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Was Substack Really That Good an Idea?

A wise name (i.e. Joe Pulizzi) once quipped to never build you content ship on rented land. As one of the foremost authorities of effectively creating and managing online content, he made this statement back in the mid-2010s as a warning not to put your proverbial eggs in one basket.

In other words, if you’re writing, podcasting or anything to that end, why risk relying on one platform given that if anything is constant on the Internet, it’s change?

That’s particularly true in the newsletter space. Originally limited to paid services like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, newsletter have exploded in popularity as a way to deliver regular content to the masses. One of the most prominent providers of this, as we well know, is Substack, which gives users the usual blogging capabilities plus the ability to distribute and monetize through subscription. Along with some others, Substack has become the next natural progression to blog hosts Blogspot (later Blogger), WordPress and later, Medium.

Now, if someone wasn’t interested in fiddling around with hosting their own site and fiddling around with WordPress, Substack will serve your purpose. It also has attempted to launch a Twitter clone of sorts with Community, allowing users to interact with each other.

The problem, as seems to permeate throughout the Internet these days, is that while you probably find Substack to be the easiest platform you can use, so, too, did the assholes.

And no, I’m not talking about weirdos like Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss, who are essentially Patients Zero and Zero-A for what I refer to as the Substack Punditry. While their brand of, well, whatever the hell is they do is basically borne out of their pathological needs for attention, it’s not all that harmful. In fact, there are times when they set themselves up for open ridicule, as was the case with the now-infamous and refuted Twitter Files.

No, the assholes I’m referring to are the same ones that anyone left on the Ex-Bird Site has to contend with more and more with each passing day. That’s right. White nationalists, neo-Nazis, homophobes, xenophobes and bigots of all shapes and sizes have started planting themselves on Substack.

And what was Substack’s response? Nothing at first, in spite of Substackers demanding answers to why platforming Nazis is somehow happening. Then, in the time-honored tradition of people lacking any self-awareness making things worse, Substack CEO Hamish McKenzie threw a big old log on the fire, saying that while Nazis are bad, there are no plans to moderate or demonitize what they’re posting.

So, there you have it, folks. If you’re using Substack, you’re sharing it with awful people who are making a buck being awful, in some cases more than you are.

At this point, I would probably recommend downloading your content and your list of subscribers, migrate them to Medium and call it a day. Given that I, too, tried my hand at Substack, I already did that. Good thing I didn’t have an audience over there, so all I had were a couple of posts about documentaries I watched.

That all said, in keeping with the theme of avoiding building your house on rented land, I’ll circle on back and recommend that you spend a couple of bucks on a host provider and domain name, set up WordPress and use the monetization functions through either the Jetpack plugin or one of the countless other plug-ins out there. Having gone down this road myself before (remember that The Quest was originally on Blogger, not self-hosted), it’s really not a bad idea.

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