I've been typing-up some thoughts regarding Nostr in recent days, and I came to a controversial conclusion that I wanted to share with you Stackers and get some discussion on.

Substack will need to adopt Nostr this decade in order to survive to 2030.

Sounds hyperbolic but hear me out on my reasons below...

Substack Growth

  • The company's growth since their launch in 2017 has been insane. They have done an incredible job of riding the "anti-establishment" movement and empowering individuals to monetise & build new bottom-up communities. At a time when legacy media institutions are failing society.
  • Given they are not yet a public company, up-to-date subscriber numbers are not available but we can expect that their subscriber numbers are far higher than they were 2 years prior at the end of 2021:
  • Their recommendation engine and closed system has worked well for them up until this point, generating up to 20% of revenue for creators as a whole. Substack are able to find similar creators/communities to push out to users, rather than advertising externally to non-paying users. However it should be emphasised that 80% of revenue still needs to be generated by creators by attracting new users.
  • Currently creators are coerced into adopting Substack as the primary gate for their community, given that there exists no API functionality. So plugging Substack into your existing community is far trickier to achieve. Creators depend on Substack to NOT censor their content and to cross-promote posts inside their closed system.
  • If Substack growth was to stagnate however, creators will not be able to keep topping-up the punch-bowl with fresh juice.


  • Substack laid off 14% of their staff previously and abandoned plans to raise additional venture funding in 2022. They are not currently public, meaning fewer finance options are available to them.
  • Substack currently takes 10% of all fees through their platform and if subscription revenues were to take a hit and new subscribers were to stall, they may be forced to raise fees to 15 or 20%. That would almost certainly in turn lead to those with established communities to take their subscribers elsewhere. Particularly as their payment processor takes their cut too.

Calls for Censorship

  • This past month, Substack has come under scrutiny for not censoring "nazi-like" content. The mainstream media was overwhelming on this. With WSJ, The Verge and NYT placing them in the crosshairs. Substack have since refused to back-down and their CEO on his own newsletter confirmed as so.
  • Substack are acutely aware that if they demonetize or restrict content, that it will lead to the downfall of their business and a mass exodus from their creator platform.
  • Their terms of service of course still include the following:
We reserve the right to remove any content from Substack at any time, for any reason (including, but not limited to, if someone alleges you contributed that content in violation of these Terms), in our sole discretion, and without notice.
  • Substack do not have control over how their content is distributed to users (majority are outside the Substack app). It may therefore be possible in the years ahead for fewer emails to make their way to their destination. A new type of shadow-banning could emerge. Companies like X/Twitter (who are now competing with their own subscription service) may also prevent Substack links & threads from gaining traction inside their consumer-facing 'super apps'. Substack is extremely vulnerable.


  • Substack as a company is HIGHLY dependent upon big tech and legacy social media for new user acquisition. It does not control it's own growth engine, or it's own destiny.
  • The team at Substack has recently introduced a 'notes' feature with mixed results. The intention was to lure people to download and use their app and avoid the dependency on Twitter/YouTube for new signups. The jury is still out whether this has worked, but with 10-15% readership inside the app for communities - I would conclude that is not yet the case.
  • Substack up until now has only had Stripe setup as a payment processor. Stripe retains credit card details and emails of those who pay for any service via the Substack platform. This would have become a problem for Substack, which is why they have a beta for accepting direct debit & bank account payments:
  • Today, less than 10% of content is viewed through the Substack app on iOS/Android. Almost all content is read via email (70-80% depending on the community, with the next biggest source being the desktop site). Email deserves it's own topic.


  • Substack relies upon a flawed protocol in the form of email. I will soon be posting more about email privacy in the ~privacy territory. Keep an eye out for that.
  • What we often forget of is that every email and every piece of content distributed by Substack can be read and censored by big tech.
  • Google and Apple make up for the vast majority of email clients currently (86.78%), and given they can and do have access to emails passing through their clients - this may become more of an issue moving forward for businesses like Substack.

Why Nostr is the solution

  • I would argue Substack revenue is more vulnerable than any other company to increasing calls for censorship. More so than X (who have their own app user-base), more so than Google (who have YouTube, mobile hardware and a search monopoly) and more so than legacy media like WSJ and others.
  • Substack needs to adopt Nostr because their values (listed below) depend on censorship resistance.
    1. Great work is valuable and deserves to be rewarded with money.
    2. The people have the power.
    3. A free press and free speech are fundamental to a trustworthy media system.
    4. We help readers take back their mind.
  • Without new subscribers and without funding from public markets to get more active app users, Substack will need to raise their revenue-share in short order. This will in turn push creators to look elsewhere.
  • If Substack was to adopt Nostr, they will safeguard their future against increasing calls for censorship and allow them to pursue their courageous values in the face of their dependencies on publicly-listed third parties.
  • The switch would not be easy, it would demand they overhaul their infrastructure and reliance on email. It would mean they'd have to at long last support markdown formatting for content creators. And they would need to adopt Bitcoin lightning payments.
  • If Substack don't, this is a huge opportunity for Nostr clients to replicate the Substack model and eat their lunch. To allow subscriptions in private communities that can cross-sell with one another. Communities with built-in chat, engaging long-form posts and even podcasts, videocalls & badges embedded.
  • My bet is on the latter in these next few years. Substack may be eaten from all sides - by the Nostr open-network, by legacy media and by big tech. Therefore my conclusion is that...

Substack must pivot to Nostr & Bitcoin to still be around by 2030.

