Atlantic plans to push the newsletter for subscribers
Here’s a trend in the media: Journalists put out their own newsletters instead of working for large, established publishers.
Here’s a trend in media working in the opposite direction: Large, established publishers with strong business models or big backers – or both – are consolidating their power by raising talent.
And here’s a story that could do both: Atlantic launched a newsletter offer that wanted to bring writers under the Atlantic umbrella (and paywall) while allowing them to remain independent.
The idea, as everyone is familiar with, is for the magazine to reveal a list of newsletter writers – maybe a dozen or more – in the coming weeks. They will only be available to Atlantic subscribers. The New York Times did something similar this year, aired subscriber -only letters from the writers, along with Kara Swisher and Jay Caspian Kang.
One big difference between the Atlantic plan and other newsletter distributors is that, in some cases, Atlantic recruits writers who are already in the paid newsletter business. And it wants to turn writers ’subscribers into Atlantic subscribers.
At least one of the writers, I confirm, is a writer who now sets up shop Substack, the company that started the latest newsletter development by making it easy (theoretically) to monetize self-publishing.
Here’s the bad plot of what the Atlantic wants to do, by people with knowledge:
- Atlantic does not hire writers as full-time employees, but will offer them a class pay base with the ability to make more money if they hit certain subscriber goals. That’s why it’s a much more reliable source of revenue than a paid newsletter – even Casey Newton, a contributing writer for Vox Media’s The Verge, runs his own, successfully, Substack for the past year, said he saw a monthly churn of 3 to 4 percent.
- If writers are already selling paid subscriptions to their letters, Atlantic wants to make the subscriptions to Atlantic subscriptions. That is: If you now pay Provocative But Thinky Brings Guy $ 5 a month for his work, now that same money can give you the letter, along with any other newsletters published in Atlantic, including Atlantic itself, which now sells a digital- subscription for just $ 50 a year.
- Newsletter writers are participating in the Atlantic program to maintain their existing list of subscribers. So if they decide to bail in the Atlantic, they can start their business again.
- How much supervision or help can letter writers get from Atlantic editors and staff as an ongoing task. But what is being pushed is that writers supposedly remain editorially independent from publishing; they will not be edited by Atlantic editors. So what happens if Atlantic ends up getting someone Atlantic judged too racy / racist / problematic for Atlantic? Good question!
An Atlantic man declined to comment.
The appeal of the Atlantic program is easy to see, led by Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Goldberg and CEO Nick Thompson. The publication gets a new list of votes and the possibility of immediately adding subscriber numbers. And while a lot of subscribers have always been nice, they’re even better for the Atlantic right now, where developed during the Trump years and especially the pandemic but, like other publishers, it was seen website traffic plummeted as Trump and Covid-19 ceased to dominate the news cycle.
And because the reduction in traffic makes it even harder to convert new readers into subscribers, anyone who brings new eyeballs – especially an index of paying readers – will be happy. . (Here we must remember that even if the Atlantic is owned by Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire wants to publish, that there is a phase that layoffs in the first months of the pandemic disease, to sustain oneself.)
The tone of the writers is a bit of a nuisance, with some parts spelled out and other parts much quieter. The obvious one: You’ll work on an award-winning publication with a lot of reach, backed by a billionaire. Nothing to say: You probably thought you could crush it when you started your newsletter business. But maybe you don’t, and you probably want a steady salary. Running a solo shop is not for everyone.
That being said, some newsletter writers who have found audible audiences – primarily through Substack – have made more money than they ever did with established media companies.
New York Times opinion writer and editor Bari Weiss, for example, told me that he now has 16,500 subscribers to his Substack, Common Thought. That at $ 5 per subscriber, per month, means he can bring in $ 890,000 a year, after Substack takes the 10 percent fee. So don’t expect Weiss to appear on the Atlantic list any hour as soon as possible.
I asked Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie what it means when competitors like Atlantic take on some of his writers. He was good about it. “We’re rooted for writers even if they’re not Substackers, so we’re excited to see a trend of more ownership by writers,” McKenzie said in a statement. “We always encourage writers to have full ownership of their content and audience, and we applaud every step in its direction.”
McKenzie and his tem are clearly thinking of a kind of platform jump: Part of the Substack pitch is that the writers can walk quickly, take all the content they publish and an email list of everyone their subscribers. And Substack’s success has sparked new competitors, including Facebook and Twitter, who are equally quick to get off Substack if they want to – as I reported in June, Facebook dropped $ 6 million in the URL for the Bulletin, its Substack clone.
But if you’re not a Substack superstar, it probably doesn’t take a ton of money to get you out of the company: a steady salary and having the ability to write for a lot of people. Like the people at some regular media companies.