Chris Best Calls Substack Notes an Antidote to the ‘Ad-Supported Attention Economy’

Recent tweets by the Substack CEO suggest the latest feature could position the newsletter service as the main competitor to Elon Musk's flailing Twitter.

A phone screen appears next to an image of a web browser displaying Substack's Notes feed, where users can post updates.
Substack’s Notes page looks similar to other social media feeds. Substack

Substack, the platform known for publishing newsletters, is launching a feed where users can post short updates, reading recommendations, photos or anything else someone might share on social media. The feature—which displays posts vertically and offers options for liking, commenting and sharing—visually resembles Twitter. But unlike most media sites, the feed, which Substack calls “Notes,” will run on subscriptions and won’t include advertisements.

“The age of the social network is ending,” CEO Chris Best wrote on Twitter. Platforms will either have to turn into TikTok, an example of social media in an “ad-supported attention economy,” or Substack, where users pay the creators who are adding value to the site, he said. The feature will launch “in the coming days,” the company said in a blog post.

Best, as well as his other co-founders Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi, have increasingly developed Substack into a competitor to Twitter. Following Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, Substack added social features like the ability for authors to host informal chats with their subscribers. Substack earned a “significant bump” in new users following Musk joining Twitter, McKenzie said in November. The executives advertised Substack to Twitter users and writers at Revue, Twitter’s newsletter service, through a series of posts on how to migrate their audiences.

The business move comes as Twitter continues to struggle earning revenue. One of Musk’s primary strategies—pushing the Twitter Blue subscription service—hasn’t garnered much interest from users. A selling point of the service is the blue verification checkmark that used to be reserved for celebrities, politicians, journalists and others who might inspire copycat accounts. Musk has been advertising the service for months, including telling users if they don’t pay, their checkmarks will disappear. But only 3 percent of users who were previously verified have purchased Twitter Blue, according to Mashable.

The subscription business isn’t its only problem. The amount of money Twitter’s top advertisers are spending has declined 89 percent from when Musk acquired the company, according to a report by research firm Sensor Tower. Twitter’s value is now reportedly half the $44 billion Musk paid for it.

Many social media users are fed up with the number of suggested posts and recommended content they see on their feeds from accounts they don’t follow. The extent to which Substack will recommend content from other users isn’t clear, but if Notes addresses this frustration, it could be a selling point for some consumers.

Reactions to Substack Notes have been largely positive. “I’ve been hoping Substack would do something like this,” Ashley Mayer, CEO of a venture capital company, said on Twitter. And its resemblance to other social media platforms hasn’t gone unnoticed. “Like old school Twitter, smart move,” wrote Ann Bordetsky, a venture capitalist and former Twitter employee.

Chris Best Calls Substack Notes an Antidote to the ‘Ad-Supported Attention Economy’