Substack announced today that it is introducing a new Notes feature designed to let users share posts, quotes, comments, images, links, and ideas. Notes shared on the platform appear in a special short feed that looks a lot like Twitter. Once you share a note, it’s essentially the same as posting a Tweet. Each note displays the number of likes and comments. There is also the option to re-stack or retweet a post.
The company seems to agree that the new feature is similar to Twitter, as Substack noted in its announcement post that Notes “might look like familiar social media feeds.” However, Substack states that Notes differs from traditional social media feeds in that it doesn’t run on ads.
“The lifeblood of an ad-based social media feed is attention,” the company wrote in a blog post. “The lifeblood of a subscription network, on the other hand, is the money paid to people who do great work there. Here people are rewarded for respecting the trust and attention of their audience. The ultimate goal of this platform is to convert casual readers into paying subscribers. In this system, the vast majority of financial rewards go to the content creators.”
Substack also argues that Notes won’t feel like traditional social media, and that the goal of the new product isn’t to create a “perfectly sanitized information environment” but to allow for constructive discussion where there’s enough common ground is to seek understanding “while holding on to the valuable tension necessary for great art and new ideas.”
Given the company’s tendency to host controversial writers and the otherwise deformed writers, this direction with its Notes feed could see it wade even deeper into the culture wars surrounding what constitutes free speech. The more Substack associates its brand with the more extreme personal brands of divisive media personalities, the less it can attract the larger (and typically more moderate) readership that makes up the majority of each network’s user base.
The launch of Notes isn’t the only way Substack has tried to capitalize on the Twitter chaos of recent months, as the company rolled out a chat feature last November. It also took a more direct shot at Twitter, when it warned in a post last year that “Twitter is changing, and it’s hard to predict what the future might hold.” The post had encouraged creators of all kinds to transfer their Twitter follower base to Substack. The new Notes product, which is actually a Twitter clone, further bolsters Substack’s hopes of capitalizing on the Twitter chaos.
It’s worth noting that with Notes, Substack is taking on not only Twitter, where there’s already a lot of back-and-forth discussions between writers and readers, but also other online communities where writers have built their own networks, such as Discord, Slack, and Telegram.
Today’s announcement comes a week after Substack opened a community fundraising round that allowed writers to invest in and own a portion of the company. As of today, Substack has $7,138,675 in pledges.
The company revealed that readers have paid writers more than $300 million through Substack, and the platform now has more than 35 million active subscriptions, including two million paid subscriptions. Substack also revealed that more than 17,000 writers make money on Substack, with the top 10 publishers on Substack collectively earning more than $25 million a year.