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What is Substack? Understanding the Modern Newsletter Platform

Updated: Jan 17

What is Substack

Welcome to the world of Substack! A digital oasis where creators have the freedom to publish content and connect directly with their audience. But, what exactly is Substack and why is it becoming increasingly popular among creators and readers alike? Let’s find out what is Substack.

Substack is a modern newsletter platform that allows creators to publish and monetize content, offering direct audience connection, monetization opportunities, and editorial freedom. It’s a mix of a blog, a newsletter, a payment system, and a customer support team, all rolled into one with an easy-to-use interface. It’s free to get started, and the only time Substack makes money is when the writers do – a win-win situation for all parties involved.

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Main Points

  • Substack is a user-friendly platform that empowers creators to publish newsletters, monetize their content through subscriptions, and connect directly with their audience without the interference of algorithms.

  • The platform offers simplicity in content creation and direct audience engagement, but it also requires creators to actively market their newsletters and limits customization, potentially impacting brand uniqueness.

  • While Substack offers writers editorial freedom and the capability to build a personal media empire, there are alternatives like ConvertKit and Medium that may provide more advanced features or better SEO optimization.

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Exploring Substack: The Basics

Substack’s main offering is letting people create and share newsletters, providing an alternative to relying on algorithms or search engine rankings. The platform is totally free for anyone to start publishing newsletters, making it accessible for creators from all walks of life.

Readers can sign up for a Substack publication with a simple click, becoming paying subscribers if they wish to access exclusive content. One of the best things about Substack’s email-focused approach is that it allows creators to directly connect with their readers, tapping into the significant reach of email.

What is Substack?

Substack is a platform that provides creators, including substack writers, with the tools to publish content in different formats like writing, podcasting, and serialized storytelling. It allows creators to make money by getting paid subscriptions for their newsletters, with the Substack takes being a 10% cut of the subscription earnings.

Getting started with Substack is a breeze. All you need is to:

  1. Sign up using your email

  2. Name your publication

  3. Give a quick summary

  4. Confirm your URL

If you have an existing subscriber list, you can simply upload a CSV file with your contacts.

How does Substack work?

Substack is designed to be user-friendly, combining tools for creating and managing your own substack, including a substack blog, email, podcasting, and making money.

It offers a simple interface to start a new blog post and publish to the web, email, and the Substack app all at once.

To monetize, creators can set subscription fees for their content which typically go for about $5 a month. Substack’s payment provider, Stripe, ensures smooth transactions for paid content.

Benefits of Using Substack

One of the major advantages of Substack is that it allows creators to:

  • Connect directly with their audience

  • Build a tight-knit community without dealing with social media distractions

  • Offer a more focused and engaging content creation experience

This direct connection with readers offers a more focused and engaging personal writing and content creation experience.

Creators can also earn directly from their audience through paid subscriptions, making Substack an attractive platform for independent writers. They also get to enjoy full editorial freedom and maintain ownership of their content. These unique features make Substack a great platform for online publishing.

Direct Audience Connection

With Substack, creators own their customer relationship. They have access to their subscribers’ email addresses, which is a significant advantage over social network/social media platforms where follower connections can be severed without notice.

Substack’s email-centric approach ensures creators can:

  • Engage directly with their readers

  • Avoid the interference of algorithms and social media noise

  • Build a stronger, more personal relationship with readers

  • Contribute to building their own personal media empire.

Monetization Opportunities

Substack allows creators to make money by selling subscriptions to their content, where they can set either monthly or annual fees. This subscription model usually costs around 5 dollars a month, making it an affordable option for readers to support independent writers.

Substack readers are generally comfortable with paying for content. This is evidenced by the success of subscription-based newsletters on the platform, encouraging more content creation on Substack.

Editorial Freedom

Substack guarantees full editorial freedom and offers a substack free experience.

Creators maintain full control over their content and intellectual property. They also have the freedom to control who gets to comment on their posts, ensuring a safe and respectful discourse in their community.

Substack offers the following features:

  • Copyright protection for original content posted on the platform

  • Ensuring that their content remains protected

  • This level of protection and control sets Substack apart from many other online platforms.

Growing Your Substack Newsletter

Growing a Substack newsletter requires a bit of effort. Creators need to actively promote their content to attract new subscribers. This could be through commenting on related posts, collaborations, or leveraging social network/social media platforms.

Building a rapport with readers also plays a significant part in expanding readership. This can be achieved by:

  • Promoting on social media

  • Getting people involved

  • Understanding and meeting the needs of current readers, which sets your publication apart and builds a loyal audience.

Promoting Your Newsletter

You can promote your Substack newsletter through a variety of channels. Social media platforms are a good place to start, reaching a wide audience and attracting new subscribers.

