Google’s R&D division experiments with newsletters powered by Google Drive

Following entries into the newsletter market from tech companies like Facebook and Twitter, Google is now experimenting with newsletters, too. The company’s internal R&D division, Area 120, has a new project called Museletter, which allows anyone to publish a Google Drive file as a blog or newsletter to their Museletter public profile or to an email list.

The effort would essentially repurpose Google’s existing document-creation tools as a means of competing with other newsletter platforms, like Substack, Ghost, Revue, and others, which are today attracting a growing audience.

Google’s experiment was spotted this week by sites including 9to5Google and Android Police.

Reached for comment, an Area 120 spokesperson declined to share further details about Museletter, saying only that it was “one of the many experiments” within the R&D group and that “it’s still very early.”

From the Museletter website, however, there is already much that can be learned about the project. The site explains how Google Drive could be monetized by creators in a way that would allow Google’s newsletter project to differentiate itself from the competition. Not only could newsletters be written in a Google Doc, other productivity apps could also be used to share information with readers. For example, a newsletter creator could offer a paid subscription plan that would allow readers to access their Google Slides. A creator who writes about finance could publish helpful spreadsheets to Google Sheets, which would be available to their subscribers.

Image Credits: Google

To make this possible, Museletter publishers would create a public profile on their Google Drive, then publish any Google Drive file directly to it. This provides them with a landing page where they can market their subscriptions and showcase how many different Drive files they’ve made publically available across Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Creators can also optionally publish to an email list — including a list brought in from other platforms. The newsletter subscriptions can be free or paid, depending on the creator’s preferences, but using Museletter itself will be free. Instead, the project aims to monetize with premium features like custom domains, welcome emails, and more.

The platform also promises tools and analytics to engage audiences and track the newsletter’s performance.

While the site doesn’t mention any plans for advertising, a success in this space could provide Google with a new ad revenue stream — and one that arrives at a time when the tech giant’s multi-billion dollar advertising market has a new challenger in the form of Amazon, whose own ad business could eventually challenge the Facebook-Google duopoly.

Google didn’t say when it plans to launch Museletter, but the website is offering a link to a form where users can request early access.

#amazon, #android, #area-120, #computing, #creators, #finance, #google, #google-sheeets, #google-slides, #google-docs, #google-drive, #media, #news, #newsletter, #newsletters, #publish, #publishers, #rd, #substack, #world-wide-web

Substack acqui-hires team behind subscription social app Cocoon

Subscription newsletter platform kingpin Substack shared today that they’ve acqui-hired the team behind Cocoon, a subscription social media app built for close friends.

We covered the Y Combinator-backed startup’s initial $3 million seed raise led by Lerer Hippeau back in November 2019, shortly before the pandemic dramatically reconfigured how people used social media to communicate with the people nearest and dearest to them. Cocoon’s initial pitch was for a social network for your closest friends, something that could level-up the text group chat you may have been stuck using before, though over time Cocoon evolved its platform’s dynamics to allow for more open social circles that users could fine tune at will. With the app, users could share text and photo updates while also using passive data from sources like mobile location data or fitness stats to deliver automatic updates to Slack channel-like feeds for specific groups of their friends.

The app was co-founded by Sachin Monga and Alex Cornell, who met in product roles at Facebook.

Unlike plenty of other networking apps, Cocoon didn’t rely on advertising or user data to monetize, instead pushing users to pay for a $4 monthly subscription. Despite the app’s slick design, it didn’t seem to make much of a lasting splash or find its market fit and Substack says they won’t be continuing support for the app, instead choosing to bring the small team aboard. Given some of Substack’s recent initiatives around community building for their network of newsletter writers, it isn’t surprising that they’re seeking out more talent in the space to help evolve the functionality of their platform.

Back in March, the startup detailed it had closed a $65 million Series B at a $650 million valuation, bolstering up on cash as they look to define a space that has gotten more eyeballs on it as of late, with both Twitter and Facebook releasing newsletter products this year.  They’ve been snapping up a few smaller startups over the past few months. Earlier this month, they disclosed that they had bought the debate platform Letter for an undisclosed sum. In Maym, they acqui-hired the team from a community-building consultancy startup called People & Company.

#cornell, #facebook, #lerer-hippeau, #likee, #operating-systems, #people-company, #social-media, #social-network, #software, #substack, #tc, #twitter, #world-wide-web, #y-combinator, #yo

OnlyFans’ explicit content ban should spark a conversation about a creators’ bill of rights

OnlyFans’ decision to ban sexually explicit content is reigniting an important and overlooked conversation around tech companies, content guidelines and sex work. However, the implications of this discussion go beyond just one platform and one marginalized group.

It’s indicative of a broken ecosystem for content creators where platforms have outsized control over the ways in which creators are allowed to share content and engage with their followers and fans. In response, creators are decentralizing, broadening their reach to multiple platforms and taking their audiences with them.

In doing so, creators also have the opportunity to define what rights they want to be built into these platforms.

History repeats itself

Creators being shut out of the individual platforms is nothing new. Many are comparing OnlyFans’ policy change to Tumblr’s move to ban adult content in 2018. This has been an ongoing issue for YouTube as well — several communities, including a group of LGBTQ YouTubers, have accused the platform of targeting them with their demonetization algorithm.

Many of these platforms, including OnlyFans, point to their payment partners’ policies as a barrier to allowing certain forms of content. One of the earliest major controversies we saw in this arena was when PayPal banned WikiLeaks in 2010.

While each of these events have drawn the ire of creators and their followers, it’s indicative of an ecosystemwide problem, not necessarily an indictment of the platforms themselves.

After all, these platforms have provided the opportunity for creators to build an audience and engage with their fans. But these platforms have also had to put policies in place to shield themselves from regulatory and reputational risk.

The core of the issue is that creators are beholden to individual platforms, always vulnerable to changing policies and forced to navigate the painful migration of their audiences and monetization from platform to platform.

That doesn’t mean that that all guidelines and policies are bad — they play a role to foster and govern a positive and safe community with thoughtful guidelines — but it should not come at the cost of harming and de-platforming the creators who fuel these platforms with content and engagement. The core of the issue is that creators are beholden to individual platforms, always vulnerable to changing policies and forced to navigate the painful migration of their audiences and monetization from platform to platform.

And, at the end of the day, it takes away from their ability to create meaningful content, engage with their communities and earn a reliable living.

As creators have lost more and more control to platforms over time, some have begun exploring alternative options that allow independent and direct monetization from their audience in a distributed way.

Decentralizing, monetizing

The direct-to-fan monetization model is already displacing the traditional ad-based, platform-dictated model that creators relied on for years. During my time at Patreon, I saw how putting control and ownership in the hands of creators builds a more sustainable, fair and vibrant creator economy. Substack has given writers a similarly powerful financial tool, and over the past few years, there has been an ever-growing number of companies that serve creators.

The challenge is that many of these companies rely on the existing systems that hamstrung the platforms of the past, and have business models that require take rates and revenue shares. In many ways, the creator economy needs new infrastructure and business models to build the next phase of creator and fan interaction.

With the right application, crypto can help rewrite the playbook of how creators monetize, engage with their fans and partner with platforms. Its peer-to-peer structure reflects the direct-to-fan relationship and allows creators to own the financial relationship with their audience instead of relying on tech giants or payment partners as middlemen. Beyond that, crypto allows creators to maintain ownership and control over their brands and intellectual property.

Additionally, many crypto projects allow participants to have a voice in the value proposition, strategic direction, operational functions and economic structures of the project via DAOs or governance tokens. In this way, creators can join projects and set the direction in a way that aligns with how they want to engage with their communities.

Creators are especially positioned to benefit from community-governed projects given their ability to motivate and engage their own communities. We are in the early phases of crypto adoption, and creators have a huge opportunity to shape the future of this paradigm shift. With social tokens, creators can mint their own cryptocurrencies that allow for a shared economy that creators and fans can grow together and use to transact directly across different platforms.

NFTs are another category that have exploded in popularity this year, but the industry is just scratching the surface of the utility that they will have. Creators and crypto projects are figuring out ways to make NFTs go beyond collectibles; NFTs provide an engaging and functional digital tool for creators to give their fans their time (through video calls or AMAs) or access to other exclusive benefits.

Creators are just beginning to discover the power that crypto provides. As the user experience of crypto-based platforms continues to become more intuitive, crypto will become ubiquitous. Before that point, creators should think about what rights they need (and can demand) from the decentralized services they use.

