I Read A Prescient Interview of Hamish McKenzie, Co-Founder of Substack

Souce: Reason

It was the second piece I’d read this morning from Matt Welch, a sort of hyper-religious guy who often puts me off because of it—the couching in so much personal moralism. On the other hand, he often has great arguments and insights (that do not require his religious beliefs).

The shit Hamish says in response to the questions Matt asked really resonated with me completely. I was a long time debater on the Internets going back to 1992 with Compuserve, Prodigy, and America Online accounts. In about 1994 I graduated to USENET, the real Wild West that will likely never be seen again. Fun fact: USENET was run pretty much entirely on the network of university computer department servers worldwide. Access to archives is spotty, but if you could see them, it would make all the woke universities today go apoplectic.

IT HAD EVERYTHING…including illegal activities and porn. But, it was damn well self-organized, so it was easy to stay on topic. You never had any of that stuff in your face. You had to seek it out.

In about 1998 I dropped most online social-debate activity to focus on business. That would persist for about 5 years until one day in 2003, I got wind of this blogging thing. It appealed to me. Within hours, I had my first blog and first post, November 2, 2003.

Well, It’s a start. For several years I have wanted to create a website to serve as the primary outlet for my ideas and commentary. So this is it, a weblog.

Will anything really become of it? Don’t know.

I’m not setting any goals or making any promises. I’d like to think I will spend some constructive time at this, but I guess we’ll see. I may also archive some of the other stuff I’ve written over the years.

Purpose. Well, it’s my outlet, and as such, I don’t think I’ll be opening up any of my posts to comments. I will be frank, as always. I’ll probably use some “naughty words” here and there, too. Good thing I have no plans on running for political office.

That’s good in another respect too. One of the things this blog will serve is a way to compile and organize my unconventional philosophic, religious, and political ideas.

Now, it’s time to go forth and look around for something to get all worked up about…

I put up 12 posts that month and sitting here today, early 2022, 19 years later, it’s about 5,000 posts total. I’m satisfied with that.

In those early days, it was just a move from those other online outlets into reading various bloggers. Their takes. There was no means of really monetizing it for the 99% but it was quite a different thing. Mine got momentum in late December, 2009, when I published this post on foregoing soap and shampoo—water only showers. It got picked up by a couple of buzz sites and took down my ISPs servers on New Year’s eve. My normal traffic increased 100s of times-fold in a single day. Some of those readers are still with me today, 12 years later.

It was about 2012-15 when blogging attention waned, in my estimation. Social media like Twitter and Facebook, primarily, were making it too easy for media consumers to just aggregate everything—because in response, media creators went along and created accounts and pages on those platforms and gave notice of each post elsewhere. To make matters worse, especially on Facebook, your peeps who used to create content on your blog by means of wonderful comment threads, started posting in the comments on your Facebook post, instead.

…That was only a business problem until 2016 and the AGE OF WOKE: Trump and then The Pandemic. We’re 6 years into it and my spidey sense tells me that blogging is coming back.

This time, it’s pay to play.

…I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t love blogging—a platform to write what you think well and consistently, have an audience, get paid for it, and all without editors or corporate advertisements and corporate uber-editing. You know what I mean.

You only think the free stuff is free (PAYWALL!!!), and you know what I mean there, too. Use all the pop-up blockers you want. You’re still paying in brain cells for the corporate screed you’re getting. Heads they win…and tails…you still lose.

Blogging can be the quintessential Gutenberg Press: but where someone comes over and installs it in your front room, gives you a staff of typesetters and printers, paper stock, and distribution.

There is only one single thing you have to do: create enough good content for enough of an audience that it pays. It’s really fucking hard. It’s also the reality that you always need some sort of lightning strike to get a real move on above the fray—like my post about soap and shampoo in 2009—and lightning strikes are unreliable to predict.

But who knows? Maybe I’m just not that good of a blogger in spite of how much I enjoy doing it. Or, perhaps it’s that I totally suck as a single-issue blogger, which are the most of them. When I decided to write about cryptocurrency exclusively in 2017, I did so on Patreon. I built it to 600 subscribers at $5 per month in 5 months. That’s a $3,000 monthly. Problem was, when I ran out of THE NEW THING!!! stuff in January of 2018, I just couldn’t fake it and contrive something.

