Twitter Wants to Be Substack Now

Illustration for article titled Twitter Wants to Be Substack Now
Photo: Olivier Douliery (Getty Images)

Say hello to Twubstack. Twitter announced on Tuesday it is buying one of newsletter service Substack’s competitors, the smaller Revue, in a deal with undisclosed terms.

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In an era of mass media consolidation, layoffs, and disappearing employment opportunities at both national and local journalism outfits, Substack has emerged as a kind of Patreon alternative that allows reporters and commentators to easily create their own subscription-based sites with limited moderation. (Substack is essentially a combination of a newsletter service and a blogging platform like Medium.) It surged in 2020, inspiring all manner of takes and thinkpieces about whether it represents the future of news. Some of the highest-profile Substack converts have been journalists and bloggers with huge Twitter followings, such as Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan, and Matthew Yglesias, who staged dramatic breaks with their prior employers. But other users include former BuzzFeed culture writer Anne Helen Petersen, former Verge tech journalist Casey Newton, newspaper columnist David Sirota, rock critic Robert Christgau, academics, and humorists.

So it’s not surprising that Twitter—without which many of these writers and editors would have struggled to build audiences independent of their employers at all—wants a cut of the pie. According to the New York Times, Twitter executives had actually discussed buying Substack outright before the idea was shot down outright by co-founder Hamish McKenzie.

In a blog post, Twitter detailed some of the ways it hopes to make Revue a viable competitor to Substack, including directly integrating it into the main site/app, which would finally allow users who have sunk years Twitter to directly monetize their followings:

Our goal is to make it easy for them to connect with their subscribers, while also helping readers better discover writers and their content. We’re imagining a lot of ways to do this, from allowing people to sign up for newsletters from their favorite follows on Twitter, to new settings for writers to host conversations with their subscribers. It will all work seamlessly within Twitter.

And for those looking to generate revenue, we’re creating a durable incentive model through paid newsletters. Bringing Revue to Twitter will supercharge this offering, helping writers grow their paid subscribers while also incentivizing them to produce engaging and relevant content that drives conversations on Twitter.

Twitter wrote in the post it has also immediately made all Revue features free to users and is lowering the commission rate to 5% from the previous 6%; Substack takes 10% of all subscription fees.

It’s not clear how much Twitter agreed to pay for the company, but it’s far smaller than Substack: Crunchbase reported it has raised around $486,000 in early funding from investors, as opposed to Substack’s $17.4 million in funding. Revue has, however, attracted some notable publishers like Vox Media and tech site The Markup, according to TechCrunch.

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Twitter banned its most notorious user, Donald Trump, earlier this month and is trying to rapidly reinvent itself (perhaps a bit too late) as someplace known for more than ratios and rage-tweets. The Revue acquisition is just the latest in a series of new feature launches, possibly in response to a failed investor coup led by hedge fund Elliott Ventures last year that claimed the company was stagnant and failing to realize potential sources of revenue.

Twitter has rolled out Fleets, a clone of Snapchat and Instagram’s auto-deleting stories, after buying a small template maker called Chroma Labs. It more recently bought out a company called Breaker to accelerate the launch of Spaces, an audio chat tool competing with Clubhouse, an app popular with libertarian Silicon Valley types. Other recent acquisitions include Squad, a screen-sharing app, and CrossInstall, an adtech firm that could possibly help Twitter shore up its notoriously outdated ad functionality. On Monday, Twitter also announced Birdwatch, a pilot program that has enlisted about 1,000 users so far to append factual annotations to the misinformation and hoaxes that continue to run rampant on the site.

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DISCUSSION

hamologist
Hamologist

I’ve never understood the Substack journalism model — which is to directly fund a journalist that you enjoy reading to keep them journalizing because they’re doing “Real Journalism.”

Shouldn’t we instead be paying editors and publishers to keep employing and holding accountable any “Real Journalists?” instead of paying into an op-ed feedback loop?

What about fostering the voices of future “Real Journalists” who don’t yet have enough of an audience to keep them sustained on Substack?