How Do You Make Money On Substack (And How Much Can You Really Make?)

Substack earning calculator.
Courtesy of Substack.com.

 

How do you make money on Substack?

Substack is a new tool/platform for writers that has achieved massive growth over the last several years.

This wiki-style breakdown will go over 1) what Substack is, and 2) how to make money on Substack, outlining the various monetization strategies available to those seeking to make money with the platform.

 

What Is Substack?

Substack is an online platform that provides podcast teams, journalists, and writers with the means to publish their podcasts/newsletters. Among other things, Substack allows authors to grow and manage their email lists, and it also provides authors with a website for their posts and community management tools.

Substack is free to use if the author only offers free newsletters or podcasts. Authors may create and monetize more than one newsletter and podcast.

Substack allows authors to import their websites/newsletter pages from Mailchimp, WordPress, Tinyletter, Medium, Revue, and Tumblr. Substack supports custom web pages to some extent as well.

Substack was launched in 2017 by Chris Best with the aim to facilitate the creation of independent subscription news websites, Nieman Lab writes. In 2019, the Substack toolset was expanded to support podcasts and discussion threads as well, according to TechCrunch.

In July 2018, there were approximately 11,000 paying subscribers on Substack, according to Nieman Lab. These subscribers were spending just under $80 annually on average. In July 2019, Nieman Lab reported that the platform had approximately 50,000 paying subscribers.

In February 2021, Substack revealed that there were over 500,000 paid subscriptions across the platform, with the top ten writers collectively making over $15 million per year.

Financial and cryptocurrency journalist Camila Russo hosts her The Defiant newsletter on Substack. The Bankless newsletter is also hosted on Substack.

 

How Do Writers Make Money On Substack?

There are several routes to monetize a Substack publication – below is an overview of three monetization tactics authors may be able to employ to generate income.

 

Paid newsletters/podcasts

An example of a Substack newsletter.
Courtesy of Substack newsletter heated.world.

 

Substack has only one native, on-platform method for income generation – paid newsletters/podcasts.

Authors may offer their content:

  • Entirely for free.
  • Partially for free and partially for a fee.
  • Entirely for a fee.

Subscriptions on Substack may be monthly or annual. Additionally, writers may add a special Founding Member tier for subscribers willing to pay more than the standard plan, and they may also offer gift subscriptions, free trials, complimentary subscriptions, group subscriptions, and subscription discounts.

Writers may start using Substack for free. However, their subscription earnings are subject to fees. Substack has a 10% commission fee. In addition, Stripe – Substack’s payment service provider – charges 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction.

According to popular Substack author Lenny Rachitsky, Substack authors are left with about half of their Substack earnings after fees and taxes:

 

Affiliate marketing, sponsorships, and advertising

Substack authors may earn money by also participating in affiliate programs and/or accepting sponsor deals from brands. According to Business Insider, some Substack authors earn tens of thousands of dollars from advertising per year.

 

Substack Pro and Fellowship payouts

The company pays advances to who it deems are promising authors.
Courtesy of the Substack blog.

 

Substack Pro is Substack’s financial support program for new authors. The program was officially announced in March 2021. It is described as follows on the Substack blog:

With Substack Pro, we pay a writer an upfront sum to cover their first year on the platform. The idea is that the payment can be more attractive to a writer than a salary, so they don’t have to stay in a job (or take one) that’s less interesting to them than being independent.

In return for that financial security, a Pro writer agrees to let Substack keep 85% of the subscription revenue in that first year. After that year, the deal flips, so that the writer no longer gets a minimum guarantee but from then on keeps 90% of the subscription revenue – which, if we’ve made our bet well, will be a larger overall dollar amount.

Substack Pro emerged as an attempt to support healthy journalism, according to the company. As of mid-June 2021, there was no application process for the program. Substack selected who to support itself based on a number of criteria:

Today, our Pro deals result from a combination of writers coming to us, writers referring their friends, us identifying writers already on Substack with growth potential, and proactive outreach.

When considering a Pro deal, the main thing we take into account is the writer’s likelihood of success with the Substack model. We look at the writer’s audience size, how engaged their following is on social media, and the respect they engender among their readers and peers. . . . we look at what they cover and assess how well that subject is covered elsewhere. We consider their track record and look for evidence of an ability to publish multiple pieces a week for an extended period of time.

Additionally, Substack occasionally supports writers through its Substack Fellowship for Independent Writers program. In 2020, Substack paid $100,000 to the top recipient, $25,000 and $3,000 stipends to nine fellows, and $3,000 stipends to five honorary mentions.

The company's fellowship program logo.
Courtesy of on.Substack.com.

 

After its announcement, Substack Pro was criticized by progressive activists from within online media and the Substack author community. According to Vox and TechCrunch, some writers alleged that Substack has given “massive advances [ … ] to people who actively hate trans people and women”, among other things.

Other Substack writers argued that the platform’s payment program made it seem like Substack was a technology platform that made editorial decisions by choosing who to support.

The fact that Substack doesn’t reveal who it has supported through the Pro program has been criticized as well.

Substack published a response to the allegations and criticism on March 17, 2021, writing among other things:

So far, the small number of writers who have chosen to share their deals – coupled with some wrong assumptions about who might be part of the program – has created a distorted perception of the overall makeup of the group, leading to incorrect inferences about Substack’s business strategy. 

 

How Much Do Writers Make On Substack?

Author earnings on Substack range widely.

As of February 2021, when Substack had over 500,000 paying subscribers, the top 10 writers on the platform were collectively making over $15 million per year.

In April 2021, Business Insider asked several Substack authors about their earnings. The publication’s findings include:

  • “Deez Links” by Delia Cai (10,620 total free subscribers) – $18,775 advertising revenue since June 2020.
  • “Power Plays” by Lindsay Gibbs (over 7,000 total subscribers, about 1,100 paid subscribers) – about $70,000 in 2020.
  • “Beauty IRL” by Darian Symoné Harvin (2,180 total subscribers, 60 paid subscribers) – “a few hundred dollars a month.” She also won a Substack fellowship in 2020, securing a $25,000 advance payment and a $3,000 stipend.
  • “Newcomer” by Eric Newcomer (over 9,000 total subscribers, over 1,200 paid subscribers) – over $100,000 annually.

American journalist Glenn Greenwald’s Substack newsletter generates between $80,000 and $160,000 per month, writes Fox Business.

On its homepage, Substack has a calculator that allows users to estimate their monthly earnings based on their subscriber count and subscription cost. The estimates are net of Substack and credit card fees.

Substack earning calculator.
Courtesy of Substack.com.

 

 

 

Related Posts:

Making Money With Roblox

Can Brave Browser Users Make Money?

4 Ways To Make Money On Telegram