Mumbrellacast Interview: Hamish McKenzie explains why Substack won’t be enabling advertising

"It’s not because we think advertising is evil," Substack founder Hamish McKenzie says. Rather, the company is really excited about the potential of subscriptions and direct payments "as a way to support the kind of work that we hope to enable".

New Zealand-hailing Hamish McKenzie co-founded Substack with the goal of helping journalists get paid for writing newsletters. McKenzie worked as a journalist in New Zealand, Hong Kong and the US, and is now based in LA.

McKenzie – who has also worked for Tesla, and is the author of ‘Insane Mode’ about the arrival of the battery revolution – joins Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes to chat about his departure from journalism and eventually creating Substack.

Substack is only 4 years old, but is already being talked about in the same way that journalists were talking about WordPress 15 years ago. Its valuation is already close to a billion Aussie dollars.

“The whole idea with Substack was to make it as simple as possible for writers to instantly start a media business,” McKenzie says. “The ability to be paid directly by your readers through subscriptions. Writers don’t have to be genius technology people. Many writers don’t want to mess around with business and technology set-ups, they just want to focus on the journalism itself.”

McKenzie goes deeper on the Substack model, and why the platform doesn’t support advertising, something its founders have “no intention” of bringing in.

Instead, McKenzie is excited about what’s possible with the subscription model. “There’s been 30 years of innovation with internet advertising now. But we haven’t even got started with innovation and iterations [around] direct payments and subscriptions,” he says.

Part of what we care about is putting readers and writers in charge. We want to encourage people to shift to this new model which is direct support from readers and subscriptions. Your potential for succeeding with the new model is greatly amplified by just focusing on that model.”

He also speaks about Substack Pro, the company’s international ambitions, and what happens if the founders sell out.

We didn’t start this company to be successful tech entrepreneurs,” he continues, instead pointing to a desire to unbreak a “mediocre system” that is already broken. 

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Music credit: RetroFuture Clean Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Backbay Lounge Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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