A creators’ bill of rights

Be it within crypto or not, creators finally have the leverage to determine their rights. While I believe that creators should be the ones leading this conversation, here are a few jumping off points:

  • Ability to move freely across platforms: Reliance on individual platforms is at the heart of many of the issues that creators face. By allowing creators to take their fans with them wherever they go, many of the problems we’ve seen even with direct-to-fan monetization can be solved.
  • Direct financial relationships between creators and fans: At the heart of the OnlyFans matter is creators’ inability to own their financial relationships with fans. Even if direct financial relationships aren’t feasible on every platform, creators should have options to own those relationships and dictate their own terms.
  • Creator-led decision-making: Historically, platforms have given creators minimal control over platformwide decisions and policies. Creators should have direct input and even be able to vote on various platformwide measures.
  • Quality over quantity: Platforms and their algorithms are structured to reward quantity and force creators down a path of burnout and hyperspeed content creation. Both creators and fans are looking for a more deep and engaging interaction and incentivizing this behavior will ensure a more vibrant and sustainable creator ecosystem.
  • Low (or zero) take rates: Big tech platforms take nearly 100% of revenue from creators. Creators (and their fans) should be earning the majority of platform revenue.
  • Equity access or revenue sharing: Big tech platforms have built empires on the labor of creators. Instead of dictating ad revenue payout to creators, decentralized platforms should allow creators to have true “skin in the game” by being able to own a piece of the pie outright or benefit from the overall growth of the ecosystem. This alignment of interests will be a major shift from the capital-labor split we see today.
  • Transparency and consultation: Creators should have full view into what they can or can’t do and a seat at the table as policies are being created and adapted. Platforms’ content moderation decisions and the algorithms behind demonetization are often opaque, broadly applied and decided without consulting the creators they will impact. They should also have visibility into the size of the overall revenue pie and their share.
  • Ability for reform and rehabilitation: We are all human, and there might be moments that a creator knowingly or unknowingly goes outside of the guidelines set by a platform. Creating a space for creators to rehabilitate their content will create a more trusting and collaborative relationship between creators and platforms.

We’ll leave it to creators to dictate their terms — they’ve been cut out of this conversation for far too long. That said, I’m confident that Rally and many other key participants in the Web 3.0 ecosystem would be open to supporting this effort to create an environment that works for creators and their fans.

#column, #cryptocurrency, #e-commerce, #media, #online-advertising, #onlyfans, #opinion, #patreon, #payments, #paypal, #peer-to-peer, #substack, #tumblr, #video-hosting, #websites, #world-wide-web, #youtube

Twitter is testing a feature that puts users’ Revue newsletters on their profiles

This January, Twitter acquired the newsletter platform Revue, but until now its integration into Twitter has been minimal; sometimes when you write Twitter threads, you’ll be greeted with a “Hello, wordsmiths” message that tells you about its newsletter tools).

Starting today, Twitter is testing a feature that brings Revue newsletters more prominently into the Twitter experience. Some users on web and Android will be able to see writers’ Revue newsletters appear on their profile beneath their follower counts. If you click subscribe, you’ll be prompted to read a sample issue or subscribe using the email address connected to your Twitter account. Revue says this feature will also roll out on iOS soon.

The newsletter market is heating up — Medium and Quora have both recently released new monetization structures, Substack is currently valued at $650 million, and Facebook is curating a slate of flashy newsletters on Bulletin. Even Tumblr is attempting to cash in on paywalled writing, though its user base isn’t thrilled. But with its new front-and-center integration on Twitter profiles, Revue may pick up steam too.

“One of the reasons I switched to using their platform was the potential to link my newsletter with my Twitter feed & make it easier for my followers to subscribe,” Revue writer Jewel Wicker tweeted. “Happy the rollout has begun.”

Revue takes a 5% cut of creators’ earnings, plus a standard 2.9%, plus $0.30 processing fee. So, if someone subscribes to your Revue newsletter for $5, you’ll take home $4.30. Comparatively, Substack takes 10% of writers’ revenue plus processing fees.

#android, #apps, #newsletter, #revue, #substack, #tumblr, #twitter, #writer

Medium revamps its Partner Program, launching new eligibility requirements and referral bonuses

Amid a year of editorial pivots and employee exits, Medium announced today that it will make significant changes to its Medium Partner Program, which allows writers on the platform to monetize their content.

Founded in 2011, Medium launched its Partner Program in 2017. Since then, the platform has paid out $28 million to over 200,000 contributors. Initially, it offered payouts based on how much time Medium members spent reading a writer’s content. For $5 per month or $50 per year, Medium members could read all posts on the platform without hitting a paywall. Plus, part of each member’s subscription was split among the writers they read; so, if a Medium member spent 10% of their time reading one writer’s work, for example, that writer would get 10% of the subscriber’s revenue share.

Medium said that earnings based on read time will remain the same. But now, Medium will offer a new way to make money with the launch of a referral program.

Previously, if a reader converted to a paying member within 30 days of reading a writer’s story, that writer would get credit for the amount of time the reader spent reading their work. Under the new model, Partner Program writers will now have a personalized referral landing page — for any reader who purchases a Medium subscription via their page, the writer will get half of that member’s subscription fee for as long as they remain a paying member, minus the standard 2.9% + $0.30 in payment processing fees. So, if a writer got 100 readers to sign up for a monthly Medium membership through their referral, that would net the writer $227 per month.

However, now it’s more difficult for a writer to join the Partner Program — writers must have 100 subscribers, at least one published Medium story, and they must live within specific geographic regions. Even if a Partner meets the new eligibility requirements, they might lose their status if they don’t publish anything new in a six month period. Still, under the previous structure, just becoming a Partner didn’t guarantee financial rewards — some Partners with smaller followings would make pennies each month. Existing Partners will retain their status through the end of 2021, and if they haven’t reached 100 subscribers by then, they will be removed.

Also, Medium will soon institute a minimum payout threshold of $10, meaning that if a writer makes less than $10 in a month, that pay will roll over to the next month until they amass at least $10.

Medium has been reticent about its subscriber numbers in the past, but CEO Ev Williams told TechCrunch in November that its subscriber numbers were in the “high hundreds of thousands.” In March 2021, Medium had 725,000 subscribers per Axios, but Digiday previously reported that Medium had hoped to reach 1 million subscribers by 2020. As of September, its competitor Substack, founded in 2017, had 250,000 paid subscribers and raised a $65 million series B round two months later. Medium last raised venture funding in 2016 with a $50M series C round.

Platforms like Substack and the newer Ghost pay writers based on how many paying subscribers they have. Medium’s new revenue sharing model similarly incentivizes writers to corral readers to the platform, but Medium takes about 50%. For direct subscriptions to a writer’s individual newsletter, Substack takes 10%, and Ghost takes $9 per month. While Substack or Ghost readers might subscribe to multiple individual newsletters, Medium subscribers pay just one $5 monthly or $50 yearly fee to access all of the website’s content.

The newsletter business is competitive — in June, Facebook launched a newsletter platform called Bulletin with hand-picked contributors, and Twitter acquired Revue earlier this year. Then, last week, Quora unveiled a monetization platform called Quora+, which costs the same as a Medium membership. Similar to Medium, Quora+ subscribers get access to all content any writer chooses to put behind a paywall, and writers are paid based on engagement with their content. But writers can also write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora — Quora takes a 5% cut of those payments.

#apps, #ceo, #e-commerce, #ev-williams, #medium, #newsletters, #paywall, #quora, #social-software, #substack, #world-wide-web, #writer

Creators can now monetize their expertise on Quora

In May, Yahoo! Answers shut down after helping the internet answer its most burning questions since 2005. But now, Quora, which began as a question-and-answer site but expanded to incorporate blogging, is making its platform more appealing to creators.

Quora says it’s “on track to be cash flow positive from ads alone,” implying that the platform isn’t currently in the black. But Quora sees tapping into the creator economy and subscriptions as a way to turn a profit.

“We want to make sharing knowledge more financially sustainable for creators,” Quora CEO Adam D’Angelo wrote in a blog post. “Even though many people are motivated and able to spend their time writing on Quora just to share their knowledge, many others could share much more with financial justification to do so.”

Quora’s first new product is Quora+ — subscribers will pay a $5 monthly fee or a $50 yearly fee to access content that any creator chooses to put behind a paywall. These are the same rates that Medium, which has no ads, charges for its membership program.

Rather than paying select creators, subscribers will pay Quora. Then, each subscriber’s payment will be distributed to creators “in proportion to the amount each subscriber is consuming their content, with more of a subscriber’s contribution going to writers and spaces the subscriber follows.” Creators have the option to enable a dynamic paywall on Quora+ content, which would give free users access to certain posts if Quora thinks they’re likely to convert to paid membership; there’s also an “adaptive” paywall option, which uses an algorithm to decide whether to paywall content for a specific user on a case-by-case basis. This is supposed to help creators strike a balance between monetizing their content and growing their audience to find new potential subscribers.

Quora told TechCrunch that it is still experimenting with Quora+ and can’t yet say what percentage it will take from subscriptions.

The other option is for creators to write paywalled posts on Spaces, which are like user-created publications on Quora. Quora will take 5% of the subscription fee, which the creator can choose at their own discretion — comparatively, the direct-to-consumer blogging platform Substack takes 10% of writers’ profits, which makes Quora a competitive alternative. Other platforms like Ghost ask for a $9 monthly fee, but let writers retain their revenue — for writers making at least $180 per month, Ghost would be more profitable than Quora.

“We’re able to sustainably commit to taking only a minimal fee without needing to increase it in the future because we make enough revenue from ads to fund most of the platform’s development and operations,” D’Angelo wrote. Substack, meanwhile, doesn’t have ads.

Quora reached a $1.8 billion valuation in 2017 after raising $85 million, and at the time, the platform had 190 million monthly users. Now, according to D’Angelo’s blog post, over 300 million people use Quora each month. Despite this user growth, Quora laid off an undisclosed amount of staff in its Bay Area and New York City offices in January 2020.

Space subscriptions will launch today for English language users in 25 countries, including the U.S. The rollout of Quora+ will be less immediate as Quora invites select writers to test the platform and determine what works best for subscribers and creators.

