Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Newsletter no longer

Hamish McKenzie, one of the founders of Substack, wrote last month that we should stop thinking of his platform as belonging to a supposed “newsletter economy”.

The trend that Substack is part of is not a newsletter trend, or even the much-hyped creator economy. We are part of a seismic shift in the media economy that is all about writer and creator ownership and independence.

The idea, he says, is to put writers in control of their own work and in direct contact with their readers, and email newsletters are just a part of the process.

Talk about books was originally on Substack, where I started it just under 2 years ago. In December 2021 Manton Reece, founder of, introduced a newsletter feature there. I was keen to try that out, so I switched over from Substack.

So, though Talk about books is no longer on Substack, I feel that McKenzie’s observations have some application to it. The fact is that I’ve been feeling uncomfortable calling it a newsletter and referring to the individual posts as “issues”. For a start, it doesn’t contain any “news”, just book discussion. I feel as if McKenzie’s post has given me permission to stop thinking and writing about it in those terms.

I’m not sure what I should call it instead, though. I’m thinking of “email letter”. As against that, it’s also distributed as an RSS feed and each “issue” originates as a post on I tend to think of it as a web publication, with the emails being just one way of notifying people about it.

McKenzie is keen to emphasize that the email newsletter has from the start being just one aspect of what Substack offers. They quickly introduced their own web-based Reader (in effect a new RSS reader) and more recently a mobile app (to which a chat feature has just been added). They also have podcasts and video. RSS apart, none of that really interests me, so I’ve been thinking about what additional features I could offer to supplement the fortnightly email.

Before Manton and tempted me away from Substack, I had been thinking of offering a physical, printed copy of the letter by post. When I decided to shift everything over to I shelved that idea because I had to set up and test new templates and separate styles for the emails and the web posts. You probably noticed that was a bit hit and miss for a while, but I’ve now got it as close to the way I want it as email will permit.

Now I think it might be time to resuscitate the printed letter idea. The next Talk about books post, scheduled for 16 November, will be the last of Talk about books’s second year, so it seems an opportune time to think about new directions. As I said a year ago, I think it’s entirely possible (actually likely) that nobody will want to pay for a printed version. In that case, it won’t cost me anything to produce it, so no harm done, but I feel that it’s important at least to offer the printed option, even if there are no takers.

Of course, since I’m no longer on Substack, managing the paid subscription element would be more complicated than I originally envisaged, so that’s another complication I’ll need to consider.

Posted by Art on 05-Nov-2022.