Saturday, June 25

Do you want to read the most intimate thoughts of Dominic Cummings? That is going to cost you | John naughton


ORone time, Dominic Cummings had a blog and very interesting too. Now, you have a different type of blog, which takes the form of a Substack newsletter. This comes in two flavors: one is free; the other is for subscribers who pay £ 10 a month for the privilege of having “premium” access to their thoughts. Occasionally, like last week, Dom offers free users generous help from their incendiary opinions, but more often the ‘free’ version only contains trailers for the more interesting content behind the £ 10 toll. Another word for this is clickbait.

I have no idea how many subscribers Mr Cummings has, but I guess that’s a lot, so at £ 10 per person per month he has a good source of income. And who can blame him, since he doesn’t seem to have a suitable job and in the old days people could read his old blog on the web for free, contributing nothing to his income? But his switch from the web to Substack shows just how clever the operator is, as many other intellectuals and public journalists have been traveling in the same direction, sometimes making tons of money in the process.

In terms of media ecology, it seems like yesterday that subscriber-funded, public-targeted newsletters were the new thing. Now, however, they are definitely a big deal. The leader in this genre is Substack, but there are many others: Twitter Magazine, for example, Facebook Bulletin and Ghost, to name a few. Substack appears to be the market leader, partly because it was generously funded by venture capitalists, but also because it initially attracted a number of journalists and writers, including Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, Noah Smith, Zeynep Tufekci, Michael Moore, Garrison Keillor, Patti Smith, and Anand Giridharadas.

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A very smart move by Substack was to team up with Stripe, the online payment company, to make it easy for writers to charge a subscription fee to those of their followers who are willing to pay. Basically, it is a single key click to activate paid subscriptions. And for writers who have a dedicated following, even if only a fraction is shelling out, the money can be good. Just do the math – if you have 800 subscribers willing to pay £ 5 a month, that translates to £ 4,000 a month before Substack takes its 10% cut and Stripe receives its small processing fee. And those fees can add up. For example, Heather Cox Richardson, a thoughtful New England history teacher whose blog Substack Letters from an American has tens of thousands of followers, he is believed to make $ 1 million a year on a subscription plan of $ 5 a month.

So Substack is clearly good for writers (not to mention Substack, which has 500,000 paying subscribers). And there is no question that this newsletter renaissance represents a significant change in our media ecosystem. But anyone who sees it as the solution to society’s tainted public sphere has not been paying attention. Of course, paid newsletters are good for journalists and writers who can attract a significant following – they can now make a living from their work, rather than having to bow to editorial or ideological gatekeepers. They are freed from the tyranny of clickbait, which was the downside of information “wanting to be free,” as the Stewart Brand cliché put it. They can write what they think without having to guess the owner’s likely response. The result is that, each morning, we are reminded of the amazing vitality, diversity and intellectual richness of the blogosphere. And that’s great.

On the other hand … newsletters introduce a new digital divide in the flow of information in society. If the best thinking and writing is reserved for those who can afford the monthly subscription, then the egalitarian potential of the web is diminished., leaving the poorest users condemned to “free” offers tainted by clickbait and algorithmic manipulation. More importantly, the newsletters do nothing to counter the decline of local news organizations or the way social media has absorbed the advertising revenue that once supported the independent journalism on which any liberal democracy depends. After all, no amount of thoughtful and intelligent comments on paid Substack blogs make up for the fact that often no one now reports what goes on in meetings of local authorities, magistrates’ courts, hospitals, and businesses. , etc.

This is because most of what is found in Substack or its counterparts is actually opinion. It is pure comment. Therefore, the growth of newsletters suggests that the famous saying of CP Scott, that comment is free but facts are sacred, needs to be updated: facts are increasingly rare and hard to come by, and comments are increasingly expensive. Like Dominic Cummings stream of consciousness.

What i’ve been reading

On a learning curve
What is fitness? And how do we measure it? Trait thoughtful post by Venkatesh Rao on his Ribbonfarm blog.

China crisis?
Seeing red is a excellent essay by Scott Galloway on the eastern power and the emerging geopolitical world order.

To go boldly …
Against incrementalism is that of Martin O’Neill evaluation at Boston Review from Ed Miliband’s new book, Go Big: How to Fix Our World.


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