I have never worked in the publishing industry. But I do know that the publishing industry looks extremely different today than it did even 10 years ago, and even more different than it did 20 years ago. Publishers have laid off journalists left and right and many have been left to fend freelancing for not so great rates.
Substack, the platform I use for The Healing Hype, was one “solution” to this challenge. It offered paid newsletters for writers—no ads, just loyal readers and faith. I loved this idea, and many others did too. This is why I chose this platform for The Healing Hype, because I knew I could write here and provide a community too.
A few weeks ago, Substack posted a piece on their blog called “Why we pay writers.” They revealed their journey, how they make “business decisions, not editorial ones,” and how they have a select group of individuals, who they will not reveal, that were chosen to write for “Substack Pro.” They provide writers a salary for security. Substack writes:
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. We like this structure because, while some who get these deals are already well off, it gives financially constrained writers the ability to start building a sustainable enterprise. We take most of the risk for them. In return, their work contributes to the quality of the Substack ecosystem and they become long-term customers.
Feel free to read the full article if you’d like. And…feel free to read the comments.
TL;DR? Basically, this sounds all good, but I learned from other writers and this piece that Substack has chosen some right-wing and transphobic writers for their allotment of chosen Substack Pros.
The point of this isn’t for me to get into what happened because it’s already happened. The point of this is that a part of what you pay, if you’re a community member of The Healing Hype, goes to Substack, this is how they sustain the platform. I had no problem with this as I really enjoy the functionality and ease of use Substack provides. But now that I’ve learned this information, I feel differently. Whether you’re a paying member or not, I’m guessing this bothers you as well.
The only alternative platform I’ve heard that provides similar functionality is called Ghost. I’m definitely going to research others, and I’m planning to speak to other Substack writers in similar positions. My fear is, what’s stopping from others from not being in integrity while we live in capitalism? And what others sacrifices do we make (i.e. shopping at Walmart, Amazon, etc) for the sake of cost and convenience. There are also so many fantastic writers on this platform too. And what’s to say Ghost won’t turn that way too? It’s hard to have faith.
So, where is the line? And what factors, including my fear of change, move the trajectory of that line?
I feel this is a very relevant subject for the purpose of this newsletter. Because nothing is neutral, even if Substack wants to say it is. They claim that because they aren’t a publisher and don’t make editorial decisions, that these decisions are valid for the sake of sustaining their business. In the process, I wonder about how much gets swept under the rug. I wonder if this is the cost of “progress.” I don’t want it to be, but I’m not the one making those “business decisions.”
I don’t have the answer. I’m in the process of trying to determine my options. And, I ask for your patience as I want to be intentional about the decision I make. As a perfectionist, I have to remind myself that there will be drawbacks to probably any choice—I think this is the hardest part, to live in the muckiness of it all. That doesn’t mean there aren’t better options, it just means I need to get clarity about what those are and what they will cost, financially, emotionally, and humanly. And, of course, I want to know what you all think, especially if you’re a paying member.
Some options others have suggested, and I have thought of are:
Switch platforms to something similar like Ghost.
Switch the non-written community components to a platform like Mighty Networks (which basically has Facebook group-like community components and more without having to be on Facebook) and have my written pieces elsewhere (maybe on Medium or through my regular email newsletter, etc) for everyone to see.
Give free memberships to trans folks.
Stay on here and see if something changes
I will probably formally poll my The Healing Hype community members, but I’m open to everyone’s thoughts.
This whole situation makes me think of harm and power and how it’s so intricately tied to capitalism aka “business decisions.” I know we are all capable of harm, but I also know that Substack has choices, and they aren’t willing to admit that there’s anything ultra conservative or transphobic about these writers. It feels like it might be at an impasse, and they are willing to lose people in order to keep up these relationships to support this model.
Relationships. This is a word I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially as I’m listening to Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Relationships are literally what sustains the world, locally and globally. And the value of relationships have gotten lost, colonized, detached, and disconnected as capitalism and colonization killed the idea of reciprocity.
I’m only beginning to unearth what reciprocity meant to my ancestors generations ago. I can’t even know, as India was colonized in 1858, though their territoriality was spawned much earlier. I can only imagine how the land and people were treated and how the business of business was forever altered. Because the way we share ideas and goods with others, also called an economy, is an integral part of relationships. It says so much about power, capacity, desire, and worth. And this changes how we view and treat others.
I always say that we all have unlimited worth because we do. But in the context of economies, suddenly we find ourselves hearing terms like “human capital” and “charge what you’re worth” and we find it hard to believe in what’s already within us.
Honestly, with Asian murders, vaccine apartheid, the Derek Chauvin trial, and pandemic melancholy, this is another sad thing for me to wrap my head around. I’m still contending with this sadness and what all of this means on a larger scale.
I want to be transparent with all of you, I can’t imagine it any other way. In my transparency, you’ll always find vulnerability. So thank you for being here, and thank you for your patience.
If you have any concerns or suggestions, feel free to reply or leave a comment <3
Sending love to you all.