Here’s a media trend: Journalists set up their own newspapers instead of working for big, established publishers.
Here’s a media trend working in the opposite direction: big, established publishers consolidate their power by building strong business models or big supporters – or both – by increasing talent.
And here’s a story that both can do: Atlantic is launching a newsletter offering that seeks to bring writers under the umbrella (and payroll) of the Atlantic while allowing them to remain semi-independent.
According to acquaintances, the idea could unveil a list of newsletter writers for the magazine – maybe a dozen or more – in the coming weeks. These will only be available to Atlantic customers. The New York Times has done something similar this year, sending only subscriber-letters from authors, including Cara Swisser and Jay Caspian Kong.
A big difference between Atlantic’s plans and other newsletter distributors is that, in some cases, Atlantic is hiring writers who are already in the paid newsletter business. And it wants to transform those writers into Atlantic customers.
At least one of those writers, I confirm, is an author who has now set up shop in Substack, a company that simplifies (theoretically) self-publishes money by simplifying the recent newsletter boom.
Here’s a rough outline of what the Atlantic wants to do, through knowledgeable people:
- Atlantic is not hiring writers as full-time employees, but will offer them a one-of-a-kind base payment with the ability to make extra money if they achieve certain customer goals. So it’s a much more reliable source of income than a paid newsletter – even Cox Newton, a contributing author at Vox Media’s The Verge, who has been running his own, successful, substack for the past year, says he sees a monthly churn of percent.
- If the authors have already sold paid subscriptions to their letters, Atlantic wants to turn those subscriptions into Atlantic subscriptions. That is: if you currently pay a persuasive fee but the Thinky man takes 5 5 a month for his work, you will now receive that letter for the same amount, as well as any other newsletter that publishes the Atlantic, as well as the Atlantic itself, which currently sells a digital – Subscription for only $ 50 a year.
- Newsletter writers who join Atlantic’s program can keep a list of their existing subscribers. So if they decide to bail out Atlantis, they can start their business again.
- How much supervision or assistance letter writers receive from Atlantic editors and staff still seems to be a work in progress. But the emphasis is on writers being editorially independent from publishing; They will not be edited by Atlantic Editor. So if the Atlantic holds someone back, does the Atlantic decide to be too barbaric / racist / problematic for the Atlantic? Good question!
An Atlantic representative declined to comment.
It’s easy to see the application of the program in the Atlantic, led by editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg and CEO Nick Thompson. The publication has a new list of voices and the possibility to increase its subscriber base immediately. And while more customers are always good, they will be especially good for the Atlantic right now, which increased during Trump’s years and especially during the epidemic, but like other publishers, Trump and Covid-1 have shut down and its website traffic has declined.
And as traffic dwindles and it becomes difficult to convert new readers into customers, an injection of paying new readers in the blink of an eye will be welcomed. (Here we should note that although Atlantic is owned by Lauren Powell Jobs, Billionaire wants the publication, which was a round of pruning in the first months of the epidemic, to become self-sufficient.)
To the writers the pitch is a little more subtle, the spelling of some parts and the other parts more perfect. Explicit: Come to work on an award-winning publication with a wide publicity, backed by a billionaire. Unstable: Maybe you thought once you started your newsletter business you would crush it. But maybe you are not, and maybe you want a fixed salary. Running a single store is not for everyone.
That said, some newsletter writers who have found an acceptable audience – primarily through substacks – are making more money than ever before with established media companies.
For example, Barry Weiss, a former opinion writer and editor of the New York Times, told me that his substack, Common Sense, now has 16,500 subscribers. Which is $ 5 per customer per month, meaning he can bring in 8 890,000 a year, after the substack charges his 10 percent fee. So don’t expect Weiss to appear on the Atlantic roster anytime soon.
I asked Hamish McKenzie, co-founder of Substack, what it means if competitors like the Atlantic hunt down some of its authors. He was gracious in this matter. “We route for writers even when they’re not substackers, so we’re delighted to see a trend toward more ownership for writers,” McKenzie said in a statement. “We have always been in favor of authors getting full ownership of their content and audiences, and we applaud every step in this direction.”
McKenzie and his team have clearly thought about some kind of platform-jumping: part of the pitch of the substack is that authors can easily leave with all their published content and an email list of all their customers. And the success of the substack has encouraged new competitors, including Facebook and Twitter, who can easily spend the substack if they want to – as I reported in June, Facebook dropped $ 6 million in the bulletin URL, its substack clone.
But if you’re not a substack superstar, it might not take you a ton of money to attract you from the company: just a fixed salary and the ability to write for a large group of people. Some regular media company people do that.