I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be nice to give my newsletter, Talk about books, its own domain name. I didn’t believe this was necessary, or would even be particularly useful, I just liked the idea. Many of the big names on Substack, like Matt Taibbi (taibbi.substack.com), Glenn Greenwald (greenwald.substack.com), Jesse Singal (jessesingal.substack.com) and Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.substack.com), are happy to run their very successful newsletters on a subdomain of substack.com; suggesting that one can forgo the personal branding without suffering any penalty. It may even be that there’s an advantage in making it obvious that your newsletter is hosted on the platform everybody seems to be talking about. On the other hand, Matt Yglesias (www.slowboring.com) is reported to be doing better than any of them, so maybe it doesn’t make any difference either way.
The way I saw it, it would be nice, though not essential, to have the domain talkaboutbooks.net under my control. So long as I renewed the registration every year, it would effectively be my personal property. I was ruminating about this on Twitter (and Micro.blog). As is often the case, simply articulating the idea seemed to give it a certain reality or inevitability.
I’m awfully tempted to register a domain name to use with my Substack newsletter. Substack charges $50 to use a custom domain and I’m not persuaded there’s any real benefit. So I’m wavering, just for a change.— Art Kavanagh (@artkavana) June 30, 2021
I decided to snap the name up while it was still available, even if I ultimately decided not to pay Substack their $50 fee for setting it up as the newsletter’s address. I thought $50 was a bit steep, but on the other hand it was a one-off payment, unlike the annual charge payble for registration of the name. So, I paid it.
Once Substack had my $50, I was pointed to a page of instructions that seemed reasonably clear. As it turned out, they were even clearer than I thought.
I was supposed to “create a CNAME alias by copying the exact settings listed below”. They were serious about copying “the exact settings”, though I didn’t believe them at first. I assumed that “target” must be a placeholder for the name of the newsletter, in my case “talkaboutbooks”. So, I entered “talkaboutbooks.substack-custom-domains.com” in the box labeled “Target”. Yes, I know that’s not what they said, but I assumed that it must be what they meant. What people say isn’t always what they mean, in my experience, not even in how-to documentation.
But in this case it was. Sorry for doubting you, Substack. When my new domain hadn’t gone live after 18 hours — the documentation said it might take up to 36, but I’m not a patient man — I went back to the DNS provider’s site and amended the CNAME record to what it should have been in the first place. I am now the proud proprietor of letter.talkaboutbooks.net (which is where you can sign up for my newsletter, if you’re so inclined). Happy reading.