Digital newsletters are having a bit of a moment. The unpredictability of journalism, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, has seen writers looking for new ways to connect to audiences.
The rise of digital newsletter platforms such as Substack and Medium have created a space for writers, some with limited resources, to share their work directly with an audience without the constraints of editors, advertisers, or fact-checkers.
In a nutshell, these platforms allow users to subscribe to their preferred creators and receive both free and monetised content straight to their inbox. Unlike their more traditional counterparts, such as Mailchimp and Hubspot, these newsletter platforms are less about marketing and more focused on personal, creative content.
Twitter’s latest purchase
Earlier this year, Twitter announced its acquisition of the newsletter company Revue. The purchase was one of a series by Twitter in a bid to expand its offering and explore alternate revenue streams.
The purchase of Revue in particular appears to be part of Twitter’s efforts to directly compete with other digital newsletter platforms such as Substack, Medium, and Facebook’s new venture, Bulletin (launched in June 2021 and currently only available to hand-picked creators). It is the company’s first foray into long-form content and subscription revenue.
In a joint statement, Twitter’s product chief, Kayvon Beykpour, and vice president of publisher products, Mike Park, said that “Revue will accelerate our work to help people stay informed about their interests while giving all types of writers a way to monetize their audience – whether it’s through the one they built at a publication, their website, on Twitter, or elsewhere”.
Since Revue’s introduction, Twitter has begun to introduce functions that allow users to subscribe to their favourite Revue creators directly through their Twitter account. Although integration is still limited to testing, Revue creators can now link their newsletter directly in their Twitter bio.
Who are the main players?
Revue’s largest direct competitor, Substack, was founded in 2017 to “help writers, artists, and other creatives solicit donations from people who love their work” and has continued to grow steadily since. In fact, the platform has become somewhat of a superstar. Today, Substack has somewhere in the region of 500,000 paid subscribers, and the platform’s top ten publishers collectively bring in approximately $7 million in annual revenue.
To date, platforms like Revue and Substack have been used predominantly by individuals rather than organisations. With their focus on creative media rather than marketing, established platforms for corporate newsletters, like Mailchimp, are likely to retain their foothold in the market.
Even though Revue and Substack have been operating for several years, 2020 saw an increased interest in both platforms, with Substack’s active writers doubling between March and June 2020.
Numerous authors, journalists, and well-known personalities have joined in recent months. Chuck Palahnuik (Fight Club), Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses), and punk icon Patti Smith have taken to publishing both free newsletters and paid content such as books, podcasts, and comics directly to their subscribers. In the case of Rushdie and a few others, the company offered undisclosed upfront payments.
How do Revue and Substack make money?
Although there is a wide variety of both free and paid content, newsletter writers primarily earn their money through paid subscriptions, and platforms typically take a percentage of those subscriptions.
Substack takes 10% of subscription earnings, with Stripe, Substack’s payments provider, taking a further 3%, and writers taking the remainder. Revue takes a 5% cut of a creator’s earnings, a standard 2.9%, and an additional processing fee, although Twitter has suggested that it may lower Revue’s cut even further to attract new writers to the platform.
Other platforms such as Quora and Medium have also recently released new monetisation structures, indicating that the appetite for this type of content is expected to grow.
Are digital newsletters here to stay?
For writers, one of the biggest draws to these platforms is the freedom to publish what they want, when they want, cutting out the middleman. But this doesn’t come without its criticisms.
The absence of checks and balances has raised its issues. Substack has been criticised for its lax monitoring of some controversial content published through the platform that typically would not be published on other social media channels or traditional media outlets.
Whether the digital newsletter model’s popularity is sustainable remains to be seen. Over the last twelve months, new content platforms like Clubhouse have been hailed as the next ‘big thing’, only to slowly fade away.
For now, Revue and Substack look set to remain the domain of the writer, journalist, and political pundit rather than the corporate—but that shouldn’t necessarily exclude organisations from getting involved.
Digital newsletters can help businesses eliminate online noise and connect with their audiences by delivering their message straight to an inbox. They are also largely low risk and high reward, as a company’s mailing list is comprised of people who have already expressed interest in that service, product, or offering.
For now, it is too soon to tell if Twitter’s investment in Revue will pay off, but the current popularity of digital newsletter platforms seems to be a positive sign for creators and consumers alike.
About the author
Amy helps clients build brand awareness and connect with their audience through social and digital platforms. From day-to-day community management and digital content creation to strategic messaging and social media ad campaigns, she finds the best way to communicate online. Before 360, Amy worked in the telecoms sector.