Around this time last year, I distinctly remember thinking that newsletters were blowing up as a form of content consumption. Since that point, it feels like the hype around them has continued to grow exponentially.
Just about every time I go on my Twitter feed, I’m seeing some form of newsletter chatter these days. Substack has made it simple for writers to create newsletters and collect payments. Andreessen Horowitz tossed $15m into the space, which definitely helped get people’s attention. Publications like The Atlantic and The New York Times followed suit and wrote up notable pieces on the rise of newsletters.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m all aboard the newsletter hype train, but I also don’t think it’s wrong to say that things are going to look different in the future.
Before we dive into predictions, let’s take a look at the current state of things. If you look at the newsletters that have done really well on Substack, they generally share a few commonalities:
- They are long-form essays
- The writing is usually high-quality
- They specialize in a specific area or niche
Coincidentally, these are the same traits that have made internet blogs successful for 20+ years. When you get down to it, not all that much has changed since the early days of mainstream online writing.
Julian Lehr touched on this idea in his excellent essay, Newsletters and Alternative Trade Routes, which helped inspire this post:
Newsletters feel more like a rebirth of blogs and RSS: Both typically have long-form, high quality content and they are distributed via an open standard.
But if writers have been doing this on blogs since the late 1990’s then why has there been this dramatic shift to the world of newsletters in the last few years? At the end of the day, it all comes down to distribution.