I sure hope this newsletter stuff works out
Watching as one of my favorite newsletters jumps the Substack ship for calmer waters.
Anyone who’s read The Present Age since I launched it back in June knows how much I admire Charlie Warzel and his Galaxy Brain newsletter. He’s an absolutely fantastic writer. He’s smart, insightful, and deserving of every bit of success that comes his way. I’ve been a paying subscriber of his since the start. (There have been multiple occasions where I’ve started writing something only to get a notification in my inbox letting me know that not only had Charlie beaten me to covering a specific topic, but did so in a way that made me go, “I don’t really know what I can add to this, so I’m going to set my post aside and just link to his newsletter.)
He’s a shining example of someone whose work doesn’t revolve around stoking online drama or picking fights, something that seems to be one of the easiest ways to pump up audience and revenue numbers. And that’s why I couldn’t help but feel a little worried when I saw this morning that he was ending his Substack newsletter and moving to The Atlantic.
In Charlie’s post announcing his newsletter’s move to The Atlantic, he outlined what he saw as some of the reasons Galaxy Brain didn’t crack the list of “TOP TIER ‘STACKERS,” as he put it. Point number 3 stands out:
3.) I did not do enough grievance blogging. My response post to Glenn Greenwald, which I wrote in like 27 minutes on a random afternoon was the only real bit of Discourse Feeding that I did during this run. It netted me tens of thousands of dollars in annualized revenue in 24 hours. Bananas. I fully believe (and there’s an interesting Freddie deBoer post on this) that focusing exclusively on internecine internet beefs would have been the most profitable path for Galaxy Brain. Honestly, just writing about tweets and drawing really sweeping conclusions about ‘the state of things’ seems like a solid business model. I’m not trying to sound morally superior here — I think there are ton of people who are willing to fund an aggro type of internet discourse and that’s between them and their god! It’s just not the experience I wanted for myself.
As Charlie notes, he wrote a response piece to something Glenn Greenwald (who certainly qualifies as a “TOP TIER ‘STACKER”) tweeted out, and immediately saw his annualized revenue increase by “tens of thousands of dollars.” That is absolutely wild!
Now, I don’t know why Glenn tweeted that out. I don’t know if he and Charlie had some sort of preexisting beef or anything like that — and honestly, I don’t really care all that much. I thought Charlie’s piece satirizing the type of “grievance blogging” (again, his words, not mine) he was trying to avoid was great.
And then, this morning, following Charlie’s announcement, Glenn again weighed in.
I don’t really understand it. The world is a big enough place for Charlie and Glenn (and hey, even Parker), and success is not zero-sum. And with Charlie’s move to The Atlantic, it sounds like both he and Glenn will both have the type of success they want and deserve. Good for both of them, to be honest.
I do worry that if Charlie couldn’t make it on Substack, what does that mean for the rest of us? One man’s failure is another’s phenomenal success, I suppose. Charlie was kind enough to share some of Galaxy Brain’s subscriber data in his post:
I grew this puppy from 0 subscribers to over 16,000. On the paid side, I got over 1,400 of you to shell out. Due to monthly subs and some generous founding members, I did manage to crack the six-figure annualized revenue number ever-so-slightly (of course I didn’t do this for a full year). Not bad! But also far from the kinds of first six-month numbers of the TOP TIER ‘STACKERS.
I do not have 16,000 subscribers, and I am nowhere near the 1,400 paid number he has, either. I think a lot of people, myself included, would be thrilled to crack the six-figure mark, but as he says elsewhere, that was essentially a pay cut for him.
I’m glad that he landed a gig that makes sense for him, even if his announcement has me worried about my own ability to keep things afloat on my own end in the long-term (don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere in the near- or medium-term — and hopefully not in the long-term, either). I’m going to keep doing what I do, doing my best to resist the urge to lean into the (likely more profitable) realm of “grievance blogging” in hopes that things work out for me.
In the meantime, I’ll just say this: if you enjoy my work, please subscribe to The Present Age; if you can afford to buy a paid subscription, great; if you can’t afford one, that’s totally fine, I try to keep as much of my content free as possible. Another way you can help out is by sharing links to my posts on social media (even as I am mostly taking a break from it). Additionally, if you have a podcast/TV show/radio show/etc., and you’d like to have me on as a guest, you can always reach out: email@example.com