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The Richest Substack Bloggers
Meet those making the big bucks on Substack.
Greetings subscribers, this is Phil Tanny from TannyTalk sharing a discovery I just made about the most successful Substack authors. This is a bit off track of what I usually write about, but I found it interesting, and thought you might too.
Some how or another I found myself on an article by Bron Maher of PressGazette, a site that covers the future of media. The article estimates the earnings of the 27 most successful Substack blogs.
It’s not possible to obtain precise income figures for a blog from Substack the company, or probably a Substack author either. But it’s not that hard to get a general ballpark idea of how much the big time bloggers are making by accessing readily available information.
You’ve probably noticed that the most popular blogs have a little tagline under their title that says something like “hundreds of paid subscribers”, or “thousands of paid subscribers”, or even “tens of thousands of paid subscribers”. These are pretty vague descriptions, but they do give us a general idea of the popularity of a blog.
We can learn exactly how much a blogger is charging for paid subscriptions just by going to the Subscribe page where they share those numbers.
We can then multiply the vague number of “hundreds” or “thousands” by the subscription fee for that blog (usually between $5 to $10/month) and we have a ballpark idea of the blogger’s gross income.
To get the ballpark net income we subtract the 10% fee Substack takes, the 2.9% fee taken by the payment processor, and the 30¢ per transaction fee. The Financial Times estimates total overhead at 20%, so let’s go with that.
Admittedly, the final net profit number we arrive at by this method is very loose, because we don’t know if “hundreds” mean 200 or 954. Nonetheless, we do learn that some writers are making a LOT of money with their Substack blogs.
Who Are The Lucky Big Shots?
I’ll send you to the PressGazette article for their detailed listings of the top earners.
The bottom half of their list of popular blogs estimates earnings for those blogs in the range of a half million to 5 million dollar per year. The top half of the list goes up from there, with blogs approaching the 1 million to 10 million dollars per year.
Sitting on top of the pile is Letters From An American with estimated income between 5 to 50 million per year. If you visit that blog you’ll see Substack saying that Letters To An American has over one million subscribers. You go Heather Cox Richardson!!
Big Shot Blogs I’ve Read
Both of these fellows have long been well established public figures, so that goes a long way to explaining their blogging success. Also, the PressGazette article shows that among the most popular blogs, politics is by far the most popular topic.
I saw the popularity of politics as a topic in action on Robert Reich’s blog. Reich feeds his readers a steady diet of liberal red meat attacks against the Republican enemy, and his audience really eats it up. There will typically be hundreds to a thousand comments posted for each of his articles, with nearly all of them cheering Reich’s rhetorical attacks on and on and on. He’s telling his audience what they want to hear, over and over again, and they’re rewarding him for doing so with their paid subscriptions. The Press Gazette article estimates Reich’s earnings between a half million and 5 million per year.
What’s weird for me is that I’ve been a long haired hippy liberal Woodstock kinda guy since the sixties, and yet Reich’s liberal attack dog perspective seems over the top partisan even to me. But I’m pretty much the out of step weirdo on his blog, as the rest of his audience seems to really love all the “down with the enemy” talk.
Dan Rather’s blog is far calmer, and from a far more objective point of view, as you’d expect from a veteran journalist.
What I’m learning on Rather’s blog is the power of fame. I like his blog, and I like Rather. He’s a good writer, very well informed, and seemingly a quite decent person. But if I was writing the very same blog word for word, I’d probably have 34 subscribers, and no income.
What’s Rather’s secret? He attends to business. He’s spent over fifty years keeping himself in the public eye, and a lucrative career is his reward.
I’ve been in and around net business since 1995, and what I’m seeing on Substack fits a well established pattern that’s been underway in many genres since the beginning. A small number of people will make a TON of money, some will make some money, and most people will make pretty close to nothing.
Marketing matters. One thing I’ve learned from doing it wrong more times than I could ever possibly count is that marketing matters. It really matters. Mediocre content that is well marketed is most likely always going to triumph over excellent content where the author hopes “if I build it they will come”.
Durability matters. Sticking with it. Hitting the nail on the head day after day for years. This has always been a problem for me. I’m not at all lazy, but I always have great difficulty figuring out what I should stick with, and what I should admit isn’t working. Yup, TannyTalk too, I have no idea.
Luck matters. A LOT! I was blessed to own a successful net tech startup back in the nineties, and the secret to that success was that I just happened to be the right guy with the right attitude providing the right service in the right place at the right time.
So, um, my advice is, go forth, and be lucky. Now that’s helpful, isn’t it?
Substack seems to be one of the current hot buzzy places to be on the Net. That’s cool, and I really like Substack myself. But it won’t last. And the reason is simple. Nothing lasts for long on the Internet.
The Internet is a lot like TV in that it’s a massive distraction machine we use to keep the boredom at bay. And that means we’re always looking for something new to engage us. And anything, no matter how good it is, can only be new and exciting for so long.
But anyway, while Substack’s 15 minutes of fame in the sun is here, some writers are really cashing in on the moment. If you don’t already know that, I thought you might like to learn about them.
Personally, even though I’ve been working online since before many net users were born, I still found myself astounded that anybody could make a million dollars a year with a blog.
Words on a page. Words, ideas, facts and opinions that you could pretty much find anywhere. For free. And somehow that turns in a a million bucks. Only on the Internet.