Substack just made a major new hire as it goes after comic-book writers and expands its fiction efforts

HONG KONG, CHINA - 2019/07/28: Visitors and customers seen at Disney's Marvel Studio booth during the Ani-Com & Games event in Hong Kong. (Photo by Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Substack is getting into comic books and fiction as it expands its efforts to lure in writers beyond journalism to the platform.

The newsletter company has hired Nick Spencer, writer of franchises like “Captain America” and “The Amazing Spider-Man,” to offer “Substack Pro” advance-payment deals to comic-book writers, co-founder Hamish McKenzie told Insider.

Substack has also started to offer such deals to fiction authors, although those efforts are nascent, he said.

“We see anything that shows promise as a priority, and fiction is starting to show promise,” McKenzie said.

The entertainment and literary push underscores Substack’s aggressive growth strategy as it faces more competition in the newsletter space from upstarts like Ghost and social giants Facebook and Twitter. Founded in 2017, Substack raised $65 million earlier this year to fuel its expansion.

Mostly geared toward non-fiction writers thus far, the “Substack Pro” program is structured similarly to how authors are compensated by book publishers — with an advance plus a cut of future sales after the sum is recouped.

Under the agreements, Substack typically pays a writer an upfront sum and takes the majority of subscription revenue during the first year. Then the platform reverts to its standard cut of 10%, plus payment processing fees. McKenzie wouldn’t say whether any fiction writer had taken a Substack Pro deal yet.

A new revenue model for comics creators

The foray into comics will pit Substack against the two major houses, Marvel and DC, independent publishers, and also the likes of Patreon, GoComics, and Webtoon, where some webcomics derive revenue. 

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Spencer, who declined to be interviewed through a Substack spokesperson, will cut deals with comics writers that allow them to hire artists and a small production team, McKenzie said.

“With the Substack model, they get to own the IP, and because of Substack Pro they get the resources they need upfront,” McKenzie added. 

“The top creators are doing well for themselves, but the vast majority of comics creators are really struggling to get by or have day jobs, so the idea of another revenue stream I’m sure is going to be very appealing,” said Abraham Riesman, author of “True Believer,” a biography of comics icon Stan Lee. 

Riesman expects Substack’s entry into the comics world will also spark some backlash. The company has faced criticism from some who argue it has offered a platform for transphobia and harassment. Substack has said it does not tolerate harassment but that the platform does not remove writers based on their opinions.

Riesman also said he is curious to see what a digital comic looks like on Substack. He added that sometimes in the comics world, a Marvel or DC writer will go to a smaller independent publisher to make a creator-owned book where he or she owns the intellectual property. “That’s great for them, but very often the creative work suffers because — and here’s where Substack comes in — there’s minimal editing.”

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Source:: Business Insider


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