#adam-dangelo, #apps, #california, #ceo, #new-york-city, #peer-to-peer, #question-and-answer-site, #quora, #substack, #website, #websites, #yahoo, #yahoo-answers

Substack doubles down on uncensored ‘free speech’ with acquisition of Letter

Substack announced last week that it acquired Letter, a platform that encourages written dialogue and debate. The financials of the deal weren’t disclosed, but this acquisition follows Substack’s recent $65 million raise.

Newsletters are all the rage — Facebook launched its exclusive, celeb-studded Bulletin platform last month, and Twitter acquired the newsletter startup Revue earlier this year. Letter doesn’t publish email newsletters like Substack, but rather, it allows writers to engage in epistolary exchanges about fraught topics like Brexit, dating and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election. The idea behind Letter makes sense. Complicated conversations require nuance, yet these online debates too often happen on platforms like Twitter, where short-form tweets make it harder to have nuanced conversations.

“We could see that Letter, like Substack, was working in opposition to the ad-driven attention economy, attempting to change the rules of engagement for online discourse,” Substack wrote in its acquisition announcement.

But this acquisition may be cause for concern among those already troubled by the controversy Substack faced earlier this year, when news came out that the platform offered some writers up to six-figure advances as part of its Substack Pro program. The problem wasn’t that Substack was incentivizing writers to join the platform, but rather, who Substack had hand-picked to pay an advance. Plus, Substack says that it’s up to the writer to disclose whether or not they’re part of Substack Pro, which creates a lack of editorial transparency.

As Substack grew, writers left jobs at Buzzfeed and the New York Times, lured by pay raises and cautious optimism. But as more writers came forward as part of the Substack Pro program, Substack was criticized for subsidizing anti-trans rhetoric, since some of these writers used their newsletters to share such views. Substack admits it’s not entirely apolitical, but the choices of which writers to subsidize, and its decision to use only lightweight moderation tactics, are a strong political choice in an era of the internet when content moderation has a tangible effect on global politics. Some writers even chose to leave the platform.

Annalee Newitz, a non-binary writer who since left the platform, wrote on Substack, “Their leadership are deciding what kinds of writing and writers are worthy of financial compensation. […] Substack is taking an editorial stance, paying writers who fit that stance, and refusing to be transparent about who those people are.”

So, when Substack described its new acquisition Letter as a platform that encourages people to “argue in good faith instead of dropping bombs for retweets,” it made the acquisition worthy of a deeper examination. Statements like this sound agreeable, yet this kind of language often appears in arguments that deem social justice a threat to free speech. But free speech shouldn’t mean endorsing hate speech.

Substack wants to position itself as a neutral platform, and for many writers, it’s a valuable way to make money, especially in an unstable journalism industry. But given that some users have already become skeptical of who Substack chooses to financially incentivize, it’s worth examining the implications of buying Letter, a platform that includes writers associated with the so-called intellectual dark web in its group of twenty “featured writers.” On Letter, some of these writers question the validity of childhood transgender identity and refer to the statement “trans women are women” as propaganda, for example. Substack has already lost the trust of some trans and gender non-conforming writers, and the content on its newly acquired Letter won’t help rebuild that trust.

In addition, Letter co-founder Clyde Rathbone wrote in support of a controversial letter published in Harper’s Magazine, which called for the “concerted repudiation of cancel culture.” But critics of the letter point out that free speech isn’t really at stake here.

The open letter had been signed by over 150 prominent writers — like Gloria Steinem, Noam Chomsky (a Letter author), and Malcolm Gladwell (a Bulletin author). It argued: “We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.” These “professional consequences” echoed the predicament that J.K. Rowling — who also signed the letter — had put herself in. After denying that trans women are women, her reputation suffered. Some might call that “cancel culture,” but others might call it the refusal to continue to platform people who perpetuate harmful beliefs.

“The panic over ‘cancel culture’ is, at its core, a reactionary backlash,” wrote journalist Michael Hobbes. “Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis.”

Substack says it plans to use the acquisition of Letter to help writers collaborate, and that it won’t integrate Letter into its platform. Rather, the Letter team will relocate from Australia to San Francisco to “bring their expertise to help build more of the infrastructure and support.”

TechCrunch asked Substack if the anti-trans content on Letter is cause for concern within the company, given the recent backlash against the platform.

“We think that open debate and disagreement are absolutely part of having free press, and that includes views that you or I may not like,” a representative from Substack said. “Anyone could browse Substack and find things they agree with and things they don’t agree with. Substack has no ad-driven feeds pushing content based on virality and outrage, and there is a direct relationship between writers and readers who can opt out of that anytime. So the bar for us to intervene in that relationship and tell writers what they should be saying is really high, and the fact that Letter allowed writers to openly debate and discuss is consistent with that philosophy.”
We don’t know yet how or if Letter will change Substack — but given the existing discourse around the kind of content Substack pays for, Substack isn’t demonstrating “good faith” with this acquisition.

#apps, #australia, #bulletin, #buzzfeed, #co-founder, #facebook, #j-k-rowling, #journalist, #letter, #malcolm-gladwell, #operating-systems, #presidential-election, #revue, #san-francisco, #social-media, #software, #substack, #the-new-york-times, #twitter, #united-states, #world-wide-web

Facebook onboards another 31 newsletter writers on Bulletin

Late last month, Facebook announced Bulletin, its newsletter platform. Unlike Substack, Medium, and other competitors, Bulletin hand-picks its writers to curate a more controlled platform, with stars ranging from Mitch Albom, whose book Tuesdays With Morrie continues to break hearts in seventh grade English classes, to Queer Eye’s Tan France, who taught a generation of young people how to perfect their French tuck. Today, Facebook announced its first new wave of newsletter writers after its initial beta launch.

This next wave of writers includes 24-year-old Nobel Peace Prize Malala Yousafzai, writing about “big debates and small moments; Maria Celeste, a Puerto Rican journalist who will write Bulletin’s first Spanish language newsletter; and Nedra Tawwab, a relationships therapist with millions of social media followers.

Bulletin boasts a breadth of free content and contains minimal Facebook branding — it’s hosted on its own separate website, not the Facebook app. But newsletter writers can choose what content to put behind a paywall, which readers purchase access to, of course, via Facebook Pay. Newsletter subscribers might also gain access to subscriber-only Facebook groups, Live Audio Rooms, and podcasts — so, Bulletin helps Facebook funnel subscribers into other products under its growing brand. But while Bulletin grows as a curated, invite-only platform for public figures that’s more exclusive than Raya, other platforms have struggled with the ethics of content moderation.

“We respect the work of writers and want to be clear that anyone who partners with us will have complete editorial independence,” Facebook wrote in a blog post after Bulletin’s launch. And, after reading comedian Greg Mania’s Bulletin-hosted essay about hemorrhoids, this statement feels accurate.

But when we talk about “editorial independence,” we’re not really talking about the ability to publish an essay called “My Date With the Rectal Surgeon.” With this statement, the company seemed to be nodding to the controversial “hands-off” approach that Substack has taken with its platform. Medium has dealt with a cultural reckoning of its own, too — the platform used to host in-house publications like GEN and Elemental, which were written and edited by trained journalists, but a pivot in the company’s vision effectively shut down editorial operations. So, Facebook’s investment in platforming (a select few) journalists and writers comes in direct opposition with the emphasis from Substack and Medium on user-generated content.

Facebook isn’t the only major social media platform that’s interested in newsletters — in January, Twitter acquired the newsletter platform Revue, but aside from some quiet updates, it seems like Twitter’s attention is focused elsewhere for now.

#apps, #bulletin, #facebook, #journalist, #malala-yousafzai, #medium, #software, #substack, #twitter, #writer

Facebook’s newsletter platform Bulletin is now live

The cool new thing on Facebook is for Mark Zuckerberg to drop product news in live audio rooms. So today, Zuckerberg took to his brand’s Clubhouse competitor to announce its next new thing: Bulletin, a newsletter platform.

Bulletin is built on a separate platform from Facebook — on its website, the FAQ states that this is to “enable creators to grow their audience in ways that are not exclusively dependent on the Facebook platform.” You don’t need a Facebook account to subscribe to a newsletter, but Bulletin relies on Facebook’s infrastructure, including the use of Facebook Pay to purchase premium subscriptions and join subscriber-only groups and live audio rooms.

Competitors like Substack take a “hands-off” approach to content moderation, allowing anyone to start a newsletter. But every writer currently on Facebook’s Bulletin was hand-picked to contribute. Still, Substack has received scrutiny for subsidizing anti-trans rhetoric through its controversial Substack Pro program, which commissioned particular writers to write on Substack. So, Bulletin won’t be immune to the issues that plague Substack despite its heavily curated model.

The initial slate of writers on Bulletin includes Malcom Gladwell, Mitch Albom, Erin Andrews, and Tan France — the FAQ also notes that its beta program is US-centric, with only two international writers at the moment (“We will look to include more international creators after our beta program launch,” Bulletin says.) Facebook is paying its writers up front for their contributions, and so far, doesn’t plan to take a cut of their profits. If writers choose to move off the platform, they will have the ability to take their subscriber lists with them.

#apps, #bulletin, #computing, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #social-media, #social-software, #software, #substack, #world-wide-web, #writer

Twitter’s acquisition strategy: eat the public conversation

The last few months have been interesting for Twitter.

