The emerging/evolving Substack backlash has dominated a lot of the conversations I’ve been having this week.
It is extremely #2020 that a bunch of professionals – largely American media professionals – have decided to go for an entire platform just because they don’t care for some of their ex-colleagues who have started to use it. The turn in ‘The Discourse’ has been quick. In less than 2 weeks Substack has gone from darling to demon. I suspect a lot of this has more to do with peoples asinine opinions of people like Taibbi and Greenwald and tall poppy syndrome than any true malice towards users of Substack.
As I wrote in Verticals Of One; Substack is ultimately just an address book, a community gate and an email server with a bunch of added financial plumbing. It’s not very special. A good idea yes, but not special.
I’ve now helped 3 people with their Substack launches, and coached a few others on the platform informally. I’ve also been involved in helping people with their Patreon launches (and one exit to a different platform). The number of people who have asked me Why they need to sign up at thejaymo.net to support me rather than just add me to their roster of people I already support on Patreon is growing. The simple answer is I don’t want anything to do with Substack or Patreon. The reasons these platforms are popular is because it’s where everyone is already. People already have accounts – so ultimately folks not signing up here after saying they’d like too is the compound effect of UX friction and laziness. I still belive that offering my own support page via this website is the best way forward.
I saw one take this week on Twitter comparing Substack to Fedoras in 2005. Which I suppose is a pretty funny take until you stop to think about the fact that Fedoras in 2005 didn’t provide vital income for the types of people who were wearing them.
There are people out there who are surviving because of their 10 monthly Substack subs from an audience of 150. That 50 bucks means they get to eat something other than noodles. Others are making rent and it’s freed them from years of anxiety and constant precarity. The #supportnet has been one of the best things to happen on the Internet in the last decade. The backlash against Substack feels to me also like a backlash against independent creators making work/art that wouldn’t find an audience elsewhere. I don’t care if these people are attacking big boy journalists for using the platform. An attack on one, is an attack on all. Some of the creators I know who use Substack are incredibly annoyed, another is so angry at big name journalists writing for outlets they could only dream of being published in they had to drop off our telegram call and call me back when they had calmed down.
Folks are worried. Because of the vagaries of the wider Culture War they don’t know how this will play out. People are worried that if they are using Substack hurt them personally. By personally, I also mean financially.
I’m really not sure if it will or not. It’s not hurt peoples brands to be on Twitter for a decade alongside all the scum that floats around in its ecosystem. It might have hurt them mentally definitely. A large part of the shift to the Republic of Newsletters was to avoid the toxicity of the wider web. I think everything is more intense in this situation because money is involved – so the stakes are higher. I’ve advised people that if they are worried: then securely save a copy of their audience email addresses as a CSV and make those back ups a regular part of their life.
One of the biggest problems in that Substack took VC money. Its always the problem to be honest.
Despite the founders best intentions. They are now locked in to a system that demands it seek returns and exit opportunities for its investors. As a result, from their beginnings as a platform with very reasonable terms of service they are now trying to reverse engineer themselves into a media organisation. I really don’t know how long they will be able to keep up their editorial distance if they are actively doing deals with high profile people to join the platform. It’s a bit like re-watching Twitter circa 2010/12 but this time its for email, and folks can build paid/private follower lists. So maybe its like the 90s? Only this time people pay to receive them?
Substack building a reader tool is also hilarious. Oh no! We’ve allowed people to fill their very private communication spaces with other peoples thoughts and opinions! There’s too many options!
One solution to all this of course is Blogs. Unfortunately the ecosystem is very behind schedule. This is what I’m calling ‘The Alms Race’. I’ll have a post on this as part of Dimensino soon.
WordPress needs to do a lot more with its “earn” suite of tools provided by Jetpack and urgently. It’s privileging of its features for wordpress.com subscribers is a bad business decision. Bad for creatives and bad for WordPress. Ghost are a strong contender and moving fast in this space. But as yet they are not very user friendly, and lack easy theming and customisation for people hosting with them. Patreon is shit for just about everyone – users and creators. But its gravity means it can’t be avoided in many cases.
