Tag: writers

Thoughts on Substack’s Subscription Model

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A few months back, for the first time ever, I paid to read a blog. It was Joe Posnanski’s blog, “Joe’s Blog” on Substack. I absolutely love Joe’s writing. His book, The Baseball 100, was my favorite book of 2021 out of more than 80 books that I read last year. I even managed to get my Dad a signed copy of the book for the holidays. I love Joe’s voice, his style, and the subjects he writes about. I wanted more and his blog on Substack was one way to get that. An annual subscription cost $60/year and I was happy to pay that to be able to read more of Joe’s writing. I haven’t been disappointed. It has been well worth the money.

Along the way, I discovered that another writer whose writing I enjoy also has a blog on Substack. (I am calling these blogs out of habit. Technically, they are newsletters.) In this case it is the journalist James Fallows who, along with his wife, Deborah, wrote my favorite book of 2020, Our Towns: A 100,000 Mile Journey Into the Heart of America. In addition to being a journalist, Fallows is also a pilot, and since I was once a pilot, I appreciate what he has to say about flying in his writing. I also think he write sensibly on political subjects. He recently wrote a post, “Four Facts on the Filibuster” which is a good example. That post was published on his blog on Substack, “Breaking the News“. I enjoy James’ writing enough that I subscribed to his newsletter/blog as well, again for $60/year.

Then there is Molly Knight, who writes on baseball and the Dodgers. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lifelong New York Yankees fan. But I lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years from the time I was 11 until I was 30 and over the years, the Dodgers have grown on me for nostalgic reasons. If their play doesn’t affect the Yankees, I root for them. Molly Knight is another baseball writer who wrote for The Athletic and who know has started a newletter on Substack, “The Long Game,” which I subscribed to, in this case for $50/year.

You can see the problem. Each of these newsletters/blogs is worth the money to subscribe to them, at least to me. But in combination they add up quickly. In total we’re talking about $170/year for 3 newsletters/blogs. This doesn’t seem scalable to me.

Back in April 2021, the New York Times had an article, “Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack” by Ben Smith which detailed how writers are taking advantage of this model to make money in their professions–in some cases, a lot of money. As a writer, I think this is great. That writers can earn the kind of money the article talks about is a positive sign. That platform like substack allows them to take more control over their careers is another positive sign. The problem is, as more and more writers move to this model, it becomes harder and harder for readers to fork out limited funds to support them. If ten writer I really loved to read had subscriptions on Substack for $60/year each, that would cost $600/year to read all of them. That’s a lot of money.

I’m not sure how Substack will handle this. As it stands, writers pay 10% of their subscriptions to Substack. They keep the rest. That makes it difficult to introduce a “bundled” model. I think a bundled model would be useful for readers. Say, for $200/year a reader could access unlimited newsletters. This is essentially what Medium does today. But that would seem to take away some of the control that the writers have gotten in this model, to say nothing of the money as well.

This model also got me thinking about my own blog. Would people pay to read what I write here? I honestly don’t know, but I’ve always been hesitant to charge for what I write here. I’m even hesitant to put up a tip jar. Part of my hesitancy is that, at present, this writing is a hobby for me. I do it because I love to write. Once money enters the picture, it starts to seem like work, and I already have a job. Part of my hesitancy is that I’ve built up a loyal following of readers and I don’t want to scare anyone off. But the biggest reason I’ve hesitated to introduce a subscription model or even advertising is because I enjoy reading blogs that aren’t cluttered by ads. I am not doing this to make a living the way Joe Posnanski, James Fallows, and Molly Knight are.

Still, seeing the kind of money that some writers are making on Substack makes me wonder if I am missing an opportunity. If I was making money on the blog I could afford to subscribe to more newsletters on Substack.

For now, there is no need to panic. I have no plans to introduce ads or charge for subscriptions for the foreseeable future. But I am interested in seeing how things go with Substack, and how their funding model will evolve to make it easier for readers to subscribe to more newsletters without breaking the bank.

Written on January 18, 2022.

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The Hardy Boys

Working my way through the A’s in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction last night before going to bed, I came across an entry for Harriet Adams which took me by surprise. She was the editor of a publishing syndicate beginning in the 1930s. Quoting from the Encyclopedia, here’s what surprised me:

Under a variety of house names, including Carolyn Keene, Franklin W. Dixon and Laura Lee Hope, she was herself responsible for writing approximately 170 of the Stratemeyer Syndicate novels about the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and others.

I read several of the Hardy Boys mysteries when I was a kid, and until I read that passage last night, I would never have guessed that Dixon was a house name and that those books were written by a woman. (And that she also wrote the Nancy Drew books.)

