By Matt Taibbi
Has the Empire really struck back at “independent newsletters”?
“The Substack Scaries are Over for Media Companies,” announced Axios today, in a tweet tagged to a story with a dramatic headline: “Big media strikes back at Substack.” The piece referenced a recent Vanity Fair article, “A Good Newsletter Exit Strategy Is Hard to Find,” that described how some writers who’d come to platforms like Substack had run up against unexpected logistical problems, like wrestling with the issue of how to quit, and returned to traditional media jobs.
Coupled with the fact that major media outlets like the Atlantic and the New York Times have recently launched their own “independent newsletter” platforms, this was evidence, Axios proclaimed, that “The Substack threat to newsrooms was overblown.” The Axios “bottom line” observation: “Journalists that crave the infrastructure and editorial support offered by newsrooms are finding more happy mediums as the newsletter industry grows.”
Burying the lede just a tad, the same article noted Substack announced Monday that it has “more than 1 million paid subscriptions to publications on its platform, up from about 250,000 in December 2020.”
The Axios and Vanity Fair articles are the latest entries in a year-plus of hilarious anthropological pieces, often quoting writers returned from the wilds of Substack with harrowing survival tales (“We had to do our own marketing!”). These pieces tend to say a lot more about the cluelessness of the mainstream publications in question than the “independent-operator model” they’re purporting to cover, and these are no exception.