The best Substack newsletters cover various topics from politics to the arts. In this article, we explore the platform and interview its cofounder.
Substack is a popular newsletter platform many content creators use to build relationships directly with their audience. It’s popular with journalists, bloggers and content creators and political commentators.
After profiling the best newsletters, we subscribed to and read some of the best Substack newsletters. Many of these focus on current affairs, US culture, news, sports and, to a lesser degree, cryptocurrency. This list profiles the best free and paid newsletters on Substack.
- What Is Substack And How Does It Work?
- The Best Substack Newsletters
- 1. Welcome To Hell World! by Luke O’Neill
- 2. Flow State by Yem
- 3. The Pomp Letter By Anthony Pompliano
- 4. Insight by Zeynep Tufekc
- 5. Field Notes by Sara Bessey
- 6. Tangle by Isaac Saul
- 7. The NFT Brief
- 8. Popular Information by Judd Legum
- 9. The Dispatch
- 10. Bankless
- 11. The Novelleist by Ellie Griffin
- 12. Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson
- 13. Glenn Greenwald
- 14. Culture Study by Anne Helen Petersen
- 15. The Audacity by Roxane Gay
- 16. The Weekly Dish By Andrew Sullivan
- 17. House of Strauss by Ethan Strauss
- Best Substack Newsletters: Final Thoughts
- How Substack Newsletters Make Money For Writers With Cofounder Hamish McKenzie
- Best Substack Newsletters: FAQs
What Is Substack And How Does It Work?
Substack is an email newsletter platform for writers, journalists, and content creators. It was created to help independent creators monetize their work by producing newsletters.
Newsletter owners can directly sell Substack subscriptions to the audience rather than relying on ads or freelance writing gigs.
Creators of Substack newsletters don’t need to be tech-savvy. You also don’t need to worry about social media, SEO plugins, or any technical tools associated with blogging. It is easy to use, and there are plenty of tools to help the newsletter writers get up and running.
Writers can use it for free to share their work with readers. Substack charges a 10% commission on paid subscribers if you decide to launch a paid newsletter.
The writing experience on Substack is pleasant, and it supports rich media like embedded Tweets, YouTube videos and more. Substack also includes a mobile app which aids with discovery and finding readers. Substack CEO Chris Best says,
“The goal is to allow writers and creators to run their own personal media empire.”
Substack recently offered an eight-week-long mentorship program for writers. Selected Substack writers join in a series of private virtual sessions that examine the creative process, community building, and working to monetize the writers’ work.
The Best Substack Newsletters
1. Welcome To Hell World! by Luke O’Neill
Topic: Culture and Politics
Luke O’Neil launched this newsletter in 2018 to share his reporting and essays on various topics. They are all tied together through the theme of the world, transforming into “a pit of despair.”
He writes to tell stories beyond the traditional news and faces the troubles of the world head-on rather than sugar-coating them. Using Substack, O’Neil can bypass the traditional news reporting and write freely to tell about what he sees as essential in a failing world.
O’Neil has over 1100 paid subscribers out of his 7000 total, and he now has a deal to turn his writings into a published book.
2. Flow State by Yem
This is a unique musical-based Substack newsletter. Flow State sends 2 hours of music out every day at 3 AM. The 3 AM time slot hits the subscriber’s inbox in time for the beginning of their workday. These tracks help curate a state of creative flow while at work.
Subscribers also get access to a Tuesday podcast mix and their private Spotify playlists. These playlists alone have 300+ hours of focus music.
These writers are self-financed and do not take any outside money or ad revenue. 1% of their income is designated for removing C02 from the atmosphere.
Flow State highlights the work of 1 or 2 artists and offers context about their work. No algorithms are helping the team make these musical selections. It’s just people offering recommendations to others. Flow State takes subscribers’ suggestions on musical focus into account and will alter their newsletter recommendations and mixes based on some of those ideas.
3. The Pomp Letter By Anthony Pompliano
Topic: Investment and cryptocurrency
This newsletter goes out to over 35,000 people who want to understand and learn about Bitcoin, crypto, and other assets in the digital world. Along with a daily newsletter to investors with relevant and up-to-date content, Pompliano comments on industry trends and analysis.
Subscribers get early access to podcasts, episode transcripts and show notes. These notes allow the subscriber to read at their own pace and detail all the topics, ideas, and projects that The Pomp Letter features.
