Goodbye Substack - Follow me to Ghost!
See you on the other shore.....
I feel like I’m posting this in a bottle and hurling it to sea. Will we ever connect again?
Alright alright, it’s not that dramatic. I’m just heading to a different newsletter platform and theoretically that should be of no consequence to you. But in practice, moving platforms does involve a shitload of back-end administration and technical know-how. It’s the stuff of digital torture, which is why it’s taken me almost a whole year of tinkering to finally get to the point where I can compose this post.
TLDR, the practical details:
In theory, you should continue to receive emails to the inbox like you always do. If you have a paid subscription, that will carry over seamlessly, too. Nothing more to do.
If you read my stories on the Substack app, I’m sorry, you won’t find my posts there anymore (though the archive will remain).
However, given that technical landscapes can often be hostile for no other reason than simple assholery, there is likely to be a transition period, for example, maybe my first email or two might end up in your spam folder and you might have to manually go and find it and mark it as ‘not-junk’.
Alternatively, you can visit my (brand new!) website right now and you’ll be asked to log in (even to read free posts). If you’re reading this in your inbox, then you’re already a subscriber so logging in is incredibly easy and straightforward. Simply type in your email and you’ll receive a link in your inbox. You should only need to do this once, depending on how often you clear your cache.
Even as I write this, especially mentioning “cache,” I’m thinking of all of you out there who detest even the slightest demand on your technical brain. I know you and I respect you! Yee who staunchly refuse to download another app or join another online community, I get it. But please, don’t let this be goodbye!
As an incentive, and because this shift prompted some deep thinking about the point of this whole newsletter, I’m also announcing some other changes.
The fine print
First up, I’m reducing the monthly and annual subscription. I started out charging $7p/m two years ago, then I reduced it to $6, and now, about to head into my 3rd year, I’m reducing it to $5p/m in the hopes that more of you will be able join me behind the paywall. The annual subs are even cheaper at $50 & $60 p/yr, plus the original founding member option of $100.
Why lower the $?
Well, times are tough, and individualised subscriptions are a big ask at all, let alone with subscriptions for multiple streaming services and apps pinging our wallet every other day.
I also feel like as an indigenous writer, the competition between us is fiercer because the pool of potential readers is smaller. By lowering the price, I hope it allows you to share your support around, as well as stick with me for another year.
But there’s another reason: I also want to write and share more behind the paywall.
80% of the posts I’ve shared on Substack to date have been free and public. That’s because access felt more important anything else. But lately I have felt myself changing, or wanting to change. Having a public platform comes with a weight of responsibility. Referencing my last post, I sometimes feel gagged by it. I accept the responsibility and will always continue to use this humble-jumble-platform to advocate for equity and justice, but I also want to write what I want to write, and to be creative, and to relax, and to have more fun writing.
Thinking about what I might do next year is exciting. I want to explore a new style and series (loosely called Lois confessions lol), and keep those posts to a strict word count of 1000 [don’t laugh]. I want to write about parenting; about relationships and love; journaling; and all the complex things we grapple with everyday but usually feel too intimate for wide public consumption. I’m keen for more writing and publishing wānanga as well, and to bring back the podcast in the massage chair (and perhaps confide the reason why they stopped so abruptly).
Publishing behind the paywall helps me to be honest and open, while staying safe online. I hope that it offers something genuinely valuable to you, too.
I’m also planning next year to dedicate more time to writing projects I’ve had in train for a long time, but never seem to be able to make solid progress on because work takes priority. I’m hoping that paid subs will be a form of crowd-sourcing that will help me alleviate some of the pressure to chase and juggle so much contract work (or to write CNZ funding proposals!)
A point of admin (managing your subscription/controlling how much you pay)
I noticed during this whole migration saga that some of you are still paying $7 a month or $70 a year (the original sign up fee). I had no idea that when I lowered the price it was not applied to historic subscriptions. I’m sorry! Obviously Substack had no incentive to tell you or to facilitate the discount because they take a cut of every subscription, and they hide all of this info from writers under the guise of “allowing the writer to just write”.
So I am letting you all know now: you can downgrade your subscription if you want or need to. To do that, once you’re logged in on Ghost, you click on your account page and there you can manage your subscription.
NOTE: It’s not here on Substack! It’s over on Ghost. Please let me know how you get on and if it doesn’t work I’ll do some more troubleshooting at this end.
Some fun notes about the new website
On the new website, you can search by tag and category. This is cool, and something Substack didn’t offer. It means you can explore some of the archive more easily based on thematic interest. I haven’t tagged all the older posts yet, but I’m working on it slowly. I also plan to put up my Zines, too (eventually….)
The first thing you should notice on the new site is a link to purchase Narrating the Seasons of Grief. I’ll be digging deep to get to the post office all the month of December, in case you want to give a copy to a friend for Christmas.
