The most we can say about earnings of Substack's top writers

Substack (a) brands itself as a “place for independent writing” where the writers can “start a newsletter” and “make money from subscriptions”. Most recently, Substack was in the news for becoming the new home of several famous journalists who (often with a scandal) left the publications they were writing for, in order to write independently.

Substack maintains a list (a) of its top writers where it features 25 publications that earn the most amount of money on its platform. For example:

Naively, we can estimate those publications' earnings as being somewhere between

Can we improve on those estimates? Yes we can. For The Pomp Letter, for example we can determine that it actually makes somewhere between $240k and 600k per year (before Substack’s 10% commission), big improvement on the Substack’s original estimate.

The reason we know The Pomp Letter makes at least $240k per year is that Substack also lists The Diff on 20th place and it has “Thousands of [paid] subscribers, $20/month” meaning that it makes at least $240k per year. Since The Pomp Letter makes more than The Diff, we can know for sure that it makes at least $240k.

From the other side The Pomp Letter is bounded by The Corners which is at 12th place and has “Thousands of [paid] subscribers, $5/month”, therefore making no more than $600k per year.

We can further improve those estimates by observing the changes from “hundreds” to “thousands” to “tens of thousands”. Assuming the wording changes exactly at 1,000 and 10,000 paid subscribers, the uncertainty is completely eliminated.

Below is the full table of the best possible earning estimates of all the top Substack writers, as of 2020-11-15, based on both bounds-based reasoning and the changes in orders of magnitude of the number of paid subscribers in October-November 2020.

rank publication ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ improved earnings estimate, after 10% commission ($/year) naive earnings estimate, before 10% commission ($/year) raw Substack’s data as of October-November 2020 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
1 The Dispatch 1.08m-10.8m 1.2m-12m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $10/month
2 Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson 1.08m-5.4m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
3 Bulwark+ 1.08m 1.2m-12m Thousands (a) / Tens of thousands (a) of subscribers, $10/month
4 Reporting by Matt Taibbi 648k-1.08m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
5 The Weekly Dish by Andrew Sullivan 648k-1.08m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
6 Sinocism by Bill Bishop 648k-1.08m 180k-1.8m Thousands of subscribers, $15/month
7 Glenn Greenwald 648k-1.08m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
8 Popular Information by Judd Legum 648k 720k-7.2m Thousands (a) / Tens of thousands (a) of subscribers, $6/month
9 PETITION 529k-648k 588k-5.88m Thousands of subscribers, $49/month
10 Everything 378k-648k 240k-2.4m Thousands of subscribers, $20/month
11 Persuasion by Yascha Mounk 378k-648k 120k-1.2m Thousands of subscribers, $10/month
12 The Corners by Nadia Bolz-Weber 378k-540k 60k-600k Thousands of subscribers, $5/month
13 The Pomp Letter by Anthony Pompliano 378k-540k 120k-1.2m Thousands of subscribers, $10/month
14 Lenny’s Newsletter by Lenny Rachitsky 378k-540k 180k-1.8m Thousands of subscribers, $15/month
15 The MacroTourist by Kevin Muir 378k 42k-420k Hundreds / Thousands (a) of subscribers, $35/month
16 The Bitcoin Forecast by Willy Woo 216k-378k 60k-600k Hundreds of subscribers, $50/month
17 HEATED by Emily Atkin 216k-378k 96k-960k Thousands of subscribers, $8/month
18 Tipping Point Prophecy Update by Jimmy Evans 216k-378k 84k-840k Thousands of subscribers, $7/month
19 The Message Box 216k-378k 84k-840k Thousands of subscribers, $7/month
20 The Diff by Byrne Hobart 216k-378k 240k-2.4m Thousands of subscribers, $20/month
21 Notes on the Crises by Nathan Tankus 130k-378k 120k-1.2m Thousands of subscribers, $10/month
22 The Daily Poster 130k-378k 60k-600k Thousands of subscribers, $5/month
23 Exponential View by Azeem Azhar 130k-378k 144k-1.44m Thousands of subscribers, $12/month
24 Erick Erickson’s Confessions of a Political Junkie by Erick-Wood Erickson 130k-378k 84k-840k Thousands of subscribers, $7/month
25 Slow Boring 130k-378k 96k-960k Thousands of subscribers, $8/month

Lower bound is from here (a)

Further reading

How Substack Became Milquetoast (a)

How to Become Famous on Substack Overnight (in Ten Years) (a)

Appendix: bounds-only table

rank publication ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ improved earnings estimate, after 10% commission ($/year) naive earnings estimate, before 10% commission ($/year) raw Substack’s data as of 2020-11-15 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
1 The Dispatch 1.08m-10.8m 1.2m-12m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $10/month
2 Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson 1.08m-5.4m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
3 Bulwark+ 1.08m-5.4m 1.2m-12m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $10/month
4 Reporting by Matt Taibbi 648k-5.4m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
5 The Weekly Dish by Andrew Sullivan 648k-5.4m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
6 Sinocism by Bill Bishop 648k-1.62m 180k-1.8m Thousands of subscribers, $15/month
7 Glenn Greenwald 648k-1.62m 600k-6m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $5/month
8 Popular Information by Judd Legum 648k-1.62m 720k-7.2m Tens of thousands of subscribers, $6/month
9 PETITION 529k-1.62m 588k-5.88m Thousands of subscribers, $49/month
10 Everything 216k-1.62m 240k-2.4m Thousands of subscribers, $20/month
11 Persuasion by Yascha Mounk 216k-1.08m 120k-1.2m Thousands of subscribers, $10/month
12 The Corners by Nadia Bolz-Weber 216k-540k 60k-600k Thousands of subscribers, $5/month
13 The Pomp Letter by Anthony Pompliano 216k-540k 120k-1.2m Thousands of subscribers, $10/month
14 Lenny’s Newsletter by Lenny Rachitsky 216k-540k 180k-1.8m Thousands of subscribers, $15/month
15 The MacroTourist by Kevin Muir 216k-378k 42k-420k Hundreds of subscribers, $35/month
16 The Bitcoin Forecast by Willy Woo 216k-378k 60k-600k Hundreds of subscribers, $50/month
17 HEATED by Emily Atkin 216k-378k 96k-960k Thousands of subscribers, $8/month
18 Tipping Point Prophecy Update by Jimmy Evans 216k-378k 84k-840k Thousands of subscribers, $7/month
19 The Message Box 216k-378k 84k-840k Thousands of subscribers, $7/month
20 The Diff by Byrne Hobart 216k-378k 240k-2.4m Thousands of subscribers, $20/month
21 Notes on the Crises by Nathan Tankus 130k-378k 120k-1.2m Thousands of subscribers, $10/month
22 The Daily Poster 130k-378k 60k-600k Thousands of subscribers, $5/month
23 Exponential View by Azeem Azhar 130k-378k 144k-1.44m Thousands of subscribers, $12/month
24 Erick Erickson’s Confessions of a Political Junkie by Erick-Wood Erickson 86k-378k 84k-840k Thousands of subscribers, $7/month
25 Slow Boring 86k-378k 96k-960k Thousands of subscribers, $8/month

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