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Penny Subscriptions for Substack
What if there was a way to show your support for more authors?
I’m fairly new to Substack, and generally a slow adopter of new platforms, so I’m only subscribed to about thirty Substacks right now. By subscribing, I’m giving these authors what I consider to be my most valuable resource – my time and attention. And yet, I understand that money is the resource that would be most useful.
The problem is that even at $5/month, subscribing to 30 Substacks isn’t something that’s financially feasible for me. Supporting one author with the equivalent of a Starbucks coffee each month is awesome. But the resources to support 30 – $150 per month – far outstrips my total fungible budget.
We’ve seen proof through crowdfunding and microlending that small sums of money can add up to make a big difference when many people contribute. That’s also how traditional print media worked – many authors came together to form a publication, which was funded in aggregate by advertisers and readers.
What if, on top of your existing Paid Subscriptions, there was a way to make a micro-contribution to a broader list of authors you’d like to support?
Here’s the pitch:
As a reader, you set this up from your own Substack dashboard. You identify the monthly amount you’d like to pay, and set up your payment method. Penny Subscriptions would have a relatively low minimum – say $10 per month.
From here, Substack would take their cut off the top, just as they do for author-based subscriptions. Ten percent ($1) goes to Substack. Substack would also collect the Stripe fees ($0.64 = $0.59 transaction fee and $0.05 recurring subscription fee ) since they’re administering the transaction.
This leaves you with $8.36 to distribute.
It probably makes sense to have a minimum contribution of, say, $0.10 per author per month. I imagine having a little dashboard that shows that I have $8.36 available to contribute, and indicates that this means I can elect to support up to 83 Substacks with a Penny Subscription. I can select as many or as few Substacks as I want, and the monthly pledge I have available would be evenly divided among those I’ve selected. Could it be fancier, with allocations and percentages? Sure. But I don’t think that’s necessary.
If I select 8 Substacks, each one would receive $1.04. When the division results in a fraction of a penny, I’d be happy to see Substack round down and keep the remainder as an administrative fee – in this hypothetical month, my authors would get $8.32 and Substack would get the $0.04 left over.
If I had 50 authors, my $10.00 pledge would look like this:
$1.00 to Substack
$0.64 to Stripe for fees
$0.16 to each author
$0.36 remainder to Substack
We could keep it simple – your Penny Subscription processes on a certain day of the month, and whichever Substacks you’ve decided to contribute to on that day get an equal share of the subscription. If you add or remove Substacks, this change would take effect the following billing cycle.
I wouldn’t expect authors to add any extra perks for this tiny level of support. Some authors might add a very minor perk, like opening comments to both Paid Subscribers and Penny Subscribers, but it wouldn’t be a requirement. This is more of a virtual tip jar than an exchange of money for perks.
The Penny Subscription option would add an additional layer to existing paid subscriptions; it wouldn’t replace them. I would expect that authors would still offer and encourage paid subscriptions of the current flavor – $5 or more per month.
On the payout side, micro-contributions would be aggregated until they reach a minimum payout threshold – perhaps $10. Admittedly this would require Substack to play a more active administrative role in collecting and distributing subscriptions than they have thus far – but it’s not a technically difficult problem to solve.
Penny Subscriptions offer a way for everyone to win and get a little bit more out of Substack.
Substack itself collects fees on the revenue.
Authors get more revenue. For some, it may be just a few dollars a year (enough for that cup of coffee). For those with thousands of subscribers, Penny Subscriptions could add a appreciable revenue stream.
Readers get a way to show support with our dollars, not just for the handful of publications that we can support with a significant investment, but also to others we appreciate.