The Best Side-Hustle of 2021
Posted November 12, 2021
I take the following as a given: ideas run the world. Bad ideas threaten and wreck civilization. Good ideas stand in opposition and point to rationality and freedom as core ideals. The essential contest over what kind of lives we want to live comes down to which dominates. For decades now, bad ideas have been ascendant. I did not realize by how much until March 2020 when every principle of law and liberty was ground to dust.
But it was even worse: the bad guys were shutting down the opposition. The channels we thought were free became unfree. The companies we had previously loved — I wrote an entire book in tribute to them, chapter by chapter — turned on the public to become platforms for the lockdown forces of government power. They signed up to echo the partisan blather of the CDC and censor contrary voices.
Voice to the Voiceless
One company stood out from the rest and decided to give voice to the voiceless. It is a private company called Substack. It was started only in 2017 as a publishing platform. It began with only a few employees and now has 215 employees and is advertising for many job openings now in San Francisco, CA.
It started with $2 million in funding. It gained a series A and then B. It now has a total funding base of $82.3 million and is looking for more funding rounds. It will surely go public at some point. There’s every indication that it will go to the moon after all the dust settles.
The business model sounds a bit like many others. It enabled publishing. Crucially, it allows its users to accept subscriptions which it then mails to users post by post. It permits its authors to make some content free and some paid, and allows them to set the price. In other words, the platform enables authors to achieve pretty much what the New York Times achieves, but without all the third-party plugins and set up required to set up a paid blogging platform.
The real business advantage: it refused to censor responsible material. In fact, it made itself a home to those who were being censored by others. Users and authors both began to trust the platform after its owners were hounded by the mainstream press and refused to budge. They would be a platform for free speech, period.
In any society-wide crisis, some previously popular and respected voices lose credibility while other new voices emerge on top. The losers in this case include the mainstream media, the conventional tech platforms (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn), leaders in the public intellectual class, top dogs in science, and public health generally speaking. The vaccine companies will likely be included among the discredited within the year. Who are the winners? New video platforms like Rumble, new intellectuals mostly outside of academia, new media outlets like Newsmax and OAN, plus new publishing platforms like Substack.
We used to believe that we lived in a free society with free speech. Then one day it was all gone. Anyone who seriously opposed the prevailing narrative was de-platformed, cancelled, body bagged, even fired. They were locked out of platforms they had personally built for years. Even accounts with millions of followers were taken away.
Was this legal? Sure. The model of social media has been that you provide the content, you give them traffic, you give them data, you provide the whole reason that anyone even shows up, while they sell your data, advertise on your content, monetize your talent, and give you nothing in return, except fame that they can take away at a moment’s notice. Government gave them all a nudge at the same time and they all complied. The result was to silence all critics of the state.
This happened to many friends of mine. They went into deep depression, even despair. They could not imagine starting over. But what are you going to do? They bucked up and started from scratch on platforms like Rumble and Substack. Their audiences grew and grew. Next thing you know, they had equaled their reach from before and then surpassed it. This is how markets evolve, one user at a time.
Get on Board!
It was about this time last year that many great thinkers and writers realized that they wanted to speak out and needed a platform to do so. Among them were people fired by the New York Times and others who were silenced by their employers. They jumped on these new platforms and started offering extremely high-level content, even high-end and data-driven commentary and analysis. Ironically, the algorithms at Twitter did not always bother to block links to them. The old media inadvertently provided a bridge to the new media.
Incredibly, now we have people and accounts and institutions of which we previously knew nothing, rising to the occasion and providing the only real light out of this darkness. They will be rewarded for doing so. Some writers are making far more money than they did in their old jobs, reaching directly to readers who are willing to pay for truth. That is the way it should be.
The ideological and institutional disruption of the last 21 months will likely be transformative. Old institutions and once-respected intellectuals are discredited, while new ones are taking their place. Influence, reach, and funding are leaving some and flowing to others.
My thought for today is that you should hop over to Substack and sign up for a few subscriptions. I now have 24 subscriptions there, mostly free but some paid. I benefit from them all. I’m finding myself using the old platforms even less. It feels liberating to be part of the solution, part of the future, part of the winners in our transformative times.