The other option is user controlled and owned services. I think everyone would feel a lot more comfortable with what is going on if the creators AND audience, AND the Substack team all had a say in how Substack was being run. www.comradery.co is nearly ready for launch and that is very interesting. Whilst I have some quibbles about its branding and TOS, it looks very promising.
Anyway. All this is to say I don’t really have any thoughts on the Substack backlash beyond urging people to ignore their impulse to disparage tall poppies and instead remember the long tail of people on the platform that are surviving because of others generosity.
A brief overview of the use of puppets in the 18th century Royal Court of Myanmar
The Ministry Of My Own Labour
- Hit a really serious wall with NanoWriMo this week. The 10k plus words for this week have been difficult and hard to find. I did however have a good idea for another novel. I wrote about 1k of words of notes, describing the idea. Pitching it to myself. So that was cool.
- I’ve also been reflecting on the Solapunk novel I’ve been writing. I know already that it’s going to need a huge edit. But I am beginning to suspect that it is going to need a different shape. More points of view are needed from more characters. I’ve decided to finish the draft from A-B as I planned it and then move it into scrivener and work on it there in the spring.
- Got the Permissive Ip‘s blogpost out. Glad thats out of my brain.
- Post tomorrow on the Roblox S-1 submission for their IPO 2.5k words of notes on it for anyone is interested.
Dipping the Stacks
I’m listening to the audio book of The Reverie by Peter Fehervari he’s an incredible author. Fantastic writer.
I have picked up Stanislavski again to read before bed. Really enjoying it again.
Chamberlain: Red Weather
So last week I wrote about a first new album after a decade.
This week brings us a new album after two decades.
I guess I should presage this commentary with the fact I cannot BELIEVE that Chamberlain are making new music again. They meant an enormous amount to me as a teenager. Still do. Their ’98 album The Moon My Saddle still remains one of the most important albums in my life.
Chamberlain had already broken up when I ‘got in to music’. I bought their retrospective double LP album collection of live recordings and alt versions Exit 236 the day it arrived in the post to my mates distro in 2001/2ish when I was 16. I went to his house after school to pick it up.
Chamberlain were a hugely important band in the post-hardcore scene starting life in Indianapolis as Split Lip in ’93. Then they quickly growing in to an Americana infused indie band with Fate’s Got a Driver in 95 (first as Split Lip) and then renamed and remastered in 96 as Chamberlain.
If you like americana/alt-country/indie rock and haven’t heard of Chamberlain before you should check them out. The Moon My Saddle first, then Fates Got A Driver, Exit 236 last.
To have new music from them in the shit year that is 2020 is … just amazing. Whats not amazing however is the album.
When I was listening to it yesterday evening Eve assumed it was new Chuck Ragan. Which I suppose is the fate of all hardcore punks who grow old and start singing alt-country. They all converge around that gravelly dad voice.
The best song on the album is ‘Some Other Sky’. which was their we are making new music single release from last year. The first 4 tracks can be at best said to be ‘subtle’. If they had some 80’s synths you might even confuse them for a U2 track (bad) or Future Islands (good). The first track is an overly heartfelt ‘Not Your War’ which feels like its trying a little too hard to be the opening track and falls flat. The whole album builds towards Some Other Sky and then shifts gear thankfully, into a much better album.
I also really like the track Lion In The Well which i’m going to assume it was written by guitarist Adam Rubenstein. As it sounds like one of his songs. The album ends with the track ‘When the lights go out’ which begins as an acoustic track that build and builds towards an anthemic finish. It was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel and sounds really great in headphones.
It’s not my favourite Chamberlain album by a long way, but I am glad that they are back. As is everyone I know from my teenage life it seems. Texts have been sent and group messages have been exchanged. Thoughts pronounced and opinions given. The album hasn’t even been out for 24hs at this point and it’s resulted in the most we’ve all spoken about music in years. A hotly anticipated album that has definitely been well received by a friendship group that grew up in a small shit hole seaside town in England, listening to an Americana band from Indiana.