Is this fairly common knowledge?

Thank you’s, part 1

Having sold my first story a few weeks ago, this week I finally got around to sending out some short “thank you” messages to writers who have influenced me and given me encouraging words not to give up over the years. Today I sent a note to Piers Anthony.

Growing up (in junior and senior) high school, I was a rabid Piers Anthony fan. By the time I was in college, I had 50 or 60 of his books (I now have well over 100 of them). I wrote him a letter in college and he promptly wrote back a two-page, single-spaced letter. His letter was encouraging, but realistic about the chances of actually getting a story published. We exchanged two more letters and that was it. Over the years, I read less and less Piers Anthony, not because I grew tired of him, but because I broadened my reading. I still bought his books whenever they came out.

So today I send him a short email message (his email address was available on his website). In it, I told him that his encouraging words with respect to writing kept me going and that without that kind of encouragement from writers we look up to, many writers (myself included) might have quit a long time ago. I told him that I had finally sold a story and that his encouraging words helped to make that happen.

You can imagine how surprised I was, therefore, when a few hours later, I had the following reply:

Good for you! You have become one in a hundred. Future sales won’t come easy, but the next one shouldn’t take you another 14 years. –Piers Anthony

Pretty cool, eh!

There are a few more on the list and I’ll post about them after I get the notes send out.

Which science fiction writer are you?

I came across this on pussreboots blog and I couldn’t resist taking it. Two things: (1) Isaac Asimov is my favorite science fiction writer (so I was pleased with the result); (2) the results weren’t rigged; I took the test once and tried to answer the questions honestly.

I am:

Isaac Asimov

One of the most prolific writers in history, on any imaginable subject. Cared little for art but created lasting and memorable tales.

Which science fiction writer are you?

Rendezvous at Penn Station

It might sound like the title of an Agatha Christie novel, or even some science fiction thriller from the 1950s. But this is, in fact, a true story, though no less dramatic and suspenseful than its fictional counterparts.

You see, I can add to the list of science fiction writers I have met. Yesterday, at about noon, Jen, Jason and I were at Penn Station to meet Michael Burstein and his wife, Nomi (a.k.a. gnomi). They were coming into town on a train from Boston and Michael and I had arranged to meet some weeks beforehand. Readers of my blog will know Michael by his LJ username: mabfan, a frequent poster-of-comments to my blog. We talked about baseball, and science fiction, and of course, writing and I had a great time and I’m very happy that we finally got a chance to meet in person. Michael and Nomi took some pictures which will be appearing on his blog, and when they do, I’ll post a link to them.

As a wannabe science fiction writer, I look up to anyone who has already made it, and Michael has certainly “made it”. There is objective evidence for this not only in the quality of his stories, but in the list of awards he has won or been nominated for. And yet, he is a very down-to-earth guy and I felt more like we were peers than with any other science fiction writer I have met. We only had a short time to meet before they had to leave, but I am really glad we got to do it, and my one regret is that I forgot to bring along my September 2005 copy of ANALOG (with Michael’s novella, “Sanctuary”) for him to autograph. (Incidentally, “Sanctuary” is another one of Michael’s stories up for an award this year.)

Michael encouraged me to attend a science fiction convention. I’ve never gone to one before, but if the people who attend conventions are as nice as Michael and Nomi, then I think it would be fun to try one out in the near future. Michael also commented that it was pretty rare for an s.f. writer to work out to the degree that I do. He suggested I writing a story that involves a workout of some kind. At LaGuardia last night, waiting to board my flight, I came up with a really good idea for a story where I can incorporate workouts in an interesting and science-fictional way. It involves mountain-climbing, however, something I know nothing about. Fortunately, brainwaster recommended a book to me a while back, Into Thin Air which I might read as research for this story sometime early next year.

So thanks, mabfan, for suggesting that we meet. It was a lot of fun. And thanks for the continued encouragement with my writing and for knocking loose a few ideas here and there.

Happy Birthday Janet Asimov!

Today is Janet Asimov’s (widow of Isaac Asimov) 80th birthday. I remembered it was her birthday today because she shares a birthday with science fiction and fantasy writer Piers Anthony.

Earlier today, I did a search for Janet Asimov and found that she has just come out with a new book. The new book, put out by Prometheus, is called Notes Towards a Memoir: Isaac Asimov, Life and Writing. I ordered it instantly from Barnes & Nobel.com and should have it by Thursday. (I also ordered Joe Haldeman’s new collection Seperate War and Other Stories