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Substack built a global following for allowing writers to publish newsletters where content – and not fancy marketing layouts – are king.

However its reputation lies in tatters after it was accused by The Atlantic of allowing neo-Nazis to spread their message of hate – and even monetise it – by refusing to de-platform them.

The problem peaked when Casey Newton took more than 172,000 subscribers to his Platformer newsletter elsewhere. The veteran American technology reporter was unimpressed by the views of Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie, who wrote in a blog post that “we don’t think that censorship (including through demonetising publications) makes the problem go away – in fact, it makes it worse”.

McKenzie added: “We believe that supporting individual rights and civil liberties while subjecting ideas to open discourse is the best way to strip bad ideas of their power. We are committed to upholding and protecting freedom of expression, even when it hurts.”

In addition, the recent introduction of a recommendation engine and Twitter-style social network in Notes means that Substack can no longer claim to be a mere infrastructure platform, but a proper network of users.

Martin SFP Bryant, founder of PreSeed Now and editor of several other prominent newsletters, says this completely hands-off content moderation policy could be a problem for Substack when creators are choosing a platform.

“The view that it’s better to provide a platform for these people to expose their views – sunlight is the best disinfectant – I don’t agree with,” Bryant told TechBlast’s Launchpad podcast.

“In the end, you are associating your brand with incredibly hateful people. And that’s not a good look.

“After all the furore around it, Substack did say they were going to remove five Nazi-linked newsletters – but not all of the ones that had been found by people who’ve been looking into [and reporting on] this. And they didn’t say they were going to remove them as standard in future. 

“They are taking money from people that you might morally, or for business reasons, not want to be connected with. That’s a problem; it’s something to think about when you choose a platform.”

PreSeed Now, like many other newsletters in the UK, is published on Substack. Bryant was already planning to move away from the platform before the controversy due to limitations on tiered pricing, but praised the simplicity of its interface.

“It doesn’t offer a lot of customisation when it comes to layout – it’s very opinionated in how it thinks your newsletter should look – but that’s fine because it looks good. They’ve thought hard about how it’s presented and so it’s easy to read and easy to put together.”

Bryant says social media consultant Matt Navarra’s weekly Geekout newsletter, which he edits and sends to around 50,000 subscribers, uses beehiiv.

Further platforms include non-profit open-source publishing platform Ghost – which now hosts Platformer – Campaign Monitor and MailChimp.

“People think of MailChimp because it has been around for years and years and years,” Bryant said. “Its interface is far more designed for marketing emails; its pricing is far more around advertising and marketing rather than around content.”

WordPress – the most popular content management system in the world – has a newsletter feature which almost no one knows about.

Speaking on Launchpad, Bryant offered several pearls of wisdom for people looking to craft a knockout newsletter while looking back on a 15-year career of covering early stage startups, including several years as editor-in-chief of The Next Web.

Launchpad, brought to you in association with Tyto PR, reveals what it takes to scale a successful technology startup via honest conversations with entrepreneurs, investors & other key industry players who have a story to tell. You can listen to previous episodes of the podcast and subscribe via your preferred platform here.

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