After years of no innovation at all, Twitter is making big product changes. It has acquired Breaker and Revue, and presumably has more M&A coming. It’s coming out with Spaces. The only thing it clearly isn’t working on is an edit button.

The core idea is that Twitter is doubling down on multichannel engagement for creators so that they never have to leave for anywhere else.

Strategically, though, what is a microblogging service doing buying a social podcasting company and a newsletter tool while also building a live broadcasting sub-app? Is there even a strategy at all?

I humbly propose this: There is a strategy. Twitter is trying to revitalize itself by adding more contexts for discourse to its repertoire. The result, if everything goes right, will be an influence superapp that hasn’t existed anywhere before. The alternative is nothing less than the destruction of Twitter into a link-forwarding service.

Let’s talk about how Twitter is trying to eat the public conversation.

Why now?

Twitter’s problem is pretty simple. It’s this.

Twitter revenue quarterly growth 2013-21

Twitter revenue quarterly growth 2013-21. Image Credits: Macrotrends

Another way of putting it is: Twitter is not generating as much money from ads as it used to. Ad revenue has failed to grow because Twitter is generally considered to have a poorly performing product for marketers. As a result, its stock price has been flat for years.

The irony, though, is that Twitter became more socially important during this period of financial stagnation to the point that the president of the United States nearly launched several wars on the platform!

The core reason is that since becoming a public company, Twitter has been considered by most to be one of the most boring tech companies productwise. Yes, people joke about the lack of an edit button, but the platform really has been slow to innovate in any real way.

Twitter was one of the most dynamic companies around, going from the fail whale company to being the company that invented the hashtag and acquiring some of the hottest companies, from Periscope to Vine.

But it all failed. Twitter rarely used acquisitions successfully. It stopped putting out new features and barely even managed simple improvements. Despite describing itself as “what’s happening now,” it missed every boat. Until this year.

What changed?

  1. Twitter started to face its first real competition in years due to the social media renaissance. Twitter’s strength has always come from being where the news happens. Podcasts, Clubhouse, newsletters and other new channels are true competitive threats.

    #clubhouse, #column, #ec-column, #ec-media, #ec-news-analysis, #eventbrite, #kayvon-beykpour, #periscope, #revue, #snap, #social, #social-media, #spotify, #substack, #twitter

A16z bets millions on Maven, a platform for cohort-based courses

Maven, a startup that helps professionals teach cohort-based classes, has raised $20 million in a Series A round led by Andreessen Horowitz. The round places A16z general partner Andrew Chen on Maven’s board – and is his latest lead check in a creator-focused company, similarly pouring millions into recent rounds for Clubhouse and Substack.

The investment comes seven months after Maven, then nameless, left stealth alongside a $4.3 million round led by First Round Capital, and three months after it raised a $750,000 equity crowdfunding round. While the company declined to disclose valuation, we do know that it’s a lot of fast cash earmarked toward fueling the same bet: that the future of cohort-based learning is the future of education.

And if you’re wondering why, I’d tell you it’s two-fold. First, the startup has an impressive founding team: Udemy co-founder Gagan Biyani, altMBA co-founder Wes Kao, and early Venmo employee and Socratic co-founder Shreyans Bhansali.

Second, Maven has some impressive growth to tout, showing its potential. Maven’s core product right now is a suite of services that makes it easier to run a cohort-based course, while taking a 10% fee – similar to Substack – from a professional’s revenue. In three months after its January launch, four Maven courses earned over $100,000. To date, over $1 million worth of courses has been sold on Maven.

With the new capital, Kao tells me that her team is focused on getting instructors to see the value of CBCs. The startup has had over 2,000 people apply to become instructors, and expects to grow from 7 to 100 instructors by end of the year. Some of Maven’s investors, including Sahil Lavingia and Li Jin, are instructors on its platform. Long-term, the startup sees its competitive differentiation as helping experts who aren’t “conventional instructors” start sharing their knowledge.

The co-founder teaches a course to all incoming Maven instructors – meta, I know – from deciding to put in a curriculum to understanding course-market fit and building buzz for the course.

While Kao explained that instructors like the idea of turning free advice in modular, revenue-generating classes, she said “monetizing that expertise is often really hard.”

“Traditional platforms—Instagram, TikTok, Twitter—create a division between activities intended to monetize and those meant for community building,” she said. “Meaning, creators give away valuable content, and then monetize via brand partnerships or low-margin merchandise—activities that often detract from community-building.”

The biggest challenge ahead, she thinks, is expanding the mindshare about CBCs for creators. It needs to show the importance of signal in the cacophony of air horns that want creator’s attention.

It’s a problem that Maven is all too familiar with it.

“One of the biggest things we had to untangle early on was the difference between “content” and the Maven offering,” Kao explained. “There’s no shortage of content in our world.” The startup had to spend a good chunk of time figuring out how to create a cohort-based class experience that pairs community and accountability with that content. And it still has ways to go.”

“At the end of the day, it ended up being quite simple. In our view, we’ve reached the Post Content Age,” she said. “In other words: Content is no longer scarce in education. It’s either free or low cost, and it’s abundant.”

#a16z, #andreessen-horowitz, #clubhouse, #maven, #substack, #tc

Substack acquires team from community consulting startup People & Company

New media poster child Substack announced today that they’ve added a small community-building consultancy team to its ranks, acquiring the Brooklyn-based startup People & Company.

The small firm has been working with clients to build up their community efforts and its team will now be tasked with building up some of the newsletter company’s upstart efforts for writers in its network.

In a blog post, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie said that the company had previously used the People & Co. team to consult on their fellowship and mentorship programs and that members of the team would now be working on a variety of new efforts from scaling programs to help writers with legal support and health insurance to community-guided projects like workshops and meetups to help crowdsource insights.

“These people are the best in the world at what they do, and now they’re not only working for Substack, but they’re also working for you,” McKenzie wrote.

Beyond Substack, previous partners with People & Company include Porsche AG, Nike and Surfrider.

Substack has been blazing ahead in recent months, adding new partners and raising cash as it aims to bring on more and more subscribers to its network. The firm shared back in late March that it had raised a $65 million round at a reported valuation around $650 million according earlier reporting by Axios.

#axios, #brooklyn, #co-founder, #crowdsource, #digital-media, #hamish-mckenzie, #health-insurance, #nike, #porsche-ag, #substack, #tc, #websites, #world-wide-web

Substack announces a $1M initiative to fund local journalists

While the seemingly unending debate around Substack has focused on well-known writers with a national profile, the newsletter platform just announced that it will be supporting local (presumably non-famous) journalists through a new program.

The startup described Substack Local as a $1 million initiative that will fund independent writers creating local news publications. Similar to the Substack Pro program, the company will offer cash advances of up to $100,000, as well as mentorship and “subsidized access” to health insurance and design services. In exchange, Substack will take 85% of subscription revenue for a year (its cut goes back to the standard 10% after that).

Applications are due by April 29, with participants selected by a panel of judges with their own Substack publications — Zeynep Tufekci of Insight, Anne Helen Petersen of Culture Study, Dick Tofel of Second Rough Draft and Rachel Larimore, managing editor of The Dispatch.

Substack said that through this initiative, it’s also partnering with New Zealand-based Stuff to launch two new publications covering under-served regions in the country.

A Substack skeptic might suggest that programs like this are an easy way to drum up positive publicity. (Facebook and Google have also announced programs to support local news.) In Substack’s case, this comes after the platform has been criticized for bankrolling transphobic writers with big advances — just a few days ago, the company revealed that it has recently signed lucrative contracts with transgender writers including Daniel Lavery.

Regardless of motivation, the need for more local journalism is real, with news deserts created by the shutdowns and struggles of many local newspapers. If there’s going to be any hope, it seems more likely to come from new, digitally-focused publications and independent journalists.

“This is not a grants program, nor is it inspired by philanthropic intent,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Our goal is to foster an effective business model for independent local news that provides ample room for growth.”

#media, #startups, #substack

Extra Crunch roundup: Tonal EC-1, Deliveroo’s rocky IPO, is Substack really worth $650M?

For this morning’s column, Alex Wilhelm looked back on the last few months, “a busy season for technology exits” that followed a hot Q4 2020.

We’re seeing signs of an IPO market that may be cooling, but even so, “there are sufficient SPACs to take the entire recent Y Combinator class public,” he notes.

Once we factor in private equity firms with pockets full of money, it’s evident that late-stage companies have three solid choices for leveling up.

Seeking more insight into these liquidity options, Alex interviewed:

  • DigitalOcean CEO Yancey Spruill, whose company went public via IPO;
  • Latch CFO Garth Mitchell, who discussed his startup’s merger with real estate SPAC $TSIA;
  • Brian Cruver, founder and CEO of AlertMedia, which recently sold to a private equity firm.

After recapping their deals, each executive explains how their company determined which flashing red “EXIT” sign to follow. As Alex observed, “choosing which option is best from a buffet’s worth of possibilities is an interesting task.”

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch! Have a great weekend.

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist


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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription


The Tonal EC-1

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

On Tuesday, we published a four-part series on Tonal, a home fitness startup that has raised $200 million since it launched in 2018. The company’s patented hardware combines digital weights, coaching and AI in a wall-mounted system that sells for $2,995.