In addition to using social media, guest posts also present an excellent opportunity for promotion. By teaming up with other writers who are interested in similar topics, swapping posts, and getting shoutouts or referrals, creators can reach a wider audience.

Engaging Your Readers

Interaction with readers on Substack is key as it helps foster a community and retains their interest. This can be achieved by:

  • Hosting discussion threads

  • Organizing online Q&As

  • Running live meetups

  • Offering advice columns

  • Running contests

  • Creating content that stands out

Encouraging readers to share your content can also increase your reach. Here are some effective ways to promote sharing:

  • Sharing on social media

  • Tagging other writers and publications

  • Promoting it alongside other publications

  • Adding a share button to your newsletter

Challenges and Limitations of Substack

Although Substack has numerous advantages, it also has challenges and limitations. One significant challenge is the need for independent marketing efforts. With the lack of built-in marketing tools, creators need to actively promote their newsletter to attract more readers.

Substack also offers limited customization options, which might be a drawback for creators seeking a more personalized look and feel for their newsletter. While creators can change their homepage and play around with themes, more extensive customization options are lacking.

Marketing Efforts

Substack necessitates that creators proactively market their newsletter to expand their audience. This includes engaging with readers, sharing content on social media, and pitching to potential subscribers.

Creators need to be consistent with their newsletters and find effective ways to get new subscribers. This might involve spending a significant amount of time on marketing activities each week, which could be a challenge for creators who are more focused on content creation. It’s essential to avoid any legal issues, such as cease and desist letters, by ensuring all content is original and compliant with copyright laws.

Limited Customization

Substack offers limited customization options, which can affect the user experience. Without the ability to create a unique look for their newsletter, all pages on Substack end up looking quite similar.

While Substack lets users make a logo, change up their homepage, and play around with themes, more extensive customization options like adding custom domains and accessing advanced features are lacking. There are tricks to make Substack more customizable, but they require additional tools and platforms, which may not be ideal for all creators.

Alternatives to Substack

Although Substack offers a lot, it’s not the sole platform available for creators. Alternatives like ConvertKit and Medium each come with their unique features and benefits.

Medium, for instance, offers more advanced publishing tools and better SEO optimization than Substack. On the other hand, ConvertKit allows creators more flexibility in managing their subscriber list, providing more advanced features and customization options compared to Substack.


ConvertKit is an email marketing platform with advanced features that outshine those of Substack. It offers customizable landing pages for building email lists and the option to send out promotional emails, features that are not available on Substack.

ConvertKit is ideal for new writers and creators who are just getting started with email and want a platform that is simple and easy to use. However, the free tier of ConvertKit has its own limitations, such as the lack of integrations and automations.


Medium is a blogging platform that:

  • Helps creators reach new readers

  • Offers better SEO optimization compared to Substack

  • Can help creators get more visibility for their content through better search engine rankings.

Medium also offers SEO optimization tools like adding keywords in URLs and using the right headings and subheadings to help people find your content through search engines.

Success Stories on Substack

Success stories on Substack are a testament to the platform’s potential for creators. These stories showcase how creators can build a loyal audience and make money from their content.

From writers making a living off their newsletters to creators building a community around their content, success on Substack comes in many forms. These stories inspire others to commence their journey on the platform and maximize its offerings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Substack?

Substack is a modern newsletter platform that helps content creators publish and monetize their work, providing direct audience engagement and editorial independence.

What do people use Substack for?

People use Substack to publish blogs and email newsletters for businesses and writers of various levels and industries. It helps manage email deliverability and subscriber management.

What is the downside of Substack?

The downside of Substack is that it doesn't allow conditional content, which means you can't show different content to different subscribers in one email. This limitation contrasts with some competing email service providers.

Is Substack free to read?

Yes, Substack is free to read for most posts, but there may be some premium content that requires payment. It's ultimately up to the content creators whether they put their work behind a paywall.

How is Substack different from a blog?

Substack is more of a newsletter platform with a social blog feel, whereas a blog is more like pushing articles into the digital abyss. You can take your subscriber list and content with you if you leave Substack, but with blogs, content stays unless you self-host and control the domain.


Substack is a powerful platform for creators looking to connect directly with their audience, monetize their content, and maintain full editorial freedom. Despite certain limitations, the platform offers significant opportunities for growth and success. With a dedicated community of readers and creators, Substack continues to redefine the landscape of content creation and consumption.

I am RayCee the Artist, a professional portrait photographer, event photographer, and wedding photographer, and if you would like to schedule a photoshoot with me, please contact me at!

Also, be sure to follow me on Instagram and YouTube!


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