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The Rise of Substack: what is it and how can it be leveraged?

29 May, 2024

In recent years, Substack has emerged as a serious contender in the digital publishing landscape with a remarkable surge in popularity since its launch in 2017. The platform offers writers a level of autonomy and control over their work, packaged with a user-friendly interface, subscription-based model and the potential for revenue generation.

Sarah Wilson Substack


So what is Substack?

Substack is best described as the intersection of a traditional blog and a digital newsletter platform. Users can create their own site complete with custom landing page and title - and a custom domain if they have one available - for the intention of publishing posts that are sent directly to subscribers' inboxes and archived online.

What makes Substack such an appealing platform to its users is the integration of paid subscriptions and the potential for monetisation. Writers have the choice of making content free and available to anyone who visits their page, or posting their content behind a paywall available only to paid subscribers. These subscriptions start at $5/month and users can set their price beyond that, with Substack taking a 10% cut of all revenue from both subscriptions and the on-platform tip-jar.

For me, the appeal is that its reach and tone is global, which has a bunch of implications for an Australian woman. I’m able to have a bolder voice and interact and write at a level and with a level of discerning argument and intellectual robustness that is largely dismissed in Australia. We have a fear of “intellectualism”, of questioning the status quo. (Sarah Wilson)


How does Substack set itself apart from competitors like Medium, Blogger and WordPress?

Where other platforms focus on blogging and content management, Substack prioritises the distribution of digital newsletters directly to subscribers, fostering a connection between the writer and their audience.

With the integration of paid subscriptions, Substack is not reliant on advertising or sponsorships for revenue and provides users with the potential for a reliable income stream.

The streamlined interface and focus on user-friendly design makes it easy for writers to set up a newsletter right out of the box, without having to worry about the need for any technical expertise or website design know-how. Community management is made easy with options for readers for liking, commenting and sharing posts.


How can PR leverage Substacks? 

Substack has created a platform that fosters a strong engagement between writers and their audience. It provides writers with the opportunity to have more freedom and independence to publish their individual views with very little oversight and no editorialisation from the platform itself.

This can be both an asset and a liability.

So, if you want to get in front of a Substack publication's audience, consider the following:

  • Stories pitched to these writers need to consider the individual perspective and subjects of interest that are relevant to the publications. This is true of any pitch, but more so when you pitch to a publication on Substack. Personalise your pitch in order to break through.

  • Understand why that writer chooses to publish on substack. Align your story to their motivations and interests of their readers.

  • Pitch stories that can generate direct engagement between the writer and their audience, as engagement is a priority.

  • Be ready to engage with the writer and answer questions. Writers on Substack rely on their reputation and they will want to make sure your story aligns with their views.

  • Also be prepared to accept the writer’s point of view on your story, as it might not be entirely positive or aligned to your objectives.

In return, you will be rewarded with:

  • Exposure to a targeted, highly engaged audience. Coverage on a Substack publication can have a high impact because the writer and its audience care deeply about the topic.

  • Your story going straight into the inboxes of subscribers, and being included in the Substack archive.

  • Your story being covered by someone that the audience deeply respects and values and can influence their opinions on a topic.

I have used press releases and PR driven stories many times, especially for interviews - really I see my Substack as being a micro publication. Substack almost has in-built earned media as its function, with its recommendation tools - but yes, it will become more common. (Patrick Lenton)

Some recommended Substacks from the Research team:


Substacks on Medianet

Find 46 Substacks from the Australia and New Zealand region in the Medianet Database covering topics such as current affairs, pop culture, lifestyle, business, economics and personal writings. Explore our plans here.


Special thanks to:

Sarah Wilson for her comments. Sarah Wilson, an early adopter of the Substack platform, has one of the largest in Australia with 53,000 subscribers, 1700 of which pay for premium articles.

Patrick Lenton for his comments.

Medianet is the ultimate PR platform connecting you with media contacts and outlets to get your story told.

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