By any measure, it is poised for success — sales increased 800% between December 2019 and 2020, and by the end of this year, the company will have 60 retail locations. On Wednesday, Tonal reported a $250 million Series E that valued the company at $1.6 billion.

Our deep dive examines Tonal’s origins, product development timeline, its go-to-market strategy and other aspects that combined to spark investor interest and customer delight.

We call this format the “EC-1,” since these stories are as comprehensive and illuminating as the S-1 forms startups must file with the SEC before going public.

Here’s how the Tonal EC-1 breaks down:

We have more EC-1s in the works about other late-stage startups that are doing big things well and making news in the process.

What to make of Deliveroo’s rough IPO debut

Why did Deliveroo struggle when it began to trade? Is it suffering from cultural dissonance between its high-growth model and more conservative European investors?

Let’s peek at the numbers and find out.

Kaltura puts debut on hold. Is the tech IPO window closing?

The Exchange doubts many folks expected the IPO climate to get so chilly without warning. But we could be in for a Q2 pause in the formerly scorching climate for tech debuts.

Is Substack really worth $650M?

A $65 million Series B is remarkable, even by 2021 standards. But the fact that a16z is pouring more capital into the alt-media space is not a surprise.

Substack is a place where publications have bled some well-known talent, shifting the center of gravity in media. Let’s take a look at Substack’s historical growth.

RPA market surges as investors, vendors capitalize on pandemic-driven tech shift

Business process organization and analytics. Business process visualization and representation, automated workflow system concept. Vector concept creative illustration

Image Credits: Visual Generation / Getty Images

Robotic process automation came to the fore during the pandemic as companies took steps to digitally transform. When employees couldn’t be in the same office together, it became crucial to cobble together more automated workflows that required fewer people in the loop.

RPA has enabled executives to provide a level of automation that essentially buys them time to update systems to more modern approaches while reducing the large number of mundane manual tasks that are part of every industry’s workflow.

E-commerce roll-ups are the next wave of disruption in consumer packaged goods

This year is all about the roll-ups, the aggregation of smaller companies into larger firms, creating a potentially compelling path for equity value. The interest in creating value through e-commerce brands is particularly striking.

Just a year ago, digitally native brands had fallen out of favor with venture capitalists after so many failed to create venture-scale returns. So what’s the roll-up hype about?

Hack takes: A CISO and a hacker detail how they’d respond to the Exchange breach

3d Flat isometric vector concept of data breach, confidential data stealing, cyber attack.

Image Credits: TarikVision (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

The cyber world has entered a new era in which attacks are becoming more frequent and happening on a larger scale than ever before. Massive hacks affecting thousands of high-level American companies and agencies have dominated the news recently. Chief among these are the December SolarWinds/FireEye breach and the more recent Microsoft Exchange server breach.

Everyone wants to know: If you’ve been hit with the Exchange breach, what should you do?

5 machine learning essentials nontechnical leaders need to understand

Jumble of multicoloured wires untangling into straight lines over a white background. Cape Town, South Africa. Feb 2019.

Image Credits: David Malan (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Machine learning has become the foundation of business and growth acceleration because of the incredible pace of change and development in this space.

But for engineering and team leaders without an ML background, this can also feel overwhelming and intimidating.

Here are best practices and must-know components broken down into five practical and easily applicable lessons.

Embedded procurement will make every company its own marketplace

Businesswomen using mobile phone analyzing data and economic growth graph chart. Technology digital marketing and network connection.

Image Credits: Busakorn Pongparnit / Getty Images

Embedded procurement is the natural evolution of embedded fintech.

In this next wave, businesses will buy things they need through vertical B2B apps, rather than through sales reps, distributors or an individual merchant’s website.

Knowing when your startup should go all-in on business development

One red line with arrow head breaking out from a business or finance growth chart canvas.

Image Credits: twomeows / Getty Images

There’s a persistent fallacy swirling around that any startup growing pain or scaling problem can be solved with business development.

That’s frankly not true.

Dear Sophie: What should I know about prenups and getting a green card through marriage?

lone figure at entrance to maze hedge that has an American flag at the center

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

Dear Sophie:

I’m a founder of a startup on an E-2 investor visa and just got engaged! My soon-to-be spouse will sponsor me for a green card.

Are there any minimum salary requirements for her to sponsor me? Is there anything I should keep in mind before starting the green card process?

— Betrothed in Belmont

Startups must curb bureaucracy to ensure agile data governance

Image of a computer, phone and clock on a desk tied in red tape.

Image Credits: RichVintage / Getty Images

Many organizations perceive data management as being akin to data governance, where responsibilities are centered around establishing controls and audit procedures, and things are viewed from a defensive lens.

That defensiveness is admittedly justified, particularly given the potential financial and reputational damages caused by data mismanagement and leakage.

Nonetheless, there’s an element of myopia here, and being excessively cautious can prevent organizations from realizing the benefits of data-driven collaboration, particularly when it comes to software and product development.

Bring CISOs into the C-suite to bake cybersecurity into company culture

Mixed race businesswoman using tablet computer in server room

Image Credits: Jetta Productions Inc (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cyber strategy and company strategy are inextricably linked. Consequently, chief information security officers in the C-Suite will be just as common and influential as CFOs in maximizing shareholder value.

How is edtech spending its extra capital?

Money tree: an adult hand reaches for dollar bills growing on a leafless tree

Image Credits: Tetra Images (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Edtech unicorns have boatloads of cash to spend following the capital boost to the sector in 2020. As a result, edtech M&A activity has continued to swell.

The idea of a well-capitalized startup buying competitors to complement its core business is nothing new, but exits in this sector are notable because the money used to buy startups can be seen as an effect of the pandemic’s impact on remote education.

But in the past week, the consolidation environment made a clear statement: Pandemic-proven startups are scooping up talent — and fast.

Tech in Mexico: A confluence of Latin America, the US and Asia

Aerial view of crowd connected by lines

Image Credits: Orbon Alija (opens in a new window)/ Getty Images

Knowledge transfer is not the only trend flowing in the U.S.-Asia-LatAm nexus. Competition is afoot as well.

Because of similar market conditions, Asian tech giants are directly expanding into Mexico and other LatAm countries.

 

How we improved net retention by 30+ points in 2 quarters

Sparks coming off US dollar bill attached to jumper cables

Image Credits: Steven Puetzer (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s certainly no shortage of SaaS performance metrics leaders focus on, but NRR (net revenue retention) is without question the most underrated metric out there.

NRR is simply total revenue minus any revenue churn plus any revenue expansion from upgrades, cross-sells or upsells. The greater the NRR, the quicker companies can scale.

5 mistakes creators make building new games on Roblox

BRAZIL - 2021/03/24: In this photo illustration a Roblox logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Image Credits: SOPA Images (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Even the most experienced and talented game designers from the mobile F2P business usually fail to understand what features matter to Robloxians.

For those just starting their journey in Roblox game development, these are the most common mistakes gaming professionals make on Roblox.

 

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings

CEO Manish Chandra, investor Navin Chaddha explain why Poshmark’s Series A deck sings image

“Lead with love, and the money comes.” It’s one of the cornerstone values at Poshmark. On the latest episode of Extra Crunch Live, Chandra and Chaddha sat down with us and walked us through their original Series A pitch deck.

 

Will the pandemic spur a smart rebirth for cities?

New versus old - an old brick building reflected in windows of modern new facade

Image Credits: hopsalka (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Cities are bustling hubs where people live, work and play. When the pandemic hit, some people fled major metropolitan markets for smaller towns — raising questions about the future validity of cities.

But those who predicted that COVID-19 would destroy major urban communities might want to stop shorting the resilience of these municipalities and start going long on what the post-pandemic future looks like.

 

The NFT craze will be a boon for lawyers

3d rendering of pink piggy bank standing on sounding block with gavel lying beside on light-blue background with copy space. Money matters. Lawsuit for money. Auction bids.

Image Credits: Gearstd (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding copyright issues, fraud and adult content, and legal implications are the crux of the NFT trend.

Whether a court would protect the receipt-holder’s ownership over a given file depends on a variety of factors. All of these concerns mean artists may need to lawyer up.

Viewing Cazoo’s proposed SPAC debut through Carvana’s windshield

It’s a reasonable question: Why would anyone pay that much for Cazoo today if Carvana is more profitable and whatnot? Well, growth. That’s the argument anyway.

#artificial-intelligence, #corporate-finance, #deliveroo, #ec-1, #entrepreneurship, #extra-crunch-roundup, #kaltura, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #roblox, #startups, #substack, #tc, #tonal, #venture-capital

Clubhouse will create billions in value and capture none of it

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was a busy week on the IPO front, Danny was buried in getting the Tonal EC-1 out, and Natasha took some time off. But the host trio managed to prep and record a show that was honestly a kick to record, and we think, a pleasure to listen to!

So, for your morning walk, here’s what we have for you:

It was a mix of laughs, ‘aha’ moments, and honest conversations about how complex ambition in startups should be. One listener the other day mentioned to us that the pandemic made it harder to carve out time for podcasts, since listening was often reserved for commutes. We get it, and in true scrappy fashion, we’re curious how you’ve adapted to remote work and podcasts. Let us know how you tune into Equity via Twitter and remember that we’re thankful for your ears!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#cameo, #clubhouse, #discord, #equity, #equity-podcast, #funding, #fundings-exits, #harlem-capital, #linkedin, #mac-venture-capital, #media, #miami, #microsoft-excel, #pipe, #podcasts, #spotify, #startups, #substack

Substack confirms $65M raise, promises to ‘rapidly’ expand its financial backing of newly independent writers

This afternoon Substack, a paid-newsletter startup, confirmed that it has raised $65 million, as initially reported by Axios. TechCrunch dug into the math behind the financing here. As anticipated, a16z led the new financing.

