Who are the Substack Pros?

Let's begin, shall we?

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The company Substack was founded in 2017. In 2019, it received $15.3 million in funding from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. In 2020, Substack announced it had been providing a select group of writers with funding to use their platform.

What’s known about these deals are their general structure. They seem to all be for one year, and give the writer a salary—a number that gets thrown around is $75,000—during a span when Substack takes a larger cut of the subscription revenue. Sometimes there is a healthcare stipend, but those specifics are unclear. It’s also rumored the company gives their selected writers different tiers to choose from—say, $75,000 upfront while Substack keeps 85% of the subscriber revenue or $60,000 upfront while Substack keeps 50% of the revenue, etc.

That said, the actual specifics of the deals I’m less interested in. What I’m curious about is this parenthetical in the announcement:

(We don’t disclose the names of the writers with whom we’ve done deals because it is their private information and up to them whether or not they want it publicly known.)

What I’m going to try to do in this post, then, is figure out which writers they’ve done deals with.

Confirmed Substack Pros

Matt Yglesias
As reported in Anna Wiener’s New Yorker piece, Substack paid Yglesias $250,000 for one year, during which Substack takes 85% of the subscription payments. After that, he becomes a Normie again (no $ up front, Substack takes its standard 10% cut).

Anne Helen Peterson
In the same New Yorker piece, Peterson was reportedly “given a substantial advance.”

Casey Newton
In the same piece, Newton says he “declined an advance but took a health-care stipend.” This is difficult to categorize, but seeing as Substack is paying for healthcare, and gave Newton the opportunity to be a Pro—the definition we’re working with is about Substack’s offer, not the writer’s acceptance—so he counts here.

Scott Alexander
In the intro post to his newsletter, Alexander writes: “The boring reason I'm at Substack is money. I'm not supposed to talk about numbers, but you can read about the deal they offered Matt Yglesias here and draw your own conclusions.”

Freddie deBoer
In the intro post to his newsletter, deBoer writes: “[T]hen Substack came to me with a generous financial offer and I couldn’t pass it up. I do want to be upfront in saying that taking this opportunity was primarily a financial decision.”

Matt Taibbi
At around the 4:00 mark in a recent appearance on The Fifth Column podcast, Taibbi says: “[With] Substack you can arrange your payment in a couple of different ways, and I stupidly chose to get a little bit of guaranteed money, as opposed to […] I was afraid it wasn’t going to work so I took a deal at the beginning that was less generous and I advised everyone who came after me not to do this.”

Nicholas Jackson
The former EIC of Pacific Standard confirmed in a tweet that he got a Pro contract for a new venture.

Ashley Feinberg
In a tweet, Feinberg says she’s a Pro.

Grace Lavery
Confirmed in a post.

Alexis Coe
Confirmed in a tweet.

Unconfirmed But Likely

Glenn Greenwald
I’m 99% sure Greenwald mentioned in a tweet that he was offered a deal and turned it down, choosing to go the standard route of Substack taking 10%—lemme know if you find it!—although all of the due diligence that Greenwald mentions in this interview at OneZero, it sure feels like he was weighing options that Substack was offering.

Update: This tweet seems to confirm that Greenwald “opted” not to receive an advance, making him a Pro, I think, in terms of how we’re thinking about it.

Michael Tracey
Greenwald tweeted that he heard “Substack has lured [a journalist] to its platform with a robust offer” and followed it with Michael Tracey’s announcement. When contacted over DM, Tracey only offered this response:

Lingering Threads

  • In the intro post to her newsletter, Hunter Harris mentioned that “Substack approached me about exploring a newsletter.”

  • In an interview, Jesse Signal said “the founders of Substack reached out to him and encouraged him to join the platform,” and then later tweeted he “never was offered or took any money from Substack.”

  • Bari Weiss tweeted out that she got “no deal, no advance.”

  • It’s also still unclear if Substack offered Andrew Sullivan a Pro deal.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Perhaps I’ll update this post when more information becomes available. Perhaps I’ll never post again!

Update: This is a strange one to consider but Jude Ellison S. Doyle apparently got a Substack Pro offer, but this was after they wrote some long threads trashing the company, so it’s a bit of a cover-your-ass move from the company. Not sure how you want to consider it, but here it is.

Update: Both Emily Atkin and Lindsey Gibbs announced they received advances from Substack, which they had to pay off with subscription money. These seem subtly different from the Pro contracts—which are for one-year long, and more like bets than advances—and so that’s why they’re being placed down here. A lot of other folks have gotten advances too, so not sure how often I’ll be updating this, as this post is “Who Are the Substack Pros?” not any dang thing about those getting advances!