How publishers will deal with the "Substack problem"

Welcome! I'm Simon Owens and this is my media newsletter. You can subscribe by clicking on this handy little button:

Hey folks! I know many of you are already checked out for New Years, but I wanted to slip one last newsletter in for 2020. I have some exciting things in the works, starting with a look back at how much my newsletter and podcast grew this year. I’m also working on a series of articles about publishers that handled the “pivot to video” quite well. And then there are all the great podcast and case study interviews I have lined up. 2021 is shaping up to be an exciting year.

Ok, let’s jump into this week’s newsletter…

How publishers will deal with the “Substack problem”

The newsletter platform Revue reached out to a bunch of writers and asked them to predict how the newsletter industry will evolve in 2021. I was one of the people they reached out to, and my response focused on the publishers that are losing their star talent as they decamp to launch their own paid newsletters.

Here’s my prediction:

2021 will be the year that publishers start to form strategies to deal with the Substack Problem. By that, I mean they’ll need to find ways to discourage their star writers from leaving to launch their own Substack newsletters. In the most likely scenario, they’ll make deals with writers to launch the newsletter under the banner of the media company. They might structure the deal so the writer gets to keep their current salary and then some percentage of the subscriber income they generate – similar to the advances and royalties that book publishers dole out. This will be enticing to the writers because they get to maintain job security while also benefiting directly from their success. They can also grow their audience much more quickly with the help of the media company. It’s a win win for both parties.

Products licensed from the YouTube channel Ryan’s World to clock half a billion dollars in retail sales by year’s end

"Since the launch of his first product in 2018, the Ryan’s World brand is on track to clock a half a billion dollars in retail sales by year’s end. Today, Ryan’s World vends roughly 10,000 licensed products from 105 manufacturers in 30 countries" [Tubefilter]

The Future of Music Journalism… Is on TikTok

I remember back in the 2000s when hardcore music fans could turn to blogs that uploaded downloadable mp3s of their favorite songs. Now, TikTok is fulfilling that roll. [Rolling Stone]

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ESPN+ is hiking its annual subscription fees

ESPN+ has 11.5 million subscribers, which means it's something like a $650 million annual business. It must be stemming at least some of ESPN's losses from cable cord cutting. [Variety]

Amazon Buys Wondery as Podcasting Race Continues

A year ago, we all thought the podcast platform wars would boil down to Spotify vs Apple. But from the looks of it the more realistic outcome could be Spotify vs Amazon vs Sirius XM. [NYT]

Is Substack the Media Future We Want?

Substack gets the New Yorker treatment. The most interesting part is when it goes into a brief history of pre-internet newsletters that were sent via snail mail. [New Yorker]

Join my secret Facebook group

I have a Facebook group that I only promote in this newsletter. It’s like a cool club of roughly 400 other people who are obsessed with digital content. It’s basically this newsletter on steroids. Join here. [Facebook]


Andrew Rea is the quintessential YouTube success story. He started his channel based on a relatively simple concept -- recreating dishes from famous shows and movies -- and built it into a media empire. [Inverse]

How I Grew a YouTube Channel to 8+ Million Views and Sold It

"Want your first 1,000 subscribers? It took me a year and over 100 videos to get there. Does YouTube still sound appealing?" [Medium]

For Vice Media, bad-boy news culture is dead, long live news

Vice was not in a good financial position when it hired a new CEO in 2018. We're seeing signs now that she's slowly righting the ship. [Digiday]

Subscriptions aren’t the only gifts you can give

Sometimes I receive emails from folks who say something to the effect of, “I love your newsletter, but I’m not in a financial position at the moment to support it.” That’s OK! In fact, there is a way to support this newsletter without spending a penny: recommend it on social media. Plugging it on social media results in new signups, a certain percentage of which convert to paid subscriptions at a later date. It’s all a virtuous cycle.

Here, I’ll even provide you some language you can copy and paste:

I've really been enjoying @simonowens' media newsletter. If you work in the industry and aren’t subscribed, then you’re missing out.

Thank you in advance!