Substack signs former Forbes writer as he seeks to disrupt book publishing

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Substack, an online subscription platform for popular writers like Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan, looks set to disrupt the world of book publishing.

Former Forbes media and entertainment writer Zack O’Malley Greenburg revealed to Media Ink that he received an advance to write a book for Substack called “We Are All Musicians Now”.

The book will be released on Substack later this month in a serialized format – with chapters dropping out once a week.

This will be Greenburg’s fifth book, which comes from completed a revised version of “Empire State of Mind”, about Jay-Z, for the Penguin Random House Portfolio imprint which comes with the subtitle “Billionaire’s Edition”.

But Greenburg, who also wrote “Michael Jackson Inc.” for Simon & Schuster, went the Substack route for their next book because it gave them more financial benefits, he said.

“Overall with the money up front being on the same line, I’d rather go somewhere where I can be my own boss with a higher advantage than trying to force it to go through. an old business model that I think is broken, “he said.

Greenburg declined to say how much upfront he received, but said it was comparable to what he received for more traditional book publications. On top of that, it will charge $ 5 per month or $ 50 per year for “We Are All Musicians Now,” which details how the music industry was forced to reinvent itself after being turned upside down by the digital revolution, and how she can now act. as a model for other industries facing technological upheaval.

If Substack is successful, one of those industries could soon be book publishing.

Zack O'Malley Greenburg speaking on stage at a 2019 SXSW event.
Zack O’Malley Greenburg has said he hopes a good percentage of his readers will follow him on Substack.
Getty Images for SXSW

Substack was launched in 2017 as a way for writers, including essayists and political commentators, to develop a paid audience through subscription newsletters. Writers can distribute their newsletters for free as they build an audience or charge for a subscription upfront.

Greenburg said it will also be offering a free music, media and money newsletter starting this week on zogblog.substack.com.

The practice of dribbling book chapters bit by bit is not new. It was popular long before television even, when magazines and newspapers used it to attract and keep readers coming back week after week. Charles Dickens published “Oliver Twist” as serialization in London from 1837 to 1839, the book itself only being released halfway through serialization. Tom Wolfe published “The Bonfire of Vanities” in 1984 as a soap opera in Rolling Stone.

Cover of "We are all musicians now"
Zack O’Malley Greenburg’s new book, “We Are All Musicians Now”, will be released on Substack later this month in a serialized format – with chapters dropping once a week.
Handout

It could now make a comeback in digital form, according to Substack.

“Zack is among the first of what appears to be a growing number of authors serializing books, both fiction and non-fiction,” a Substack spokeswoman said, without providing details.

A lure could be that Substack gives writers full control over their readership, including email addresses. The online platform, founded by Chris Best, Jairaj Sethi and Hamish McKenzie, earns money by taking a share of the income generated by writers.

For writers or podcasters who don’t receive upfront, Substack takes 10 percent of subscription revenue, but a spokesperson said it will take 85 percent of first-year revenue if they received an advance.

For authors of books with great advancements, Substack can swallow up 85% of first year earnings. After the first year, the Substack reduction typically drops to ten percent for book authors, the spokesperson said.

In traditional book publishing, authors do not receive royalties until the advance is fully covered.

“Sales of my first four books totaled over 100,000 copies,” Greenburg said. “If I can get a good percentage of them to follow me to Substack, I’ll be happy.”

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