Knowledge is power, and that is the focus of this newsletter. Investing in personal knowledge and education can only benefit the investor. Understanding investment and business trends will set an investor on a comfortable path.
4. Insight by Zeynep Tufekc
Topic: News and current affairs
This newsletter by sociologist Zeynep Tufekc publishes deep dives into how technology interacts with the fabric of society. It addresses topics like the US elections, Donald Trump and COVID-19. It’s an excellent example of how journalists and writers from other disciplines can use this platform.
5. Field Notes by Sara Bessey
This newsletter by author Sarah Bessey includes essays and thoughts about religion, the work, and books she’s read. She also combines personal stories with insights from her faith and offers a paid version of her newsletter.
6. Tangle by Isaac Saul
Topic: US politics and commentary
This newsletter by Isaac Saul bills itself as an independent publication about US politics with commentary. The author doesn’t claim a left or right bias. He criticized and praised various Donald Trump policies during 2019 and 2020, although he took exception to the events of December 2020. It’s an excellent alternative to Welcome to Hell World!, if US politics is your thing.
7. The NFT Brief
Topic: Cryptocurrency and NFTs
This Substack newsletter is a recent addition to this list. The NFT Brief covers non-fungible tokens or NFTs and explains how this new content format is shaping Web 3.0. It’s an addition to a content website and YouTube channel of the same name. It publishes newsletters about NFTS at least twice a week.
8. Popular Information by Judd Legum
Topic: US politics
Popular Information is a US-focused political newsletter. Founder Judd Legum describes himself as a progressive. They cover current events in the United States and have published over 750 editions. It’s an excellent example of a journalist using Substack as a newsletter platform to communicate directly with readers rather than relying on traditional media.
9. The Dispatch
Topic: US conservative news
The Dispatch is another US-focused current affairs Substack newsletter. The content is produced by a team of journalists who publish multiple articles daily. The Dispatch describes itself as a digital media company that provides “engaged citizens” with “fact-based reporting”. Unlike some other newsletters here, the Dispatch has a more conservative bias. It offers a free and paid version.
Topic: Cryptocurrency and decentralized finance
Bankless is a popular Substack newsletter about decentralized finance and cryptocurrency. The authors publish daily newsletters in plain speak about these technical concepts. It’s free to read some editions, although subscribers get access to more in-depth content about Web 3.0.
It also publishes an ad-free podcast under the same name for paying subscribers. These subscribers also get access to a Discord community.
11. The Novelleist by Ellie Griffin
Topic: Writing, fiction, indie publishing
The Novelleist is a well-written Substack newsletter by author Ellie Griffin. She publishes newsletters several times weekly about writing, the creative process and her books. She also serializes her long-form works. Griffin also has fun with her Substack audience and even publishes TikTok raps.
One of her most popular posts is a deep dive into the maths that support why writers should opt for a newsletter over self-publishing a book. Readers can support her work with a paid subscript and get access to more content behind a paywall, like her books.
12. Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson
Topic: US democracy and current affairs
Letters from an American is a popular current affairs Substack written and published by historian Heather Cox Richardson. It covers national current affairs relating to democracy in the United States, such as US Congressional investigations. Admirably, Richardson offers a free edition almost daily, getting hundreds of comments and responses. She also publishes a podcast about these topics.
13. Glenn Greenwald
Topic: Current affairs, independent journalism
Glenn Greenwald is a Pulitizer prize-winning US journalist. He’s also a former constitutional lawyer and author of several New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. His Substack newsletter is a relatively new addition to this list. It covers current affairs and independent journalism. Subscribers can also access an audio version of their articles.
14. Culture Study by Anne Helen Petersen
Topic: US culture
Culture Study is a newsletter published by Anne Helen Petersen. She’s an academic who writes in-depth about US culture. Her articles cover various topics like politics, tourism, feminism and consumerism. She also regularly solicits stories from readers. It’s an excellent example of a popular Substack with an engaged community.
15. The Audacity by Roxane Gay
Topic: Essay writing, books
The Audacity is a popular Substack for writers. It’s the brainchild of author, podcast host and critic Roxane Gay. She splits her time between New York and Los Angeles and enjoys writing personal essays.
On this Substack, she publishes essays from emerging writers and essayists that she likes, as well as memes. She also hosts a book club for her community, which features books by under-represented American writers.