Nostr has a long ways to go to survive another year, let alone be a solution for anyone in 2030. Let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
438 sats \ 2 replies \ @kr 1 Jan
if you had to guess, what are the odds Nostr is going to be around (with some kind of commercial traction/potential) in 2030?
It's just way too early to even ask those questions. I think there's a high likelihood it'll be around in a year and that's about all I can predict. It solves a problem for me today so that's all I care about.
21 sats \ 0 replies \ @kr 1 Jan
fair enough
934 sats \ 5 replies \ @kr 1 Jan
if you were to pitch Substack on how Nostr can help Substack earn more revenue today (one thing they probably care deeply about), how would you do it?
900 sats \ 1 reply \ @davidw OP 1 Jan
The overriding theme would be that their technology stack doesn't support any of their mission or principles:
Technology - Email focus is unencrypted, slow App adoption User Acquisition - Competing Social Media companies as their funnel Payments - Credit Cards, Banking - bottleneck
... all completely misaligned & outside of their control. They need freedom-focused technology & developers able to fight their corner.
Edit: It's not so much about earning more revenue tomorrow, I believe they also need to protect their growth and not be a sitting duck. I may need to think more deeply about this though and come back with my 21 slide powerpoint presentation.
417 sats \ 0 replies \ @kr 1 Jan
they seem to be doing well on their first principle, but i can see how their tech stack may cause them to fall short on the others today.
imo it feels like a very hard sell from a revenue standpoint today. nobody is making money on nostr yet, and while i think it has promise as a protocol, i don’t think Substack will be persuaded by Nostr’s principles until there is precedent for sustainable and profitable Nostr businesses.
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10 sats \ 1 reply \ @kr 1 Jan
i’m not sure that is a meaningful contributor to their revenue today.
i think their revenue comes from giving writers direct access to monetize their audience.
censorship may become important, but i don’t think that is a core feature or concern for substack today.
I think we have peaked long form content.
Hard to disagree, at least on the monetisation side. The cost of information is definitely artificially high due to distrust with legacy media. People increasingly will tighten their budgets and focus spending money on necessities (food & energy). Companies like Substack would then need to increase their 'cut' or pricing which in turn will see people abandon the platform. A doom loop. But we're probably not there yet.
I don't see something like Substack moving to nostr, they're already on their 5th round of funding with guys like A16z involved so you more likely to see crypto should they start to explore this space, rather than bitcoin and nostr
I think that nost has to create its own brands and clients, offering alternatives and see if users want to migrate over, key management isn't something the average person is comfortable with yet, its still a huge barrier to entry and tech companies are all about how to reduce barriers, get users in drive growth and manage churn
Yup. NOSTR will continue to be little more than a niche hobbyist type thing, unless/until they are able to find a way to more seamlessly incorporate the use of key management. It should be entirely behind the scenes, so that users don't even have to know it's something being utilized until it is absolutely necessary.
Otherwise, forget about it. Just look at how few people use things which are objectively useful like PGP for e-mail/communication, to sign with their actual keys. But then look at how many people use supposedly secure e-mail services like protonmail, mailfence, etc.
This is the direction NOSTR needs to go in, if it wants to be successful. There simply are not enough people within the Bitcoin & related nerd communities to sustain it otherwise.
Yeah I am with you, while key management users will grow over time, I don't see it becoming mainstream anytime soon, Bitcoin has the obvious incentive of hey its your money and even then people aren't all that jazzed about it, so why would hey its your content be any different, short of like mass de-platforming or something like that
I guess apps can offer nostr as an account/onboarding service, so you can still do your usual email and all that other stuff but have nostr as a fall back.
If nostr could become something like an OAuth service that an alternative to Gooogle, Microsoft and Facebook, maybe there is something there
People will learn. And solutions will come. Look how far the protocol has come in 2.5 years. The pace is astounding. We already essentially have feature parity with Twitter/Reddit/YouTube & more. I don’t buy it that this thing fails, because it’s too complex or too small or that we won’t figure these things out.
People will innovate and improve the key management. Just like the community will bring “actually private” email to Nostr.
Every other implementation of ‘decentralised’ content, creates a single point of failure, plus is limited to social media use case. Sure, we’ll see people setup their own Discourse server or Elements server (by Matrix). The communities themselves will likely have their domain and hosting taken down. Needing to reupload elsewhere and communicate the new site to their community. The architecture is using old thinking, but the world is different now with Nostr.
Yes, it’s early and my comments may be a little shy of the mark, but Substack is really in great danger of becoming the next Myspace in my opinion. They depend on others to not squeeze them, when the incentives are there for them to do just that. You’re probably right that they’ll either try and exit by going public or they’ll create their own token and avoid Nostr altogether. That’s fine too, something else will fill that void they create.
Things always move fast in the beginning, there is hype, enthusiasm, and exploring new ideas, but it is the slow grind to product market fit that makes things more than just a GitHub page
Having a good idea, doesn't always translate into a disruption that can break a worldwide network effect IE email or centralised oAuth. But based on what i've seen so far something like nsec bunker could be an option, if all clients adopt it and add it to onboarding or account management, then it helps bring in users, and they now have a nostr connected account
As for services like Substack, why wouldn't they just kick off "problematic creators" and move on, those creators can move to a more anti-fragile service like nostr, while Substack continues on.
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cool, just got a response:
Upon additional review we've determined that your account is in violation of Substack's Content Guidelines and will not be reactivated.
I still not getting it...
An extensive analysis on substack. This very fate may befall Bitcoin Magazine, although I feel it will happen sooner than 2030 for the two.
Just saying thank you for writing ✍️ that all out
And I agree, transmission by relays bypasses centralised control