I was fascinated to see James Tynion explain his thinking about the Substack Pro deal in one of his three mailings today: “The opportunity in Substack has always lay in being daring, in trying a few things outside the box. That’s why my Substack is filled with all of my weirdo UFO and Cryptid stuff. That’s why, moving forward, you’re going to see me experiment with different ways to make and format comic projects. This is where I come to play, build, and try things out. This is where I get to be a bit of a mad scientist and make things that I want to make simply because I want to make them.”
That’s certainly one of the opportunities made possible by the Substack Pro funding. By essentially underwriting the cost of production entirely, it frees up creators to follow their bliss and ambition and go wild to a degree they’re unlikely to find elsewhere, which is surely an unmissable opportunity for fans of any given creator. (The potential for ambitious navel gazing
is, I admit, a significant draw for me when it comes to Morrison’s Substack. But then, I’m someone who bought the Fortune Hotel
anthology just to read It Was The ‘90s
.) Something that’s nagging at me, though, and has been since the program was first announced back in June last year
, is this: what does Substack get out of all of this?
While the company is understandably not going to reveal just how much it’s investing in comics, we can surmise that it’s a substantial amount, with creators rumored to be receiving six-figure grants for one year. Multiply that by the number of creators already signed up, and that’s a chunk of money to spend for something where the company isn’t claiming any intellectual property or media rights on the work created. So, what does Substack get here? What’s a win, for them?
After talking to the company a lot — no, really, a lot
— in the past six months, the best I can surmise is that all of the Substack Pro comics deals are, essentially, loss leaders. The company is spending the money to, ideally, establish Substack as a viable platform for comics creators and readers alike, so that additional comics creators sign up without
the grants, allowing Substack to start making
money via the cut it takes from each subscription. It is, as the company itself put it, betting on comics
as a potentially lucrative revenue stream in the future.
It’s not the worst plan, even if it might be one of the more expensive on the front end. Comics have been a substantial part of Kickstarter’s success (Well, at least until that company’s crypto announcement
), with comics projects enjoying year-on-year growth for the past three years, and a success rate that’s double the site average. There’s certainly an audience — and, perhaps more importantly, a paying
audience — out there for an alternative to the weekly trip to the comic store, so why not see if Substack could be part of that picture?