What’s in store from the now Series B-backed company? Product work. The company wrote that intends to “rapidly” expand its Substack Pro program, which pays writers for a year to assist them in launching their own mini-publication; Substack takes a larger cut of Pro user earnings during their first year, reverting to its usual split the next.

The Substack Pro model has attracted controversy in recent days, with some writers — both on Substack and not — criticizing the startup for opacity in whom it pays via its Pro program; some have argued that Substack is subsidizing anti-trans writers in particular.

The company is motoring ahead on building out its infrastructure regardless, stating in its note that it intends to spend some of its new capital on creating “increasingly powerful subscription-publishing tools,” and “a support infrastructure for independent writers.” More tooling, and more assistance could prove key to enticing more writers from their current employers — or Substack rivals — to its platform.

The company also wrote that it plans to boost its community-building and local news efforts.

Substack did not provide material new growth metrics, instead saying that it has “more than half a million people” paying for writers on its network; that figure is unchanged from a January figure that Bloomberg reported.

As Facebook and Twitter build out their own newsletter efforts, and rival startups like Pico and Ghost offer related services, the paid-media space is a hot market today. At issue is more than the future homes for a handful of well-known writers with large audiences. The various tech companies competing in the space are each wagering that the long tail for paid writing is long, and that individuals of many profile sizes will be able to attract and hold a paid audience.

After what feels like decades in which online writing was devalued to commodity prices, it’s startling to find ourselves in a world where various well-financed companies are competing for our pens.

#facebook, #substack, #tc, #twitter

Substack faces backlash over the writers it supports with big advances

Substack has attracted a number of high-profile writers to its newsletter platform — and it hasn’t been a secret that the venture-backed startup has lured some of them with sizable payments.

For example, a New Yorker article late last year identified several writers (Anne Helen Petersen, Matthew Yglesias)  who’d accepted “substantial” advances and others (Robert Christgau, Alison Roman) who’d started Substack newsletters without striking deals with the company.

However, a number of writers publishing via Substack have begun pointing out that this strategy makes the company seem less like a technology platform and more like a media company (a familiar debate around Facebook and other online giants) — or at the very least, like a technology platform that also makes editorial decisions which are subject to scrutiny and criticism.

Last week, the writer Jude Ellison Sady Doyle pointed to writers like Yglesias, Glenn Greenwald and Freddie de Boer (several of whom departed larger publications, supposedly turning to Substack for greater editorial independence) and suggested that the platform has become “famous for giving massive advances […] to people who actively hate trans people and women, argue ceaselessly against our civil rights, and in many cases, have a public history of directly, viciously abusing trans people and/or cis women in their industry.”

Doyle initially said that they would continue publishing via Substack but would not charge a subscription fee to any readers who (like Doyle) identify as trans. Later, they added an update saying they’d be moving to a different platform called Ghost.

Similarly, science journalist and science fiction writer Annalee Newitz wrote yesterday that they would be leaving the platform as well. And as part of their farewell, they described Substack as a “scam”: “For all we know, every single one of Substack’s top newsletters is supported by money from Substack. Until Substack reveals who exactly is on its payroll, its promises that anyone can make money on a newsletter are tainted.”

Substack has responded in with two posts of its own. In the first, published last week, co-founder Hamish McKenzie outlines the details of what the company calls its Substack Pro program — it offers select writers an advance payment for their first year on the platform, then keeps 85% of the writers’ subscription revenue. After that, there’s no guaranteed payment, but writers get to keep 90% of their revenue. (The company also offers legal support and healthcare stipends.)

“We see these deals as business decisions, not editorial ones,” McKenzie wrote. “We don’t commission or edit stories. We don’t hire writers, or manage them. The writers, not Substack, are the owners. No-one writes for Substack – they write for their own publications.”

The second post (bylined by McKenzie and his co-founders Chris Best and Jairaj Sethi) provides additional details about who’s in the program — more than half women, more than one-third people of color, diverse viewpoints but “none that can be reasonably construed as anti-trans” —without actually naming names.

“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,” the Substack founders wrote.

As for whether those writers are being held to any standards, the founders said, “We will continue to require all writers to abide by Substack’s content guidelines, which guard against harassment and threats. But we will also stick to a hands-off approach to censorship, as laid out in our statement about our content moderation philosophy.”

Greenwald, for his part, dismissed the criticism as “petty Substack censors” whose position boils down to, “because you refuse to remove from your platform the writers I hate who have built a very large readership of their own, I’m taking myself & my couple of dozen readers elsewhere in protest.”

But when I reached out to Newitz (a friend of mine) via email, they told me that the key issue is transparency.

“If Substack won’t tell us who they are paying, we can’t figure out who on the site has grown their audience organically, and who is getting juiced,” Newitz said. “It’s blatantly misleading for people who are trying to figure out whether they can make money on the platform. Plus, keeping their Pro list secret means we can’t verify Substack’s claims about how its staff writers are on ‘all sides’ of the political spectrum.”

#media, #startups, #substack, #tc

Can data fix healthcare?

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. Want it in your inbox every Saturday morning? Sign up here.

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

Can data fix healthcare?

Not alone, but you might be able to make a lot of progress with the right data in the right hands. And that’s precisely what the startup we’re talking about today is up to.

The Exchange caught up with Terry Myerson and Lisa Gurry this week, the CEO and CMO of Truveta, a young company that wants to collect oodles of data from healthcare providers, anonymize it, aggregate it and make it available to third parties for research.

It’s a big task, but the team behind Truveta has experience with big projects. Myerson is best known for his time one-rung below the top of the Microsoft org chart, where he ran things you might have heard of, like Windows. Gurry was a leader inside that org, most recently working on strategy for the Microsoft Store product.

But now they are at a healthtech data company. How did that come to be? After Myerson left Microsoft he worked with Madrona, the Seattle-area venture capital firm, and the Carlyle Group, a huge investing group with a taste for private equity. A few years later, several former Microsoft co-workers of Myerson had wound up at Providence, a healthcare giant. They reached out to Myerson around when COVID-19 was first locking down the United States. The former Microsoft exec agreed to take part in a few calls, but didn’t formally join them as he was stuck at home.

During that time he learned that Providence had put together a white paper concerning the idea that Truveta would become, that by collecting data from healthcare providers a dataset of sufficient size and diversity could be compiled to allow research of all sorts to leverage it. Myerson got stuck on the concept, later founding the company. Then he called up some former colleagues, including Gurry, to help him build it.

Truveta has around 50 people today and will scale to around 100 this year, Myerson said.

Questions abound in your head, I’m sure. Things are still early at Truveta, but the company announced last week that it has signed up 14 healthcare providers to help with its data goals. Those firms are also investors in the company (Myerson put in capital in as well).

I was curious about the company’s business plan. Per Myerson, Truveta will charge different rates depending on who wants to access its data. As you can imagine, commercial entities will pay a different price than an independent researcher.

Next for Truveta is getting more data, locking down its internal data schema, collecting feedback from researchers and, later, approaching commercial access.

Healthcare in America is inequitable — something that the pair of Truveta executives stressed during our call — thus giving the company a huge market to improve and make less racist and sexist.

It was a bit odd to talk to Myerson and Gurry about their startup. In the past I’d chatted with them about some of Microsoft’s largest platforms. Let’s see how fast they can transform Truveta from an idea I can’t help but dig, to a company that is a viable commercial concern. And then how big they can grow it.

Market Notes

A lot has happened in the past few days that we couldn’t get to. Adyen’s earnings, for example. The European payments platform reported H2 revenues of €379.4 million, up 28% compared to the year ago half-year. And from that it reported EBITDA of €236.8 million. Who said fintech can’t be profitable? (Note: Adyen’s results are required reading if you care about Stripe’s valuation and future public offering.)

And there were some rounds that also fell through our fingers. Investments like CloudTalk’s recent $7.3 million Series A. The Slovakia-based startup previously raised a $1.6 million seed round in 2019. The startup, as its name suggests, offers cloud telephony services to call centers.

We suspected that CloudTalk probably had a pretty good year in 2020 thanks to global growth in remote work. It did. In an email, CloudTalk said that it has not seen “Zoom-like [growth] figures” but that in 2020 demand for its services “exceeded [its] expectations.” That helps explain its latest round.

The Exchange was also curious if the company had a perspective on subscription pricing versus consumption pricing, a rising topic amongst software dorks such as myself (more to come on this next week with notes from Appian, Fastly and others). Per the company, CloudTalk charges “for both seats and for usage,” making it a hybrid company from a pricing perspective. CloudTalk called its pricing setup “a good balance for both parties because customers like to know what they are going to be paying ahead of time.”

It’s a startup to keep in mind. As is Zolve, a globally themed neobank with a focus on helping expats have a working financial world. I couldn’t get to it, but TechCrunch wrote it up. More here.

And in case you didn’t have time to watch television during work the last few days let’s talk about Robinhood. Which enjoyed a Congressional hearing this week that was mostly dull apart from some notes on the fintech giant’s business model.

