Hurdles to Being a Solo-Creator

In all the discussion of of people leaving large media companies to go solo, I have not seen anyone address how creators (and subscribers) are going to handle life events that prevent creators from producing content for prolonged periods of time.

Money Stuff’s Matt Levine just went on paternity leave, and is taking a break from writing the column. I assume this doesn’t present any career or financial issues for him. He’s a Bloomberg employee, and he can take paternity leave knowing that his salary is secure, and that his job is waiting for him. If Matt Levine was a solo-creator on Substack, how would he be able to handle this? His column is based on current events, so he would not be able to write a backlog of them, and schedule their release. Would monthly subscribers be OK with paying the monthly subscription fee for a newsletter they aren’t actually going to get?

In other freelance fields, like web development, it is possible to take on extra work in compressed period of time (“Feast Period”) in order to bank money for when you are unable to work (“Famine Period”). This doesn’t work for newsletters. If you normally send a daily column of 5,000 words, you can’t just write twice as much, and expect your subscribers to pay double that month. Subscribers are price-sensitive, and doing extra work likely won’t lead to higher average revenue per subscriber. Even if a solo-creator decided to just not charge their subscribers while they were out, they would be at a serious disadvantage when they returned. For topical newsletters, the archives have minimal interest, and would likely not draw in any new subscribers. Meanwhile, regular churn (due to both real reasons, and delinquent cards) would continue to pile up.

If Pete Wells (another of my favorite columnists) took two months off, it would have no bearing on me continuing my New York Times subscription. The Times has a lot of content creators (even within the Food section), and still delivers a lot of value. For creators going it alone, the freedom can become a liability in cases like these. Life events happen, and they need to be accounted for when we talk about financial shifts (like the rise of solo-creators and Substack). One obvious solution is for solo-creators to band together (like what Everything Bundle is doing), but then we eventually end up right where we started.

If you know how people are planning to handle this, let me know on Twitter!