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The great British take-off
Substack’s second-largest market sees a better future for writing
Back in November 2021, I left my once-upon-a-time dream job as editor in chief of Elle UK magazine to join Substack as head of writer partnerships for the U.K. I had been a traditional-media journalist and editor for over 20 years at that point. But there was a problem: legacy media was dying. Local press outlets were shuttering every few months. Nationwide redundancies across our most prestigious media outlets were commonplace. Even digital brands we had been told were the future started to fall on their knees. An entire industry of writers and creatives found themselves having to abandon careers they had spent their lives trying to make work simply because the system was broken.
I know, because I was one of them.
Behind the scenes, however, Substack was quietly bubbling away. Acclaimed journalists such asfound it a place of refuge for some of her writing. Former U.K. government adviser used it as a home for his uncensored thoughts on the British government. Authors such as , The Atlantic’s , and celebrity historian used Substack as a platform to explore new ideas and other forms of writing. On day one of the job, I started my own Substack, Things Worth Knowing, to fully understand the power of the platform.
I was amazed at what I found.
Because Substack’s power is this: give culture makers financial independence through reader subscriptions. It’s that simple. Writers don’t have to sublimate themselves to attention games or beg for corporate marketing budgets in order to succeed. They just have to do their best work. Their readers will do the rest.
Back in 2021, that was still a radical idea. The U.K.’s creative community still believed it was legacy media brands that had the audiences, rather than the writers themselves. Many, including myself, were similarly conditioned to think advertising was the only route to make money.
Substack’s power is this: give culture makers financial independence through reader subscriptions. It’s that simple. Writers don’t have to sublimate themselves to attention games or beg for corporate marketing budgets in order to succeed. They just have to do their best work. Their readers will do the rest.
At Substack, we started by rolling out dozens of large-scale masterclasses to help writers better understand the possibilities for their work. We wanted traditional-media journalists to see that readers valued their voice, not only the brand they worked for. We encouraged bloggers to charge for some of the work they had been doing for free for years. We got social media stars, who struggled to reach their audiences due to aggressive new algorithms, to start a Substack so they could reach every single one of their followers. And they embraced it.
The U.K. market is growing fast for Substack, doubling in size in the past year. There are now millions of active Substack readers in the U.K. and thousands of creatives making meaningful money from their own work. There are scores of writers making six-figure incomes, and others earning significantly more than they once did in legacy media. There are writers, likeand pastry chef , who have gotten book deals off the back of their Substacks. There are podcasters, like , who now treat Substack as their full-time base. There are literary giants, such as , , and , doing some of their most interesting and profound work on the platform. There are celebrity stylists, such as , making it a home for their styling tips and shopping guides. There are photographers, illustrators, actors, fashionistas—all using the platform in creative new ways.
And it hasn’t been just individuals. Substacks such as Manchester’s, Liverpool’s , and have helped revitalize local news journalism. Traditional-media brands such as and are using Substack as a way to connect and interact with a whole new audience of readers; Magazine and the Byline Times’ have even made Substack a whole new revenue stream for their brands.
The U.K. is now Substack’s fastest-growing global market, doubling in size in the past year. There are now millions of active Substack readers in the U.K. and thousands of creatives making meaningful money from their own work.
In this day and age, it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to listen to the naysayers and believe the narrative that creativity is in crisis, journalism is dying, the internet has made original ideas obsolete, and making a living from doing the creative work you love best is an impossibility. My advice is, don’t get cynical.
Because the truth is something incredible is happening: a whole new creative ecosystem is at play. It’s a place where writers are paid by the people who love their work; where creatives help one another to succeed by recommending each other, teaching each other, and connecting through real-life meetups. It’s a place brimming with all the ideas that don’t fit the narrow mold of traditional media; that also values traditional media and wants it to succeed. And the best part about is that you can help build it and show the way to a better future.