Finally, it was a busy week for crowded startup niches. There was more money for OKR startups, leading to our question about VCs putting capital into related companies in the future. Public also raised several hundred million dollars. Because why not. And low-code player OutSystems raised $150 million to round out the group. It was one hell of a week.

Various and Sundry

I will leave you with a few data points. First, that Clubhouse’s metrics are finally starting to match the hype around the product. People are showing up in droves, pushing its total download figures over the 10 million mark.

And in news that I missed, Substack crossed the 500,000 subscriber mark. That’s impressive!

And to close, a Chicago-based, home-focused insurtech startup called Kin crossed the $10 billion “total insured property value” mark this week. The Exchange reached out, asking the company about its economics. After all it’s not hard to run up premium volume if you are selling dollars for 50-cent pieces.

Ruth Awad from the company responded that her company’s “ loss rate is 53% and our gross margins are 32%.” Not bad at all. Given how quickly insurtech has gone from experiment to public-success, Kin is a company to keep tabs on.

Wrapping, please make sure to support your local heavy metal band this weekend,

Alex

#fundings-exits, #robinhood, #startups, #substack, #the-exhange, #the-techcrunch-exchange

Startup cynicism and Substack, or Clubhouse, or Miami, or …

If you build it, they will come, but they sure as hell are going to complain about everything until they do.

There were millions of bets made in the tech industry last year. Some of those bets involved actual venture capital dollars. Others involved individual decisions on where to live: do you bet on the future of San Francisco or do you want to partake in the growth of some other startup hub? Are you going to launch this new feature in your product or improve one of your existing ones? Do you switch jobs or stay and double down?

Yet, for all those bets, just three seem to have achieved a collective and hysterical frenzy in the industry as we close out this year: a bet on the future of media, a bet on the future of (audio) media, and a bet on the future of one of America’s greatest cities.

Substack, Clubhouse, and Miami as a major tech hub are compelling bets. They are early bets, in the sense that most of the work to actually realize each of their dreams remains to be done. All three are bets of optimism: Substack believes it can rebuild journalism. Clubhouse believes it can reinvent radio with the right interactivity and build a unique social platform. And Miami is a bet that you can take a top global city without a massive startup ecosystem and agglomerate the talent necessary to compete with San Francisco, New York and Boston.

Yet, that optimism is not broadly endorsed by the tech commentariat, who see threats, failures, and barriers from every angle.

I wish I could say it’s just the ennui of an industry in flux given the pandemic and constant cavalcade of chaos and bad news that’s hit us this year. That cynicism, though, has gotten deeper and more entrenched over the past few years even before coronavirus was a trending topic, even as more startups than ever are getting funding (and at better valuations!), even as more startups than ever are exiting, and those exits are collectively larger than ever as we saw earlier this month.

Insecurity is the fabric that runs through most of these bleak analyses. That’s particularly prominent with Substack, which sits at the nexus of insecurity in tech and insecurity in media. The criticism from tech folks seems to basically boil down to “it’s just an email service!” Its simplicity is threatening, since it seems to intimate that anyone could have built a Substack, really anytime in the last decade.

Indeed, they could. Substack is simple in its original product conception, which is a DNA it happens to share with a lot of other successful consumer startups. It is (or perhaps better to say now, was) just email. It’s Stripe + a CMS editor + an email delivery service. A janky version could be written in a day by most competent engineers. And yet. No one else built Substack, and that’s where the insecurity starts in the startup world.

From the media perspective, it’s of course been brutal the last few years in newsrooms and across publishing, so understandably, the level of cynicism in the press is already high (and journalists aren’t exactly optimistic types to begin with). Yet, most of the criticism here basically boils down to “why hasn’t Substack completely stopped the bloodletting of my industry in the short few years it’s been around?”

Maybe they will, but give the folks some god damn time to build. The fact that a young startup is even considered to have the potential to completely rebuild an industry is precisely what makes Substack (and other adjacent startups in its space) such a compelling bet. Substack, today, cannot re-employ tens of thousands of laid-off journalists, or fix the inequality in news coverage or industry demographics, or end the plight of “fake news.” But what about a decade from now if they keep growing on this trajectory and stay focused on building?

The cynicism of immediate perfection is one of the strange dynamics of startups in 2020. There is this expectation that a startup, with one or a few founders and a couple of employees, is somehow going to build a perfect product on day one that mitigates any potential problem even before it becomes one. Maybe these startups are just getting popularized too early, and the people who understand early product are getting subsumed by the wider masses who don’t understand the evolution of products?

This pattern is obvious in the case of Clubhouse, the drama aspects we have mostly managed to avoid at TechCrunch. It’s a new social platform, with new social dynamics. No one understands what it’s going to become in the next few years. Not Paul Davison (who might, even so, have a dream of where he wants to take it), not Clubhouse’s investors, and certainly not its users. This past week, Clubhouse hosted a live Lion King musical event with thousands of participants. Who had that on their bingo board?

Are there problems with Substack and Clubhouse? For sure. But as early companies, they have the obligation to explore the terrain of what they are building, find the key features that compel users to these platforms, and ultimately find their growth formula. There will be problems — trust and safety chief among them, particularly given the nature of user-contributed content. No startup has ever been founded, however, that didn’t uncover problems along its journey. The key question we must ask is whether these companies have the leadership to fix them as they continue building. My sense — and hypothetical bet — is yes.

Talking about leadership, that leads us to Francis Suarez, the mayor of Miami, whose single tweet offering to help has sparked the most absurd kerfuffle of San Francisco lovers and vitriolic pessimists the world over right now.

Keith Rabois and a few other VCs and founders are trailblazing a trail from San Francisco to Miami, linking up with the local industry to try to build something new and better than what existed before. It’s a bet on a place — an optimistic one — that the power of startups and tech can migrate outside of its central hubs.

What’s strange is that the cynicism around Miami here seems even less warranted than it did a decade ago. While San Francisco and distantly New York and Boston remain the clear hubs of tech startups in the U.S., cities like Salt Lake, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Denver, Philadelphia and more have started to score some serious points. Is it really so hard to believe that Miami, a metro region of 5.5 million and one of the largest regional economies in the United States, might actually succeed as well? Maybe it literally just required a few major VCs to show up to catalyze the revolution.

Nothing got built by cynicism. “You can’t do it!” has never created a company, except perhaps to trigger a founder to start something in revolt at the fusillade of negativity.

It takes time though to build. It takes time to take an early product and grow it. It takes time to build a startup ecosystem and expand it into something self-sustaining. Perhaps most importantly, it takes extraordinary effort and hard work, and not just from singular individuals but a whole team and community of people to succeed. The future is malleable — and bets do pay off. So we all need to stop asking what’s the problem and pointing out flaws, and perhaps ask, what future are we building toward? What’s the bet I’m willing to back?

#clubhouse, #keith-rabois, #miami, #startups, #substack, #tc, #venture-capital

Substack explains its ‘hands-off’ approach to content moderation

Content moderation has been a thorny topic in 2020. And when I say “thorny,” I mean in the sense of having multiple congressional hearings on the subject. Twitter and Facebook in particular have been mired in concerns around the subject, fielding complaints that they both haven’t done enough to weed out problematic content and suggestions that they’re a censorship-happy, shadow-banning enemy of the First Amendment.

The latter appears to be the sole reason for the existence of the right wing-focused Twitter competitor, Parler.

As Substack grows in popularity, the newsletter platform is going to face some tremendously difficult questions around content moderation. Today it published a lengthy blog post hoping to nip some of those concerns in the bud. The write-up offers some caveats, but largely espouses the platform’s commitment to free speech, noting:

In most cases, we don’t think that censoring content is helpful, and in fact it often backfires. Heavy-handed censorship can draw more attention to content than it otherwise would have enjoyed, and at the same time it can give the content creators a martyr complex that they can trade off for future gain. We prefer a contest of ideas. We believe dissent and debate is important. We celebrate nonconformity.

The stance reflects Substack’s commitment to a subscription-based model, rather than the ads that currently keep the lights on for services like Twitter and Facebook. Instead, it takes a 10% cut of writers’ subscription revenue. Certainly that frees it up from sponsorship boycotts to some degree. The subscription model also means that users have to opt into specific content more so than on platforms like Twitter and Facebook, where content boundaries are far more fluid.

“We are happy to compete with ‘Substack but with more controls on speech’ just as we are happy to compete with ‘Substack but with advertising,’ ” the company writes.

Of course, there are financial considerations — there always are. Substack has a vested interest in supporting right-wing and conservative voices who have decried Facebook and Twitter’s practices. Notably, The Dispatch is at the top of the service’s politics leaderboard. In an interview with TechCrunch earlier this year, editor Stephen Hayes called the service, “unapologetically center-right,” while its current blurb refers to it as “conservative.”

“None of these views are neutral,” Substack writes. “Many Silicon Valley technology companies strive to make their platforms apolitical, but we think such a goal is impossible to achieve.” There’s no doubt some truth in that. Any position on content moderation can be viewed as a political one to some degree. And equally, none will make everyone — or even most people — completely happy.

But it’s also easy to see the service facing some major tests of its current hands-off approach as the service continues to grow in popularity. The service’s approach has involved putting its name out there in front of consumers, meaning it won’t be viewed as a kind of invisible publishing platform.

