Think newsletters, and there’s a fair chance you’ll be transported back to 1992 and your school’s stapled A4 missive, complete with bad clipart and a slightly blurry crest, or maybe the annual family update that your grandmother sent with the Christmas cards.
Substack, though, is not your nanna’s newsletter – it’s big business. The platform, which launched in 2017 as a way for writers to send newsletters directly to their readers, while monetising their work by putting it behind a paywall, boasts more than a million paid subscribers (and countless more who enjoy free content). The top 10 newsletters collectively earn US$20m a year.
Critics say that Substack goes against the collective interest, lacking the crucial checks, balances and staff of a newsroom. Fans say it’s a way for journalists to free themselves from commercial constraints that come with advertising, and earn a solid living.
And us? We just keep hitting the subscribe button. Here’s what we love, now:
Amy Odell’s Back Row bills itself as the newsletter that publishes what legacy media can’t, and it’s not short on straight talk about the fashion industry. Come for the insider vibe, stay for the red carpet coverage.
Best for: the discerning beauty fanatic
Jessica DeFino’s The Unpublishable is like that smart, feminist aunt who’s seen how the sausage is made and isn’t afraid to call it out. In this case, the sausage is the beauty industry and DeFino the salty guide who’s there to rant about beauty standards and BS celebrity lines (most memorably, one post was titled “Eat Shit Kim Kardashian”).
Best for: confessional journalism & cultural commentary
Farrah Storr is the ex-editor of Elle and Cosmo in the UK, and her newsletter, Things Worth Knowing, reminds us of our favourite women’s magazines – but with more intimacy. From diet culture to career fulfillment, Storr always has a smart take on the subject.
Best for: brain food
Anne Helen Peterson’s Culture Study promises to make you think, and it delivers. Subscribe to Culture Study and you can expect elegant but accessible thoughts on burn out, capitalism, celebrity and everything in between.
Best for: midlife women
Eleanor Mills’ Queenager is changing how we think and feel about being of an age that in previous generations was considered frumpy or past it. It’s impossible to read and not feel empowered about ageing.
Leandra Medine Cohen’s The Cereal Aisle bills itself as a newsletter about getting dressed, which it is, with styling tips, Medine’s personal picks and ideas for outfits. But it’s also a lot more, with musings about motherhood, the fashion industry and even mysticism.
The Spread is like listening in to a chat between funny friends and talented journos Rachel and Maggie as they talk about what’s catching their attention, and sharing what they’re reading, watching and listening to. Their pop culture radar is a finely tuned beast, but they’re never intimidating.
Best for: deep thinkers
As a former journalist, author and founder of the the international I Quit Sugar movement Sarah Wilson knows a thing or two about deep-diving into a topic and trying to understand the ripple effects of the choices we make. That’s exactly what she does each week in her This is Precious newsletter, a candid and conversational read that traverses topics from the climate crisis to the philosophical issues with Instagram’s new algorithm.
Best for: smart, stylish recommendations
Sophie McComas-Williams and Sophie Roberts are the likable hosts of the podcast Highly Enthused, and their Substack comes in the form of a list of recommendations on everything from recipes to new restaurants, books and music.
Still looking for newsletter recommendations? Have you signed up to PRIMER’s very own free, weekly newsletter? (You should)