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🚀 "The Site Trump Could Run To Next"

Sway - A New York Times Podcast

Photo by Brett Jordan / Unsplash

Table of Contents

🆕 Feature: Listen to the audio clip of the highlighted quote by clicking on the link in the timestamp.

Host: Kara Swisher
Guest: Chris Best, Co-Founder & CEO, Substack
Category: Biz & Tech | 🚀 Startups

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:29] “Our general approach is we’re […] strongly free speech and free press. We have a strong default towards allowing people to say what they want to say. You […] need kind of far-ranging views to do journalism and opinion and all the stuff that we want on Substack. All of that said, there are limits to that. We do have a content policy that has narrowly prescribed prohibitions. And we definitely would kick someone off if they violated those things.”

[3:06] “You can’t do porn on Substack. You can’t do hate. You can’t incite people to violence. You can’t do illegal stuff. Our approach, in general, is that we want to broaden the range of what is acceptable discourse and build a system where you can have actual broad range of discourse. But in order to do that, you do have to be willing to throw people off at the extremes if necessary. And we are willing to sort of grapple with that reality.”

[4:47] “[The threat of becoming a platform of misinformation] is so much on our mind, and not just disinformation specifically. Because of the way the business model worked for the early phase of the Internet, where everything is about getting as much attention as possible, we inadvertently created an environment that incentivizes engagement. And when you incentivize engagement, you’re incentivizing a bunch of bad stuff. You’re incentivizing outrage, you’re incentivizing tribalism and tribal warfare. It’s such a powerful force that you’re creating by the rules of the system that’s in place that no moderation is going to be able to fix it. And the only way to improve upon that is to have a completely different game that you play — Different business model.”

[8:42] “At a broad level, I call Substack a subscription platform for independent writers. So rather than a place that you come, where we’re saying, here’s your feed, here’s a bunch of things that we think you should read or the algorithm thinks you should read or the editor thinks you could read or anything, we say, this is a place where you can choose for yourself who you want to trust and subscribe to as a reader. And where you as a writer, once people have kind of opted into that relationship with you, you have a direct connection with them, unmediated by an algorithm. And as a bonus, if and when you’re ready, you can ask them to pay you directly. And therefore, your incentive is to earn and keep their trust, rather than go as viral as possible or inflame people as much as possible […].”

[9:54] “I think that people are starting to lose trust in some of the institutions that used to have a lot of people’s trust. And they’re looking for alternatives. And with the way that they’ve been choosing to put together their media diet, they’re starting to kind of realize, hey, this is not actually how I want to choose what to consume. And one potential, compelling solution to that is like hey, here’s a person who I can kind of name and know, who is the one that I’m subscribing to. But there’s also people that are creating Substacks as a group of people, or starting a company and doing a Substack. And I think the more important point, to me, is if I, the reader, understand the business model and I kind of know how the whole system works, is there a case to be made that it’s a good deal for me? I’m paying this writer. They want to keep my trust. I’m helping fund the work they think is important.”

[11:44] “The basic principle of Substack is we’re putting readers and writers in charge. So we want to give a hands-off approach with getting in the middle of that. There’s only under extreme cases do we think that if you’re a reader and you really want to subscribe to this writer and this writer really wants to read for you, and no one else is going to see it, it’s going to go into your email, you can stop anytime you want. It has to pass a very high bar before we’re comfortable saying, even given all of that, no, we’re going to intervene and we don’t think this should exist at all.”

[12:56] “[T]he reason I don’t call Substack a media company is because we’re allowing a million media companies to be created on Substack.”

[13:53] “I think that that blog moment had a lot going for it. It had this wild, manic energy. It had this profusion of voices. It had all of this early internet optimism. There was a lot that was great about it. I think there were two big problems. One was that it never had a business model. Everyone thought that the advertising stuff was gonna work for some people. Sometimes, it did. But really, it didn’t work for blogs. I think we weren’t ready, kind of as an Internet society, at that point, to accept broadly the idea of paying for things. There was this meme like, the Internet’s like this land grab for everyone’s attention. Everything wants to be free. No one’s ever going to pay for things. It was weird to think about paying for something on Internet. So it would have been hard to do that properly back then.”

[14:49] “So our business model is, if you’re a writer, you can come to Substack. […] You can publish to the web. You can publish to email. You can have an email list with as many people as you want on it. All of that is free for any size, anything. And then we also give you the option, when you’re ready, to start charging paying subscriptions. Once you’re charging, we take a 10% cut of the subscription revenue.”

[28:23] “One of the things about Substack is not everybody has to be a writer. We think that everyone should have the path available to them to become a writer. We don’t think that becoming a writer should be you have to get a job at this prestigious institution, or you have to go to the right school, or you have to do this internship. But even if you create a path where anybody could, in theory, become a writer, not everybody will. And that’s OK.”

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 32 min | 🗓️ 01/25/2021
✅ Time saved: 30 min