Substack Founders Appeal to Elon Musk for Business Friendship

An image of a stoic Elon Musk appears next to an image of a happy, wide-armed Chris Best.
Elon Musk (left) and Chris Best (right) Getty

Substack and Twitter have had their quarrels, but Substack’s founders appear ready to put their tiffs in the past to take on Threads—Meta (META)’s new Twitter-like social media network. Hamish McKenzie, Substack co-founder and chief writing officer, appealed to Elon Musk for a partnership over the weekend.

“Threads looks like a genuine threat to Twitter,” McKenzie said in a tweet on July 8. Tagging Elon Musk, he added, “Now might be a good time to stop treating Substack as a foe and start thinking of it as a friend. Independent writers would welcome it.”

Substack, the newsletter service, has increasingly positioned itself as a competitor to Twitter in recent months. McKenzie has criticized Musk’s business decisions and attempted to convince users to try his own site. The company pushed campaigns on how to move Twitter followers to Substack, and it earned a “significant bump” in users following Musk’s purchase of Twitter, McKenzie previously told Observer. Substack also developed a Notes feature, which resembles a Twitter feed.

As a result, Twitter temporarily marked links to Substack articles as “potentially spammy or unsafe” and limited engagement allowed with these posts, the Verge reported. Musk and the Substack founders went back and forth about the issue—Musk claimed Substack tried to download a large portion of Twitter’s database, and Substack CEO Chris Best said the company was in compliance with Twitter’s API terms. Twitter has since cut Substack off from its API, so writers aren’t able to embed tweets into their articles, the founders said in a blog post.

McKenzie’s proposal comes on the heels of Meta’s Threads launch. In the week since it launched, 100 million users have signed up, according to Instagram head Adam Mosseri. Threads will not amplify political posts and hard news, Mosseri posted on July 8. The text-based social platform will instead focus on content like sports, music, fashion and entertainment. Twitter has  368 million daily active users.

Meta’s platforms, including Instagram and Facebook, have strayed from journalism recently, in part because of proposed legislation that could require the company to pay news publishers when links to their articles appear on Meta’s sites. The announcement that Threads won’t promote news isn’t surprising, but it doesn’t create much incentive for Substack writers to build followings on the app. Instead, it could justify a business relationship between Substack and Twitter, where many writers already have audiences. Twitter responded to Observer’s questions with a poop emoji, which it has been doing since March. A Substack spokesperson declined to comment.

Writers for the newsletter service posted their support for a partnership between Substack and Twitter, and Best retweeted many of the posts. It would “rapidly come to dominate culture,” said Mike Solana, who writes for a Substack newsletter with 58,000 subscribers. McKenzie and Best didn’t clarify what a business friendship would look like, but they are likely suggesting that a rollback of the measures instituted by Twitter—which limit the sharing of Substack articles—could benefit both companies. Musk didn’t publicly respond to the posts from the founders.

As of February, Substack had 2 million paying subscribers and 20 million monthly active users, the founders said in a post. Many of its top newsletters by traffic focus on politics and investigative journalism—including Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson, a Boston College history professor; Racket News by journalist Matt Taibbi; and The Free Press by journalist Bari Weiss. Taibbi has 1.8 million followers on Twitter, and Weiss has 988,000. Only Weiss’s newsletter appears on Threads, and it has less than 1,000 followers. On Twitter, The Free Press profile reaches 187,000 users.

Substack’s Threads account has less than 1,500 followers, while its Instagram has 29,000 and Twitter has 135,000. Neither McKenzie nor Best appear on Threads.

Substack Founders Appeal to Elon Musk for Business Friendship


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