Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Substack, farewell: “Talk about books” is moving

Talk about books started out on Substack and spent the first year of its existence there. Less than a week ago, I had no intention of moving it from there. Then, Manton Reece, the founder of, surprised us all when he announced that was introducing an email newsletter feature.

I’ve been using for a little over 3 years now. I signed up for it first as an alternative to Twitter, a role it fills very well. It’s not simply a Twitter clone, though: it’s a lot more flexibile and versatile. In fact, it’s a full blogging platform, though with the emphasis on microblogging. (I talk about my use of on a recent episode of the Micro Monday podcast, with Jean McDonald.) Manton has been steadily adding features, including Bookshelves, which I just started to use recently.

I’ve got a lot of use and enjoyment out of over the past 3 years, and I’ve recently been devoting a lot of my attention to Talk about books, so I was excited by the news that it would now be possible to combine the two. Even so, the decision to move Talk about books from Substack was far from being a no-brainer.

I’ve considered moving from Substack before, probably to Buttondown, but till now have always decided to stay put. Substack doesn’t give me a lot of control over the look and feel of the newsletter, but it gives me enough. The available options, limited though they are, look slick and save me from wasting a lot of time in foostering and tinkering.

There are certainly some disadvantages to the move. I was previously able to keep the domain name for the newsletter ( separate from that for my microblog ( If I wanted to maintain the distinction, I’d have to start a second blog on and my cost would triple from $5 a month to $15. So, I decided to let fall by the wayside, and combine my microblogging and newsletter under one domain, just doubling my monthly payment to $10. We’ll see how that goes: there’s always the option of starting a second blog later.

The other main disadvantage is that I’ll have to move the existing subscribers to Talk about books over to, and it’s almost inevitable that I’ll lose some of them in the process, as they’ll be asked to confirm their “new” subscriptions. I’ll admit that that made me think twice. In the end, though, I reminded myself that I have no particular reason to want to retain subscribers who stay signed up only out of inertia.

On the other hand, there are some good reasons in support of the move. Substack offers writers a pretty good deal at the moment, but it has accepted venture capitalist funding, which may in future mean that it comes under pressure to produce the kind of return on investment that venture capitalists expect. (Some people believe that that’s what went wrong with Patreon.)

Some of my concerns are minor, not dealbreakers in themselves, but cumulative in their effects. For a start, I feel a bit odd being on the same platform as so many advocates for blockchain, cryptocurrency and NFTs. I’ve written before about not being able to use html <cite> tags on Substack. It’s really not a big deal, but …

In principle, I like the idea of using upright (not italic) letters for book and journal titles, but it’s not normal practice, and since html does provide the appropriate inline element, I feel that it ought to be used. When I moved a lot of book-related posts from Medium to this site a few months ago, I went through them marking up the titles with <cite>s. I have to admit it made me feel better. Now my newsletter will have properly marked-up book titles too.

If you’d like to sign up for Talk about books, you can do so here:

If you’d prefer to read more about it first, you can do that on the page for the newsletter.

Posted by Art, 11-Dec-2021.