Substack is quick to add that there is, naturally, content that crosses the line in spite of this. “Of course, there are limits,” it writes. “We do not allow porn on Substack, for example, or spam. We do not allow doxxing or harassment.”

#apps, #censorship, #content-moderation, #substack

Media roundup: Google to cut big checks for news publishers, Substack continues to draw top creators, more

Welcome back to Extra Crunch’s Media Roundup, where I round up the stories that entrepreneurs in the content and advertising business should be thinking about — trends, larger platform shifts, as well as noteworthy funding rounds.

This time, we’ve got some bad news for movie theaters, the specter of antitrust regulation and a new career path for journalists. Let’s get started!

Movie studios and theaters face a bleak fall

In the last roundup, I pointed to “Tenet”’s global opening weekend as a sign that the theatrical movie business might be coming back to life — but I may have spoken too soon.

While the latest Christopher Nolan film has continued to do reasonably well outside the United States, it’s only grossed $20 million domestically for Warner Brothers. The film’s underwhelming performance could be blamed on U.S. audiences being afraid to return to theaters — but it might simply be a reflection of the fact that theaters in major moviegoing markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco remain closed.

Either way, Warner Brothers and other studios are clearly spooked by the results and have pushed nearly all of their theatrical releases until next year, with knock-on effects for the movies that were already scheduled for 2021. For example, Warner’s “Dune” is being delayed until October 2021, and Daniel Craig’s final Bond entry, “No Time To Die,” was pushed back from November until April. Meanwhile, “The Batman” has been delayed from 2021 to 2022.

At this point, there are few Hollywood blockbusters on the calendar until Christmas, when “Wonder Woman 1984” is due for release. To be honest, I’d be surprised if it actually hits that date. (Video-game comedy “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds, is scheduled for December 11, but the cast has already created a tongue-in-cheek video acknowledging that release dates aren’t exactly set in stone right now.)

In the meantime, at least one major theater chain said it can’t justify keeping its doors open. The United Kingdom’s Cineworld, which also operates Regal Cinemas in the U.S., announced that it’s closing its theaters indefinitely. For now, AMC and Cinemark said they aren’t going to to follow suit. (AMC noted that it’s bringing in additional revenue through a deal with Universal where the theatre chain gets a cut when Universal films are released early via video-on-demand.)

#entertainment, #facebook, #google, #justin-waldron, #media, #media-roundup, #playco, #substack

Substack launches Defender, a program offering legal support to independent writers

In the worlds of journalism and publishing, it’s fairly common for the wealthy to attempt to shut down reporting with legal threats. For those publishing on large platforms with plenty of resources, such challenges can be a massive headache. For independent writers and publishers, on the other hand, the consequences can be far more dire.

Citing an example wherein a politician’s lawyers recently went after a Substack writer over reports of business ties, the popular newsletter platform is announcing the launch of Defender. After some months in a closed pilot with a “handful” of writers, Substack is extending the service to interested parties.

There’s a form now on Substack’s site. To qualify, users must be based in the U.S. and use Substack for professional work. Co-founder/COO Hamish McKenzie says the company has no current commitment to extending the program to free users (though that could certainly change), but it’s using the U.S. program to determine when and where to more broadly expand Defender.

Writers also need to publish work “that may attract unreasonable legal pressure, such as abuses of copyright laws, assaults on first amendment rights, and spurious defamation claims.” Once approved, they’ll need to fill out a second form detailing the specific case for which they need support. Substack will approve users on a case by case basis, as well as which cases it ultimately supports.

The company says it’s willing to cover fees of up to $1 million, though “in exceptional cases, we may cover even more.” Such cases will continue to be fascinating tests of the First Amendment, particularly in an era when Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has come under strong fire from the president of the United States.

“Important writing holds the powerful to account – and quite often, that’s an arrangement that the powerful would rather not support,” Substack writes. “In some cases, antagonists use threats of legal action in an attempt to stop the work that makes them uncomfortable.”

As de-platforming has increasingly become a part of the social media landscape, eyes will no doubt be on Substack as the service decides which cases it ultimately chooses to cover. From the sound of its description, Defender will largely focus on reportage — though in such a fragmented media landscape, even that can be in the eye of the beholder.

The launch of Defender follows a few months after Substack introduced a $100,000 grant to support independent writers.

#journalism, #lawsuit, #media, #policy, #substack

As media revenue struggles, subscription startups see growth

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been a friend to the media business. Its economic impacts slashed advertising budgets, diminishing a key revenue plank for many publications. The results of falling ad spend have been felt across the industry, with a wave of layoffs hitting publications large and small, niche and general.


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Other forms of publisher income, like events, have also been reduced. But the pain of 2020’s media downturn hasn’t been felt equally in the industry. Publications that had built subscription revenue bases were in a better position to weather declines in other media incomes than peers who hadn’t; revenue diversification can provide real shelter when the economy rapidly shifts.

Subscription incomes are not enough for publications to avoid all pain; The Atlantic’s subscription base famously surged during the early months of COVID-19, but the company still saw layoffs. The Athletic’s subscription business was predicated on sports events taking place — it too underwent cuts despite a membership-first model.

In this era, the healthiest publications tend to have a subscription component. The paywalled New York Times and Wall Street Journal are hiring, as is Business Insider, which launched a membership service in 2017. But not all subscription publications that are succeeding are large. Indeed, thanks to a growing set of publisher-friendly subscription services, there are a number of options in the market for supporting publications as small as a single author.

Perhaps most famously, Substack has seen good growth in the last year. The venture-backed newsletter-and-blogging service provides authors with the ability to charge for their writing. But other startups are competing in the space, helping publications derive more income directly from readers.

Pico, which provides paid-subscription tooling for publishers, has seen strong growth in the COVID-19 era. TechCrunch caught up with its co-founder Jason Bade to chat about what his company has seen in recent months. And a few months ahead of COVID-19’s arrival, publishing platform Ghost launched its paid subscription product into beta. TechCrunch asked Ghost about the reception, and growth of the membership portion of its business to better understand today’s media market.

What emerges from data and conversations concerning the startup-supported media membership landscape is something hopeful. Some writers are going to build micro-pubs that can finance their existence. And larger publications have never had more available help to wean their businesses off of ads, pageviews, and Google’s favor.

#extra-crunch, #fundings-exits, #ghost, #market-analysis, #media, #pico, #precursor-ventures, #startups, #substack, #tc, #the-exchange

The Dispatch, a news organization built on Substack, passes $1M in annual revenue

Is there an audience for a center-right news publication focused on original reporting and analysis? That’s the proposition that The Dispatch set out to test when it launched last October, and the early results are promising. The startup says it’s now approaching 10,000 paying subscribers, adding up to more than $1 million in annualized revenue.

Editor and CEO Stephen Hayes (former editor in chief of the now-defunct Weekly Standard) told me that his vision for The Dispatch was to “slow down the news cycle.” That doesn’t mean ignoring the day’s headlines. But rather than just recycling the same stories about, say, Bernie Sanders or the COVID-19 pandemic, The Dispatch aims to “take a breath” and try to approach important news in a fresh way.

In order to do that, Hayes said that building a subscription business with newsletter-focused digital media platform Substack (the Substack team also handles all of The Dispatch’s technical and product needs) was key.

“We’re not trying to monetize eyeballs,” he said. “What Substack was doing fit pretty much exactly with what we wanted to build — a company with an editorial-first philosophy.”

As part of that strategy, The Dispatch has gradually been rolling out its membership program and paywall. At launch, it offered a lifetime membership ($1,500), then added an annual membership ($100) when it launched its full site in January, and finally introduced a paywall and a monthly membership ($10) less than a month ago.

Hayes said it’s been largely “an ad hoc process” of figuring what should and shouldn’t go behind the paywall. Apparently, one piece of advice that has been helpful is, “Don’t hide your good stuff behind the paywall. You need to be serving some of your best, most substantive work in front of the paywall, so that you get people into the top of the funnel.”

On top of its paying subscribers, Hayes said The Dispatch is reaching about 60,000 people with its newsletters. And it’s partnering with podcast company Sounder, with plans to participate in Google’s Play Me The News program for Google Home, where it will offer short-form audio news stories.

The startup has also raised $6 million in funding from individual investors (none of it comes from venture capital firms).

Hayes acknowledged that one of the constant questions he had to answer during the fundraising process was whether he was aiming for too narrow an audience — namely, the #NeverTrump slice of the political right.

It might look that way on “the traditional political spectrum,” but in Hayes’ view, it’s more accurate to see the spectrum as a “hardcore 15 percent” on the left and another 15 percent on the right that’s “more partisan than ideological” and will root for their party no more what. And while The Dispatch is “unapologetically center-right,” he’s hoping to appeal to the remaining 70 percent, who are looking for a publication that can “help you make sense of all this stuff that doesn’t make sense,” regardless of political leanings.

The Dispatch is in many ways the flagship among full-fledged news organizations built on Substack, but the list of publications now includes Asia Sentinel, Let’s Go Warriors and Write for California. The startup is also announcing that it’s now reaching more than 100,000 paying subscribers across its platform.

Substack CEO Chris Best said that The Dispatch’s success so far shows that there’s “a hunger out there.”

He added, “Are readers willing to pay for something that helps them make sense of the world and adds value to their lives? I think the answer is unequivocally yes.”

#media, #startups, #substack