Substack and the Newsletter Boom: When Does a Platform Become a Publisher?


The last several years have seen scores of print and online publications folding operations as publishers pull funding, leaving many writers and journalists flocking to newsletter platforms for a more individualized way to make a living off their creative work—which, in turn, has led to a newsletter boom that allows writers to reach readers directly through their inbox. Most notable in this new media environment is Substack, a self-proclaimed tech company that has increasingly come to resemble a traditional publisher by cultivating an impressive roster of writers that includes prominent (and sometimes controversial) journalists to whom Substack offers lucrative payment and benefits. This has critics calling Substack out as being no different than the publishers the company seeks to distinguish itself from, as it thus far has only reinforced many of the same problems (such as lack of diversity and gatekeeping) that plague the media industry. This case asks students to discuss Substack and the newsletter boom in the context of the changing media industry.

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