Substack, an online subscription platform for popular authors like Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan, is setting its sights on disrupting the world of book publishing.
Former Forbes media and entertainment writer Zack O’Malley Greenberg has told Media Inc. that he has received an advance to write a book for Substack, titled “We’re All Musicians Now.”
The book will be released later this month on Substack in a serialized format — with chapters dropping once a week.
This would be the fifth book for Greenberg, who was just completed a revised version “Empire State of Mind”, about Jay-Z, for Penguin Random House’s portfolio imprint, which comes with the subtitle, “Billionaire Edition.”
But Greenberg, who also wrote “Michael Jackson Inc.” As for Simon & Schuster, they opted to go the Substack route for their next book because it offered them more financial leverage, he said.
“Overall, with advance funding being in the same ballpark, I would prefer to move to a place where I can be my own boss with a higher upside rather than trying to force it through an outdated business model that I feel broken,” she said.
Greenberg declined to say how much advance he received, but said it was comparable to what he received for more traditional book publications. On top of that, he’ll charge $5 per month or $50 a year for “We’re All Musicians Now,” which describes how the music industry was forced to reinvent itself after being blown away by the digital revolution. was, and how it can now act as a role model for other industries facing technological upheaval.
If Substack gets its way, one of those industries could soon be book publishing.
Substack was launched in 2017 as a way for writers, including essayists and political commentators, to develop a paying audience through subscription newsletters. Writers can distribute their newsletters for free as they build a following or subscribe out of the gate.
Greenberg said he would also offer a free newsletter on music, media and money starting this week.
The practice of pulling out chapters of a book little by little is not new. It was popular even before television, when magazines used it to entice readers and keep coming back week after week.
According to Substack, it is now making a comeback in digital form.
A Substack spokesperson said without providing details, “Jack is one of the first writers to increase the number of authors serializing books, both fiction and nonfiction.”
One lure may be that Substack gives authors complete control over their readers. The online platform, founded by Chris Best, Jayaraj Sethi and Harnish McKenzie, makes money by cutting revenue. In the first year, Substack takes 5 percent of the subscription’s revenue, and then increases its deductible to 10 percent, typically in year two.
“My first four books have total sales of over 100,000”, Greenberg said. “If I can get a good percentage of them to follow me at Substack, I’ll be happy.”