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Is Substack the Evolution of Newsletters?
My concept of what a newsletter is, I’ll admit, is pretty dated. I’m talking 1990s dated. For me, a newsletter, whether personal or impersonal, is meant to be an email you get in your inbox that has information about a person or product that you (hopefully) want to receive. Of course, we know as junk mail seems to take up more of our inbox than anything else these days, that isn’t always the case. And unsubscribing doesn’t always mean what we think it means. So, the idea of building a newsletter today can seem daunting and even a waste of time for most people who are trying to start a business or make a connection.
I’ll have other blog posts that will discuss more in-depth the pros and cons of starting a newsletter, but for now, I want to discuss the stuff we put into them. Namely, the content.
Again, I’m pretty old school when it comes to what a newsletter should be and also what it should have. I’m also very regimented in the design and information. Probably because I enjoy uniformity and knowing what to expect in someone’s YouTube video or newsletter regardless of the change in content appeals to me. Therefore, I’m fully aware my newsletters may seem like they are coming from a digital publication rather than an actual human person. I’m not sure what I’m missing to make that switch but I’m working on it, trust me.
For now, you can guarantee this is the order of every single monthly newsletter I send out:
New Content Update
Blog Update Posts
Live Streaming Reminder
Motivations & Interests
Follow Me Social Media Icons
Required Mailchimp Content
Boom. That’s it. That’s my email every month. And right off the bat, I can tell a few things I’m doing wrong:
I have too many “sections” that aren’t really telling the reader anything about me though they are filled with curated areas of interest. Just because they are of interest to me doesn’t mean they will be interesting to my subscriber but I’m making that assumption and possibly losing valuable readers because of it.
I have no clear explanation of the purpose of my emails. When I started out back in 2018 with my newsletter it was for the sole purpose of selling my books. That has changed over time from selling my books to just really sharing my journey as a creative person (of which my writing will be a huge part of that) but I don’t think that is really evident and made clear in my emails.
My subscriber list is really outdated. You can’t tell that from the sections I listed but I know this to be true. 100% of my subscribers joined when they thought they would be getting information about my books. 100% of my newsletters since 2020 have not been about my books because I haven’t written any or published any. And that is a problem that can easily be fixed by promoting in the right places and fixing the first two issues.
Now, going back to Substack. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. I only just became aware of it a few weeks ago and I will define it in the following way:
Substack is a cross between Medium (but free), WordPress, and Mailchimp. But very different and unique in its own way. I have only spent a little time on the site and set myself up with my own official substack but I am actively using it and quickly realizing how I can incorporate it into my “brand” as both a creative person and a writer as well.
What I like most about it is the freedom it gives you that a site like Medium doesn’t. Unfortunately, when Medium monetized itself it made the ability to just share content on there and not feel like I have to monetize myself an issue for me. I hate when I’m forced to do something I just don’t feel comfortable doing. Not everyone or everything on Medium, I feel, should be and needs to be behind a paywall. The fact that they made that transition makes me averse to the site and I actively make sure I don’t accidentally click on a link that will take me there and remind me of the “number of free reads I have for the month” which is ridiculous if you ask me! But they aren’t the only online service doing that and therefore I can’t blame them for wanting to join the others, I just feel they missed an opportunity that a company like Substack is quickly filling. I just wish they don’t decide to go the same route.
How is Substack similar to these other services that basically can be combined into one central location? Well, let me try and answer that one at a time:
MEDIUM vs SUBSTACK
They both have a dedicated page where you can easily view content by your favorite writer. You can favorite them so you get their content on a dedicated news feed (if you follow more than one person/publication). There is a comments section to communicate thoughts with the writer. And I find the aesthetics are pretty similar as well. Very clean. No pop-up ads or distracting things on the sidebars. Just reading what your favorite writer has written and discover new writers who are similar.
WORDPRESS vs SUBSTACK
Many bloggers are using Substack as a way to reach a new audience and pull them to their WordPress blog. As WordPress isn’t really a search engine that can send people to your blog, that is something you have to do yourself through social media and sharing your link. However, if you make your substack your actual blog or an extension of your real blog, then you can funnel them towards your WordPress if you wanted to. You can also upload blog posts you’ve already written in one go into your Substack if you’re afraid to start with ZERO content.
MAILCHIMP vs SUBSTACK
Here is where things get really interesting. You can treat Substack like its very own newsletter. Meaning, people who follow you on Substack will automatically be added to your newsletter so whenever you post something new on there, they will get an email to their inbox! And it has a built-in audience because it is a search engine where someone can search for cooking or writing or whatever your niche happens to be, find your content, and then decide to follow you, and boom, you are growing your newsletter without doing anything more than sharing your thoughts on Substack. And what I love most about it is that all of that is FREE. I haven’t seen anywhere that says they will cap me at a certain number of subscribers or a certain number of posts per month. This seems odd since I could have to pay something if I exceeded this using a service like Mailchimp. But I’ll keep you posted if that free aspect should change over time.
PROS vs CONS
I have two really big cons about Substack and I’m wondering if the reason they don’t have this or do this is because of how free they are and they can’t really afford to do them? In any event, they are:
No dedicated app! Seriously? I mean, how amazing would it be and I’m speaking as a reader, not a writer here if I could open the app to see a feed of all my Substack subscriptions? I’m sure I can probably use a third-party app like Feedly but again, that is free to an extent and I think you have to pay at some point and I’m trying to avoid those “gotcha” apps these days.
WordPress doesn’t sync! So, when I do a blog post on my WordPress it won’t automatically sync over to Substack and then email the subscribers over there. The only way to get my posts there would be to export them from WordPress then import them which means I’d have to remember to do that once a month? And those posts wouldn’t then all get emailed to subscribers (at least I don’t think they will) when I import them. So, while I did this already in my Substack as a test, I’m thinking it isn’t the best idea and I’m going to take them all down. So, while it can work as a place to write your blog posts, your best bet is to write them in Substack because I “think” whatever you write there will automatically post to my WordPress blog (though I have not tested this out) and I’m not sure if it would recognize my Featured Image if I did? It’s a whole thing that I really don’t want to figure out and will avoid as much as possible…
Is Substack the future of newsletters? It can be if enough people find out about it and use it in that way. It is different though because it’s not an intimate, personal, email you’re sending to a select group of people who have already signed up because they read your book or like what you share on Instagram and they want to learn more. So, be careful what you choose to write in your Substack since you can’t really monitor who’ll be reading it. Think of it as a potential way to grow followers for your more personal Mailchimp or MailerLite newsletter where you have more control over who is getting it.
In conclusion, I do see some massive benefits, at least for me and what I hope to do for my own personal brand. What that will look like and how I will incorporate that into my already well-oiled machine? I will do a follow-up post for that with some tips and tricks on using Substack that I hope will be beneficial to you in whatever your creative journey is.