your audience and monetize your newsletter. Whether you’re looking to offer exclusive content or build loyalty with your subscribers, Substack has you covered.

Impact of Substack

Substack has significantly impacted journalism, with numerous benefits for writers and readers. These changes have shaped the landscape of journalism in a diverse way. 


One of the most significant impacts of Substack is the newfound freedom it offers writers. Journalists who join the platform can say whatever they want without the constraints of editors and page-view metrics. They own their content and subscriber lists and can leave the platform anytime, taking their subscribers with them. Substack also offers financial freedom. This allows writers to pocket most of their earnings and grants that empower them to build a lucrative audience. Substack’s legal initiative, Substack Defender, allows writers to consult with premier attorneys for guidance on any legal concerns related to their writing.

Trust in Media

Another impact of Substack is its potential to transform trust in media. With writers not incentivized to game algorithms or view metrics, they are motivated to produce work that readers find engaging and exciting, which can foster trust. Substack allows for intimacy and authenticity with the audience. This is because the newsletters arrive directly in readers’ inboxes, facilitating one-to-one conversations between writers and readers. The platform enables writers to build recognized brands. This can lead to them earning more recognition and money than they might at salaried journalism jobs.

Writing typing on laptop
Substack facilitates the publishing and monetizing of authentic content without constraints of page-view metrics.


Recognition in Journalism

Substack is revamping recognition in journalism. As writers take control of distribution on Substack, readers have started to gravitate more towards individual creators than prominent media publications that employ them. This shift has allowed writers to build recognized brands and foster loyalty among readers. While recognition can be uncomfortable for writers as they market their newsletters, it ultimately leads to increased success on the platform. 

The Future of Substack

The future of Substack looks promising as the platform continues gaining traction among journalists and writers disillusioned with traditional media outlets. In launching Substack, its founders aimed to address various issues and the effects of social media on journalism. 

Substack addresses the issue of reliance on advertising to generate revenue. This results in a scenario where advertising earnings typically hinge on the number of page views, which can prompt authors to adopt tactics like sensational headlines to attract clicks. It can also lead to a situation where quality writing needs to be rewarded, and thoughtful analysis is overlooked in favor of more sensational content. Substack offers an alternative to this model. Writers can be supported by those who love their work, much like Patreon. They can avoid using clickbait tactics or worrying about generating the most page views. Instead, they can focus on producing high-quality content that resonates with their audience.

In addition to addressing these issues, Substack is also trying to rebuild trust between journalists and readers. Journalism has long been the subject of critical examination. In recent years, public trust in the press has eroded significantly. However, Substack is working to repair that trust by allowing writers to write what they want without worrying about generating page views or pleasing advertisers. This allows for a more authentic and honest approach to journalism, which can help to build trust between journalists and readers.

The platform’s mission statement highlights the demise of traditional journalistic standards and the rise of clickbait and fake news. Substack aims to be the antidote to these issues. It intends to provide a platform for writers to produce quality content and connect with their audience directly. More and more writers are increasingly turning to Substack. This proves that the platform has the potential to become a trusted source of information and a viable alternative to traditional media outlets.


Substack has become a beacon of hope for the media industry, which has faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. This revolutionary newsletter platform has breathed new life into the publishing world, empowering writers to publish and monetize their content on their own terms. With its user-friendly interface, minimal barriers to entry, and unique features, Substack has disrupted traditional media by allowing writers to build recognized brands and foster direct relationships with readers.

Authors can also earn more recognition and money than in salaried journalism jobs. The future of Substack looks promising, with the platform poised to become a trusted source of information and a viable alternative to traditional media outlets. As we continue to witness a renaissance in the media landscape, Substack’s age-old simplicity in email newsletters drives a new era of communication. This proves that old ideas can sometimes be the driving force behind innovation.

Substack: History, Features, and Impact FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the benefits of Substack?

With Substack, you have a one-stop-shop for all your content creation and management needs. You can focus on your writing and let Substack handle the rest. It’s an excellent platform for writers and content creators who want to connect with their audience through email. Plus, with a censorship-free environment, you can express yourself freely and connect with your audience on a deeper level.

How does Substack help writers?

This tool makes it an ideal platform for writers who want to build a following, monetize their content, and have full control over their creative output. With its simple and user-friendly interface, writers can easily publish, manage, and grow their audience.

What is the value of Substack?

Substack is a platform that enables writers and content creators to publish their work and earn money through paid subscriptions. It allows them to build a loyal following and get paid directly by their readers without going through traditional publishers or ad networks. It is an excellent way for creators to monetize their content and establish a sustainable income stream while retaining complete control over their work and brand.

How is Substack different from a blog?

Compared to a traditional blog, Substack has a more focused emphasis on email newsletters and monetization. It offers a streamlined approach for writers to create and distribute content to subscribers and generate revenue through subscription fees. It combines the features of a blog and an email newsletter service into one platform.

What happens when you press publish on Substack?

When you press the “Publish” button on Substack, your post is made live and available for your subscribers to read on the web. By default, the post is also sent to your subscribers via email so they can stay up-to-date with your content. However, if you prefer, you can uncheck the box next to “Send via email and Substack app inbox” to only publish the post to your publication and not send it via email.

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