Please note, the link will close when I run out (either of copies or of steam). So please do get in quick if you want one. If you already have a copy, and requested payment details from me (which I am terrible at sending!!) you can use the same link and choose “none” for delivery. No pressure at all - but some have asked… repeatedly...!
Okay, but why am I leaving Substack? [Probably only of interest to writers also on the platform]
I want to preface the next bit by saying that I don’t judge anyone who is thinking of joining Substack, or who has considered their options and decided to stay. Some people rely on Substack for their income so it’s as big a hassle as moving premises would be. Others just cannot face the tech admin and truly, having just gone through it myself, that’s fair.
And let’s remind ourselves: It’s just a newsletter!!!
But if you really want to know the back story, two months after I joined Substack in 2021, I stumbled across a bunch of writers who’d just made the decision to leave. I was gutted because I’d done heaps of research and not been alerted to those discussions until I’d already launched. The substance of the conflict with Substack can be found all over the internet in different forums, but if you want an up-to-date summary, this recent Atlantic post is useful.
Since then, I have read myself into knots about free speech, including Substack’s defence which at times can sound reasonable…. or at least understandable. But it’s one thing to have no control over what individual people do with the technology you’ve built, it’s another thing to make money off and benefit from the content those same people create. And that’s essentially the situation. Substack is in a business relationship with despicable and dangerous people.
Back in April, I hashed out my concerns with the team at Ghost because it seems that these issues exist everywhere, on all platforms. I couldn’t believe the time and effort Ghost gave to helping me to consider how their platform is different. That in itself seemed like a sign. Below is a reply within an email thread that is still open and active after 8 months, and is now over 50 emails long: [From a Ghost staff member:]
The specific set-up we have means that:
1_we can set standards for what we will host on Ghost(Pro)
2_because Ghost is free to download and run, anyone who we ask to leave Ghost(Pro) can take their content and still run it
Being decentralised means we cannot fully de-platform anyone, i.e. we cannot operate contrary to free speech, but having standards for who we actually host means that we don't have a business relationship with people with whom we disagree.
Ghost is a freely-released open source publishing platform which anyone can download and use to share their opinions, ideas or viewpoints without intervention, on their own website. Our technology is decentralised, independent software which does not promote, expose or assist any particular content — nor do we have any control or ability to censor, or moderate what is published. The majority of Ghost websites in the world are not hosted by us. (https://ghost.org/abuse/)
An issue that Substack has is that they run the only hosting that runs Substack. That means that any decision to take down a site is de facto silencing someone. I don't envy them having to deal with this. I'm fairly certain they have the same core idea at their heart as us: build a great tool that allows people to share their stories online. That's noble. Having to then police who can tell their story is horrible, and goes against that core idea. If they remove lots of people they get cast as "anti-free speech" if they let people publish then they endorse those people's positions through their inaction.
I’ve also resented Substack’s hard-sell tactics. They kind of trick people into signing up, which over-inflates your subscriber list (on average, only about 50-60% of you who receive this newsletter actually read it). Once subscribed, a writer has a range of Substack tools and tips to apply pressure and guilt, not too dissimilar to those used by network marketers. I feel gross about it, and I don’t like it when other writers use those tactics on me, either.
The model is not unlike a pyramid scheme: if you already have a following, your following is going to grow. It’s a numbers game. When I see Substack subtly encouraging people to think that they can make their living through paid subscriptions, I get hōhā. That’s misleading and unethical. Some people certainly can make their living here - especially celebrities and already famous authors - but not most regular people/writers.
Substack will say that readers, not algorithms, are in charge of who builds a following, but I also think that’s a bit of bullshit, too. Substack have lots a mechanisms that support (sometimes directly) certain writers get exposure. They’re also adding new functions all the time (notes, chats, etc).
Recommendations are probably the single most effective way to organically grow your readership, but that relies on others who already have a following to share your work and I see very few people on Substack actually do that. It’s disappointing, but you can also understand it. Substack is a competitive model by design, and in Aotearoa our potential readership pool is much smaller, the resources scarce (that was my motivation behind the poppin’ off pānui.)
Emily Writes is the best exception I know of. With every opportunity she gets, Emily genuinely and generously uses her platform to spotlight others - as well as practically assisting other writers to get started (like the incredible Tusiata Avia). Emily has single-handed helped me generate around 30% of my subscriptions, and I mention this not just to thank her, but also to remind you/us, that sharing and recommending is probably the best and most proactively supportive thing you/we can do to help each other and the community.
I am yet to understand how promotion works on Ghost, and without in-built tactics drawing people in or guilting them to stay, I may lose subscribers. But I’m ready to hurl this bottle out to sea to see. I hope you’ll pick it up on the other shore.