Though great for niche info, wonkery, and giving voice to apostates, Substacks fail at something specific.
What’s amazing to me is how much of Substack is opinion pieces. Some of which and good and enjoyable - put I do prefer to listen to opinion with my ears. When I read an op-ed in the NYT or WSJ I almost get distracted by the empty holes by suspect facts or leaps in logic. Podcasts fill that void do well - it is a conversation that isn’t supposed to be comprehensive.
Now, written articles are great for conveying facts. Most newspaper articles worth their subscription are well done and give you a fairly decent comprehensive view of the topic. On Substack I mostly read fact pieces. Numlock News is also a good fact aggregator. Popular Information is a great investigative news stack I almost always read.
I do disagree, sort of, with the personality coming through podcasts vs Substacks. They are both a choice. Mike is fairly open about himself on The Gist -we think. Consider how little we hear of his sports interests vs what percentage he cares about it IRL. Same about his family or his previous employment. He makes rational choices about what he wants to share.
And, as to the known personality of the written mediums, I point you Xandra Ellin when she was writing the newsletter for On The Media. That was essentially a Substack post. We got know her pretty well - I think.
I am looking forward to see where Mike takes this.
I definitely agree with the sentiment of your post. I do feel I kinda ‘know’ people on podcasts better than, those who’s newsletter or blog I read. That said …
To spend time listening to a podcast is a big time commitment. Example - listening to The Gist each week day requires me to devote around 2% of all my available time on that day, which translates to (maybe) 25% of my ‘disposable time’ (8hrs of sleep, 8hrs of work, (say) 6hrs of ‘life’ leaves 2 of disposable time).
Yes I can do other things while I listen, but it is still time intensive. PLUS, there is a commitment to that time to even get to know whether I want to listen. I know I can speed up the podcast - but really?
Meanwhile, I can grok newsletters, blogs et al pretty quickly and make a decision if I really want to commit time to reading it. So to get to information - the written word every time. To get to ‘know’ someone … audio.
But there won’t therefore be a large number of people in that category that I really ‘know’ - if in fact any. Example: despite listening to the Gist for many years - because I like the show and more often than not enjoy what you are talking about - I still don’t really ‘know’ you.
I am trying to promote joy, sir! https://williamfleitch.substack.com/p/volume-4-issue-54-mike-shannon
Joe Posnanski gives me great joy on substack. You do on the podcast. Joe not as good on the podcast. You not as good on substack. I am very witty in person.
I love Anne Kadet's Substack, Café Anne. A weekly dose of NY. It gives me joy. https://annekadet.substack.com/
I like substacks because they remind me of the heydey of blogging which most everyone seemed to dump for Twitter, which is much worse (IMO). That said, I listen to podcasts, including yours. Like anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to any medium and I don't think one is necessarily any better than another. I've listened to you more than I've read you, so don't have a fair comparison, but you do really well in the podcast format which let's your personality come through.
Thanks. I consume everything at 1.25 and 1.5x speed, but I think that’s the problem. Multitasking and words-whizzing = some lucid dream-like reflections.
Fun fact, I love ya, Mike, but I’ve listened to you so long at 1.5x (now 1.25x) speed, your voice at regular speed is actually a distraction. 😆 Cheers!
“The best you can do is play defense. It is simply not an environment commensurate with enjoyment.”
This is how I’ve felt for a while. I joined Medium to write and enjoy thoughtful missives, but it became too much with all my other morning briefs (@MorningBrew for a recommendation). And now I discover (rather later admittedly) Substack!!
FOMO has literally become FIMO (f* it, miss out) for me.
But, I enjoy your podcast, and I’m making it a point to slow down, single-source focus (or uni-task, as they say), and see if I can re-re-wire my brain to enjoy reading again. And for what it’s worth, this article and my intentional comment was enjoyable. Thanks.
Great observation...but I'll throw out that Garbage Day gives me joy! Super insightful if you want to understand the intrenet but is also full of just a wonderfully random mix of weirdness from around the web that only someone who deeply, deeply loves the dark edges of the internet could find...and his joy comes through and is contagious.
I suspect new ideas thrive more in the written form because the written word feels far more shareable. I know I have a much harder time getting a friend to listen to an hour long episode of a podcast than I do getting them to read an article.
I subscribe to too many podcasts and newsletters. There are many podcasts that spark joy to me, with The Gist being one. There's only one newsletter that really does and that's TGIF by Nelly Bowles. There are a couple of Substack newsletters that I pay for but they also have podcasts and videos attached to them. I feel much closer to people I can see and hear than just read. Oddly enough I don't think I have ever heard or seeen Nelly Bowles.
One interesting attempt to thread this needle is Jeff Maurer’s ‘I Might Be Wrong’ substack (which I lustily recommend: https://open.substack.com/pub/imightbewrong). He writes regularly and, every [less-frequent interval], he does a podcast where he reads one of his posts. BUT, the podcast is at LEAST 20% digression and aside that wasn’t present in the original essay/think-piece. I thoroughly enjoy the experience.
I subscribed to one Substack before yours, and I unsubscribed to that other one after about 4 emails. I’ve browsed around for others, but nothing has compelled me to subscribe. I don’t get the phenomenon — they’re part newsletter, part blog? Very much in the areas of navel-gazing and self-promotion? If I wanted to read more, I’d just read more articles in more (and more varied) newspapers. I think I’ll stick to podcasts because I can listen while walking the dog, sewing, or raking leaves. Plus, the human voice aspect, which you mentioned, is a great part of my enjoyment of podcasts.
This is a really good point: SubStacks don't promote joy. I'll do my own best at exactly that when I start getting active on my own SubStack. Thanks for making that pojnt.
The substacks I love vary, from well researched longreads to daily musings. But the ones I like a lot are a hybrid of text and audio, like Glenn Loury's - which has evolved from a podcast to having a written substack as well.
Money Stuff by Matt Levine is via Bloomberg instead of Substack, but seems like it would qualify. It's not the same as the podcasts I love, but it is great and I never skip reading it all, including the footnotes. He fills it with wit and humor, and while it is wonky it can be enjoyed by anyone.