Substack is a popular platform that allows writers to get paid for their work. In light of recent Twitter drama and the ongoing layoffs across the traditional media industry, many writers have turned to Substack to monetize their brilliant writing. But how many subscribers can you expect, and how much money could you earn?
Making money on Substack works similarly to how other subscription platforms, like Patreon, works: Your followers subscribe to your Substack for a monthly fee set by you, and you determine how many pieces you publish each month.
Your work on Substack can be sent directly to your followers via e-mail, or they can visit your Substack website to read your content. You will be able to give potential subscribers a preview of your work before they pay, and you can offer a mix of both free and paid content.
And while Substack tends to get a lot of attention for the written content, the platform also supports videos and podcasts. Video and audio content can be published exclusively for subscribers of your Substack. If you're publishing podcasts through Substack, your subscribers will be given a unique RSS feed that they can pop into most podcast apps (one notable exception is Spotify, who doesn't support custom RSS feeds yet. That said, they will be offering a similar feature for Patreon creators at some point in the future).
Substack allows you to publish for free, but most people would naturally prefer having readers pay for their work. So let's talk money.
How much money can I make on Substack?
Earning money on Substack is not as simple as creating an account and writing whatever pops in your head that day. Like with other crowdfunding platforms, if you wish to make money on Substack, you will need to have a pre-existing audience who already follows your work, and you'll need to give them compelling content that they can't find anywhere else.
This does not mean your 1,000 followers on Twitter will convert into 1,000 paying subscribers. To figure out how many of your followers will become a financial supporter, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
Of those social media followers, how many of them engage with your content (Using Twitter as an example: How many of them reply to you, hit the heart on your tweets, retweet you)? Of those who engage, how many of them engage with you on a consistent basis? And then of those who consistently engage, how many of them enjoy your work so much that they'd be willing to pay for it?
Creating an engaged audience like this takes time. You can start by creating compelling, thought-provoking content that the reader cannot get anywhere else. Unless you're getting paid to write this content somewhere else, you will probably have to offer this content for free for a while in order to build up a base of people who trust you.
The typical creator with an established following can expect that 5-10% of their existing audience will become paid subscribers at a place like Substack. That 5-10% is your engaged audience who loves your work, wants more of it, is willing and able to pay, and wants to support you. Of course, this statistic will vary depending on who you are: Major names in certain fields will be able to convert more of their audience than others.
It also depends on how often you engage with your audience, and how long you've had that audience. For example, if you are regularly posting on Twitter and you're seeing high engagement there, there's a good chance that that audience trusts you and will be willing to support you on Substack.
Let's run through a hypothetical scenario: Let's say you estimate you have 1,000 engaged people in your audience (people who hang on to your every word and interact with your content on a daily or weekly basis). You also have a 5+ year relationship with these people -- they've come to know, love, and trust you. If you launch a Substack with more content that appeals to them, and your Substack is priced at $5/month, I would expect you'd be making about $400 per month if you converted 8% of your engaged audience.
Growing Takes Time
Patience will be required to launch and grow your Substack newsletter. Hook people with compelling free content on your pre-existing platforms and your Substack, and build that relationship with your audience. It's only after your audience trusts you that they will want to financially support you.
On a related note, I wouldn't count on Substack to be a place for people to discover you. When you visit a place like YouTube, the first thing you notice is that the home page is all about showing you videos that the algorithm thinks might appeal to you. People visit YouTube.com with the intent of watching something new and interesting, and YouTube's algorithm's try to provide that to the visitor. On the other hand, looking at the homepages of Substack and Patreon, there's less focus on discovering creators, and more focus on signing up creators to publish on their platforms.
Keep this in mind if you're publishing content on Substack and you're receiving low view counts. While Substack does offer writers the option to include a recommendation widget on their blog posts to help other writers be discovered, this is merely an optional feature. That said, Substack does claim on their home page that "more than 40% of all new free subscriptions and around 10% of paid subscriptions to Substacks come from within our network," so these widgets do appear to be effective.
Read more on when's the right time to launch a crowdfunding platform in my blog post from last year when I was answering a popular question I receive about Patreon.