Wednesday, June 19, 2024

To Substack, or Not to Substack? That Is the Question

Recently, a good friend said to me, “Bill, you should expand your audience. You should start publishing your essays on Substack.”

“Stub crack?” I said. “What’s that?”

“It’s Substack,” he replied. “An internet platform for writers. You can create regular online newsletters, and as your audience increases it can turn into a very nice retirement income for you.”
“Wait. Did you say income?” I asked. “As in, money is paid to me, rather than me shelling out each month for my Mailchimp group email service?”

“Exactly,” he said. “On Substack, writers post a lot of stuff for free, but they have special content that’s for ‘members only,’ the readers who pay a subscription fee.”

“Oh, I have to ask people to subscribe and send me a check?” I grimaced. 

“No, it’s simple,” he said. “The subscription price is five bucks a month. They pay with a credit card. It’s like asking your loyal readers to buy you a cup of coffee once per month. Or half a cup, if we’re talking about Starbucks.”

I hesitated. “Aw, I dunno…”

He said, “Bill, for every five dollars that comes in, Substack keeps a small percentage, and you get the rest. Here’s an example. If your audience is a mere 500 people, that will be over $2,000 per month in your pocket, each and every month.”

“Wow, that would be nice,” I admitted.

“And,” he continued, “if you gain some readers in other parts of the country, and the number of your paid subscribers grows to, say, 5000, that would be over $20,000 for you — every month! Don’t you want to get rich in your retirement?”

“Rich?” I laughed. “I’ve spent the past 45 years making bad decisions to insure that I don’t get rich. My only retirement goal is to avoid living in a cardboard box under a bridge down by the river.”
“Bill, you gotta listen to me,” he implored. “This is the future of publishing. Now, you’ve got plenty of content, right?”

“Oh yeah,” I answered. “I write two new essays every week, and I have an archive of almost 1200 published humor columns, over a thousand faith essays, two novels, and ideas for at least three novels I’d like to work on during retirement.”

“Perfect!” he said. “You can serialize the novels, and mix the old stuff with the new in your Substack newsletters.”

I sat quietly for a few minutes, while visions of 20 grand per month danced in my head. Then I said, “Oh no, it won’t work.”

“Why?” my friend asked.

“If the people who regularly read my stuff were around 40 years old,” I explained, “it just might work. People that age don’t hesitate to use their credit cards to pay subscription fees. But you see, the people who like my stuff — at least based on emails I receive — are retired seniors.”

“So?” he asked. “Seniors are the wealthiest demographic in the country.”

“No, you don’t understand,” I said. “Many seniors may have some money, but they NEVER give their credit card number to an internet site — at least based on my parents and in-laws.”

Well, at this point, I don’t know what to think. Whenever I’m unsure about something, I ask this simple question: What would Jesus do? 

No wait. That question is for other situations. For this situation, the correct question is: What do the readers think?
Please send a note to and let me know if having access to my “special content” plus serialized novels is worth a cup of coffee per month — or half a cup if we’re talking Starbucks. Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom. And keep it clean.

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