Substack targets the UK, and hires away Elle editor-in-chief

The VC-funded newsletter platform looks to secure writers and increase growth in the UK — its second biggest market.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

In the wee small hours of this morning, an email dropped into my inbox. Substack's Hamish McKenzie announced a focus on developing their pool of publishers in the UK:

Today, we’re starting a concerted push to bring more U.K.-based writers to Substack, helped by our new head of writer partnerships for the region, Farrah Storr.

Storr, who is leaving her role as Elle editor-in-chief for the job, is on Twitter, where she hasn't posted in over a month, and Instagram, which is where she chose to announce the move. She mentions the difficulty of giving up a 22-year career in magazines, which included a stint as editor of Cosmo, but explains it thus:

But those of you who know and have worked with me will understand why the pull of helping ALL writers to be published and make money from that work was just too important to pass up. So for all of you who I have taught over the last few years, those who have had a burning idea that may not have been right for magazines or any of you who just want to unlock the writer inside of you, Substack means you can do just that.

It's worth taking a moment to note that discussion of Substack in the US has tended to focus on the news/politics/opinion writer axis, but that the company's remit is much broader than that. Look, for example, at the work they're doing in comics with ex-Captain America and Amazing Spider-Man writer Nick Spencer.

Substack goes lifestyle?

Choosing an ex-magazine journo to lead their UK expansion suggests a very different approach to the often “culture war”-centric stable of writers that have earned them both attention and controversy in the States. Perhaps that her job might be as much about expanding the company's reach in the lifestyle, fashion and consumer sectors as in the UK specifically. It'll certainly be interesting to watch.

The Times is reporting that Storr has already got a long list of people she wants to lure to the platform:

“My feeling is this is not going to be a hard sell,” she said, claiming that a number of writers were seeking independence and the chance to strike up a “very close, intimate relationship” with readers. She also will write her own newsletter.

And McKenzie confirmed to the newspaper that a pool of cash for Substack Pro type deals — essentially a big advance on the first year's likely profits — would be available to her. A few well-known British writers like Laurie Penny were swift into the comments on McKenzie's post to express interest.

2022 could be an interesting year in UK media circles. And it's also worth asking, where do Substack focus next? Other English-language markets like Australia, Canada and New Zealand? Or do they expand into different languages?

The newsletter boom is showing no signs of slowing down yet.


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.