Note to Readers: The New Substack App
On the heels of rapid growth, a new tool to enhance independence and make accessing articles easier
Apologies to readers for being late on the draw with this, and for being a little quiet in general lately (I’m dealing with a few things that I hope to explain later) but Substack made a big announcement today, unveiling a new app that should make accessing TK easier and more efficient. Those interested can download it here:
The app features a dedicated Inbox for this newsletter and any other Substacks to which you subscribe. New posts won’t get lost in email filters or stuck in spam folders. Longer posts won’t be cut off by your email app. Overall, it should be an upgrade for many.
Substack founders Hamish McKenzie and Chris Best wrote an introductory post touching on the app, but added interesting passages about the thinking behind the company in general that I thought were worth quoting. They started talking about broad problems in the media landscape that developed in the years before they launched:
The last couple of decades of the internet have eroded the media business and stripped writers – and other culture makers – of their financial dignity. Craigslist delivered the first blow, depriving the press of revenue from classifieds, and then Google and Facebook came along and sucked up the vast majority of online ad spend. As media businesses became more and more anemic, writers were relegated to content-production roles and playing attention games on social media, where “engagement” is prized above all else, including quality and truth.
It is clear to us that these problems can’t be solved with a tweak to an algorithm or a just-so regulation. Instead, the entire system needs to change. With Substack, we have set out to build an alternative media ecosystem based on different laws of physics, where writers are rewarded with direct payments from readers, and where readers have total control over what they read. In this world, writers are rewarded for serving readers well, and Substack gets rewarded for serving writers well. The power is tipped in favor of the people, not the platform.
These are great points. I think a lot of the people who’ve subscribed have done so in an effort to support the general idea of tilting power back in the direction of media consumers. They’re framing the release of the app as an important “piece of this puzzle,” saying Substack “has been flourishing based on email and the web, but now new things are possible.” To wit:
The app helps bring together Substack as an ecosystem… an alternative to the mindless scrolling and cheap dopamine hits that lie behind other home screen icons. It offers a quiet space to read, where the work itself is given the spotlight and you’re not pulled into status games or trivial diversions. And it amplifies the network effects that already exist on Substack… making it easier for writers to get new subscribers, and for readers to explore and sample Substacks they might otherwise not have found.
One of the core ideas of Substack is that its email distribution system allows it to live relatively free from the algorithmic censorship that plagues content that only lives online. Apps are more independent than sites, but as we’ve seen in the last few years, even they can be pressured by companies like Apple and Amazon. However, adding an app to an email-based system should provide an added layer of security and functionality. At least, that’s the hope. Given Substack’s recent growth — paying subscribers quadrupled in a year to over a million by last November — anything that makes this increasingly conspicuous and controversial media space more secure sounds like a good idea to me.
The company adds a note that from experience I know will trigger some readers, but here it is: “The Substack app is currently available for iOS. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.” That list is already live, and I’ve no reason to doubt this service will be available for Android users soon. In any case, thanks again to all subscribers for helping make this possible, and my apologies, again, for being slow to deliver the news.