Should Substack offer more subscriber features?
I think Substack creators should be able to offer merch, payment tiers, and one-off products like ebooks.
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Should Substack offer more subscriber features?
Today’s question comes from Kevin Dennehy
As a veteran of the print newsletter industry, we always offered a "premium" product as an incentive for subscribers to go paid or renew their subscriptions. This was a main staple of newsletter marketing in the past. Here's the question: why hasn't Substack built in capability that allows its creators to send a product to folks who pay for the newsletter? It's another step for the time-strapped creator/author/writer to find another platform for this incentive product.
Back in April, I wrote a piece titled “Substack's biggest competitor isn't who you think it is.” Its thesis was that too many people compare Substack to other newsletter platforms like Revue and Mailchimp, when in reality it is so much more than a newsletter platform. Not only does it have a slick blogging interface, but it also hosts podcasts, offers community features, and courts non-newsletter creators like novelists and comic book artists. Because of those attributes, it’s more a direct competitor to Patreon.
As such, there are some Patreon features that Substack should copy — starting with the ability to send physical objects to subscribers. When Substack first launched, premium emails were the only subscriber benefit a writer could offer. It’s since expanded into premium message boards and podcasts, but Substack writers are still limited to offering only digital content.
Patreon, on the other hand, allows its creators to collect mailing addresses and other information from their subscribers, and that makes it much easier for those creators to offer physical merch. Given the explosion of merch sales in the YouTuber space, it’s clear that there’s real demand for physical products, and yet Substack writers need to use an outside platform if they want to offer items like coffee mugs, tshirts, and stickers as subscriber perks.
Another Patreon feature that Substack could offer is payment tiers. On Patreon, a creator can set different tiers with corresponding perks. A subscriber at a lower tier might just get premium content, whereas a subscriber at a higher tier might get access to a private Discord community or live video calls.
On Substack, you can offer discounts, group rates, and even a “founding membership” option, but you can’t set up multiple prices that correspond with separate offerings — at least as far as I can tell. I’ve toyed with the idea of creating a super expensive subscription that grants subscribers one-on-one phone calls with me, but there’s currently no way to facilitate that transaction on Substack.
Here’s another feature I’d love to see: the ability to sell digital products as one-off transactions. Last year, I experimented with repackaging my case studies as PDF ebooks and selling them for $10 each, but I had to use Gumroad to sell them. A lot of Substack writers currently offer products like ebooks and video courses, and the platform is probably missing out on a lot of revenue by not allowing for one-off payments.
What features would you love to see from Substack? Sound off in the comments:
SoundCloud has a better payout system for indie artists than Spotify. [Passionfruit] I would love to find out how much revenue indie artists are receiving from SoundCloud each year.
Publishers balk at free money from Google, which wants to feature them in its Google Showcase widget. This is despite the fact that Google doesn't really need to pay them because Google Showcase obviously falls under fair use. [WSJ]
LION comes out in opposition to new legislation that would force tech platforms to pay publishers [LION] From the essay: “Who benefits from these efforts? For the most part, it’s the largest legacy publishers — including those who have strip-mined reporters from communities in the name of 20-30 percent profit margins … The companies with their hands out are the ones that spent decades ignoring their businesses and cutting journalism away from communities, leading to the crisis we face today." MY THOUGHT BUBBLE: I think this is correct. The pending legislation that would force Facebook/Google to pay publishers is basically a corporate shakedown that rewards large publishers and will punish smaller ones. It also takes a hammer to the concept of fair use.
Rumble seems to be gaining traction as a video platform, but its embrace of far-right figures is probably going to scare off most mainstream advertisers. [WSJ]
An influencer in Philly claims that a PR firm tried to force her to post about a new restaurant just because she got a free meal. [Passionfruit] MY THOUGHT BUBBLE: Free merch/meals IS NOT PAYMENT in exchange for content unless that's agreed upon in advance. At the same time, I could see how a PR firm would prioritize influencers who are most likely to post about the events/restaurants they're given access to.
The rise of the man-on-the-street creators
Back in 2014, a guy named Yafate Beyene reached out to me to tell me about his YouTube channel. Its premise was simple: he set up a camera and tripod on some busy street, and as random people walked by, he’d ask them all the exact same question. For instance, in a February 2004 video he asked dozens of college students in San Diego whether they knew any stereotypes about British people.
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