16. The Weekly Dish By Andrew Sullivan
Topic: US politics, current affairs
This Substack is published by British-American author and blogger Andrew Sullivan and his team. It includes a main column by Sullivan and one to two shorter pieces a week about democracy, US politics and current affairs. Paying to get full access to The Weekly Dish and a newsletter, website, and podcast. They can also interact with O’Sullivan and the Weekly Dish community.
17. House of Strauss by Ethan Strauss
Topic: The sports industry
The Hose of Strauss is published by sports journalist Ethan Strauss and podcast producer Anthony Mayes. It covers the intersection between sports and American life, for example, Nike advertising, the NBA and mental health, and the US sports media. Many of the articles are narrated for subscribers. Some content is freely available, while other editions and audio narrations are behind a paywall.
Best Substack Newsletters: Final Thoughts
Substack provides a good content management system (CMS) designed to publish free and paid newsletters. It’s made running a newsletter quick and easy for writers and even media companies. If you’re interested in using a platform like Substack to write, our guide explains how to start a newsletter.
Substack has completed several successful funding rounds since its launch, too. However, in 2022 it laid off 14% of its staff, citing the weakening macroeconomic climate. Some newsletter writers have also left the platform for competitors like Ghost. To learn more, read our comparison guide: Substack vs Ghost. We also published this article which can help if you’re searching for company newsletter ideas.
How Substack Newsletters Make Money For Writers With Cofounder Hamish McKenzie
Substack is an example of a popular service that you can try. I recently interviewed co-founder and COO Hamish McKenzie, one of Substack’s founders. In this interview, he explains:
- Why newsletters are a great way of earning more money as a writer (Find out more about this in my Forbes article here)
- Why your first newsletter starts with an ideal reader
- How to build a relationship with readers and fans
- What it takes to grow a newsletter that people will pay for
Best Substack Newsletters: FAQs
Is Substack Free?
Substack is free for writers and newsletter owners to use. However, if you turn on paid subscriptions, they take 10% of what subscribers pay.
How Much Can You Make On Substack?
Maths is your friend. If you attract 1000 subscribers and convert 5% at $5 per month, you can expect to earn $250 per month. If you convert 1000 subscribers from a much more extensive list at the same rate, you can expect to earn $5000 a month. Maths is your friend.
Luke O’Neill earns over $100000 per year from Welcome to Hell World! However, he is a high-profile writer. It’s hard to make money on Substack without an audience or online marketing skills.
How do I find Substack newsletters?
You can find Substack newsletters through a Google search, via the Substack leaderboard and on its site. The Substack app also has newsletter discovery built in for users.
Are Substack newsletters free?
Substack is free for writers and newsletter owners to use. However, if you turn on paid subscriptions, they take 10% of what subscribers pay.
How do I read Substack newsletters?
You can read Substack newsletters on the web via your browser. If you subscribe, these are sent straight to your email. Alternatively, you can use the Substack app to read and manage subscriptions on your phone.
How do I subscribe to Substack newsletters?
You can subscribe to Substack newsletters by visiting the newsletter in question and entering your email address. If a box for doing so doesn’t’ appear, open it in incognito mode. Alternatively, use the Substack app to subscribe.
How do I unsubscribe from Substack newsletters?
You can unsubscribe from Substack newsletters by clicking the unsubscribe button at the bottom of your email or via the app.
How many newsletters are on Substack?
Substack claims over half a million paying subscribers. According to the New York Times, It publishes hundreds of thousands of newsletters. However, some of these are defunct or don’t publish content frequently. Substack claimed its top ten writers generated over $20 million in revenue in 2021.
Is Substack just for newsletters?
Substack publishes a range of content, including videos and podcasts. However, its primary focus and purpose is newsletters.
What is Substack and how does it work?
Substack is a platform that enables writers and content creators to monetize their work by offering subscription-based newsletters or podcasts. Users can subscribe to their preferred creators, paying a fee to access exclusive content and updates.
What is the downside of Substack?
While Substack offers many benefits for writers and content creators, there are a few potential downsides to consider:
1. Lack of control over content
2. Limited monetization options
3. Limited discovery
4. Lack of diversity
5. Potential for echo chambers
How do I access Substack?
To access Substack, you can follow these steps:
1. Go to this website in your web browser www.substack.com.
2. Click on the “Sign Up”button on the top right corner if you’re a new user or click on “Log In”if you already have an account.
3. Sign up with your email address and create a password for your account.
4. Click on the confirmation link that Substack provides you to confirm your account information.
5. Once you’re logged in, you can browse and subscribe to newsletters, create your own newsletter, or access your account settings.
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