A new way to say ‘thank you’ to your favorite writers
Pledges is a simple tool for readers to support the writers they love most
Today we are excited to announce Pledges, a new tool that lets readers support their favorite writers. When you pledge to financially support a writer on Substack, you give that writer a meaningful vote of confidence. We started rolling out Pledges in December, and today all readers can start pledging.
This may come as a surprise, but all of us who work closely with writers here at Substack spend a lot of time trying to convince them that they deserve to get paid for their work. And writing is hard work. It requires talent but, mostly, discipline. It asks for sacrifices and tradeoffs, gives rise to self-loathing, and brings on a good deal of despair. It can be absolute hell, but they love it.
Writers may be willing to starve for the privilege of being read. I will often see veteran writers preach on their social channels, “Writers, do not write for free!” And yet, and yet. Even they, on the eve of the launch of their Substacks, will get shy about turning on paid subscriptions. “I don’t think I should charge for this,” they will tell me. “Maybe down the line.”
What I hear is “I still can’t believe anyone values my work.” Traditional publishing outlets have benefited greatly from writer psychology by acting as intermediaries in the transaction: they ask for money on behalf of the writer, and for this simple task, they get to enjoy the lion’s share of the writer’s earnings.
On Substack, things are different. Writers and readers are united by a bond of trust. Writers are grateful to be read by the people who read them—really read them. Their pledge to subscribers is that they will give them the best they have to offer.
What I try to get writers to understand is that, on Substack, that pledge is a two-way street. A reader is not a passive vessel, but a consciousness that is being nourished. Unless writers allow their readers to express their support, they are cheating them of an important privilege. What most readers pay for here is not the content of a locked post, but gratitude. By paying for a subscription, they are not only protecting the writer’s independence but also their own.
This is why we are announcing the Pledges feature. Before Pledges, the burden of asking for support was all on the writer’s shoulders. This feature allows readers to show writers how much they love and value their work, with the click of a button.
A reader’s pledge, which one day may turn into an actual paid subscription—that is, altogether, a real salary—has the power to change writers’ lives. And all of us who work here at Substack see writers’ lives change every day thanks to the readers who pay them the equivalent of a cup of coffee each month but who collectively make it possible for them to earn a living. A pledge is a reader’s way to tell their favorite writer, “We’re in this together.” Because at Substack, they really are.
We encourage you to make a pledge to your favorite writer today. Who knows? You may find that you changed their lives overnight by it.
Visit your favorite writers’ Substacks from your reader profile and pledge your support.
Can we please have a function where readers can offer us a one-off "gift"? I would like that option for my Substack. I find myself very uncomfortable with the individual subscription system. It seriously discriminates against poor people. I strongly believe that people should be encouraged to pay for what they value, but only after they have paid their rent and fed their kids. That call has to be their own. As a pensioner, I cannot myself afford subscriptions to every writer I value, so I subscribe to none, and as a result, I find myself a becoming increasingly a second class citizen on Substack.
Second, can you design a very clear labeling system for those articles that are pay-walled so we know that we are not permitted to engage before we waste our time going into the article to read it. Teasers followed by begging for subscriptions, or whole articles with comments pay-walled, are just so insulting. I am finding myself increasingly annoyed, so I am now routinely, when I get caught by one of those cruel marketing stunts, un-subscribing from that person. I don't need the constant reminder of my second class status, based not on intelligence but on bank balance.
I’ve supported about 10 worriers over the last several years. I’ve let a couple lapse and plan to pick up several more. However the budget doesn’t allow me to support all 31 that I follow. I’d love an option to pay/donate for a single article. Is that a possibility? I think many people would be willing and able to pay for outstanding articles without requiring an annual subscription.