I really need to write with some level of passion and get-off-your-ass. It can be anything. My only abiding gig is Free The Animal—the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority.

…It’s best if you read the entire interview at Reason. I have a love-hate with them going back 40 years, to when I was living in the south of France in 1990/91; where I happened to be awakening and enlightening. Reason would deliver their print copy to Toulon. I devoured every issue and later, upon returning to the USA, used to gift subscriptions to others. Then, at some point—perhaps corresponding to the shift from USENET to blogs, to Social Media—libertarianism became indistinguishable to me from left-or-right wing religion.

It got to the point over recent years past that I would forward some of their posts with the hashtag #NotReason.

“Society has a trust problem,” Substack co-founders Hamish McKenzie, Chris Best, and Jairaj Sethi declared in a joint statement late January. “More censorship will only make it worse.”

Substack, a leading online newsletter company that publishes the likes of polarizing journalist Bari Weiss, Brown University economist Emily Oster, COVID-19 contrarian Alex Berenson, and lefty iconoclast Glenn Greenwald, was reaffirming its hands-off approach to content moderation at a moment of intense pressure to “deplatform” controversial voices. That same week, rocker Neil Young accused Spotify podcaster Joe Rogan of spreading pandemic misinformation and demanded that the platform remove his songs if it continued to offer Rogan’s show; days later, the White House urged Spotify and all other media companies to be more “vigilant” in policing public health news and commentary.

“As we face growing pressure to censor content published on Substack that to some seems dubious or objectionable,” McKenzie and his partners wrote, “our answer remains the same: we make decisions based on principles not PR, we will defend free expression.”

The interview itself is chock-laden of/with wonderful tidbits and affirmations from McKenzie. I can’t begin to give it justice and to quote the whole thing is lazy, puerile, and untoward.

McKenzie: I’m relieved that there is something that can work. I feel like writers in the last couple of decades especially, but maybe forever, have been undervalued by the economy, considering how much value they give to the world. So it’s nice to see some momentum on that front. […]

I don’t think it’s the algorithms that do that; it’s their business models. These artificial intelligences arise to maximally serve the business model. The thing that the business model needs is total monopolization of your attention. Then the way that they do that is by creating these addictive experiences that amplify the most engaging stuff.

Often the most engaging stuff is not the stuff that’s necessarily conducive to sharing a common understanding of the world or encouraging good faith discussion or sharing factual material. It’s what’s provocative, what’s contentious, what divides us. That is a thing that’s broken in the world.  We want to provide an alternative. […]

We started Substack to improve discourse and help restore financial dignity to writers and help readers take back their minds—an alternative to the attention economy. For those things to all be true, you need to create a space that is accommodating for a broad range of views and for genuine discussion, and to not have a company sitting at the top that appoints itself as the referee of what’s acceptable.

So we do hold those values. They’re reflected in the design of the system, which is that writers are in charge. They make money through subscriptions, which are trust relationships. They have to live up to the contracts they have with their readers. They have to respect and reward the attention and trust of their readers.

Substack in turn has to respect and reward the attention and trust of the writers. Writers own everything on Substack. They own their mailing lists. They own their content. They own their [intellectual property]. They could take all of that with them at any time. It’s not like Twitter, where you can’t leave Twitter and take all your Twitter followers with you.

That puts us in a good position. It’s a difficult position, because we can’t just lock the doors and keep everyone locked inside the house—we have to keep people by proving that we are worthy of their trust, that we add a lot of value.

Now do you want to read the whole damn thing?

So, I love the interview 100% and I follow a bunch of Substackers, most free content, a handful paid. It’s really the new place to go where there’s plenty of “woke” and “awake,” to envisage a different sort of demarcation, differentiation, and juxtaposition in socio-politics. Democrat and Republican, as the tribes they are, are becoming increasingly irrelevant. It’s such a fucktarded idea anyway.

First, my red-flag concern though

We’ve seen all this before. Second, they are raising venture capital money and I have experience in that realm—many presentations on Sand Hill Road and in San Francisco. VCs want their money back soon, with a shit-ton of capital gains. They need those wins to cover the many losing bets that lose it all, coming out net with handsome profits for the extreme risk.

…That’s their raison d’etre. Not a single person in a few million on planet earth actually understand what venture capitalists do, yet they yak yak all the time about it, when they ought to be keeping their cock holsters shut for woeful ignorance’s sake.

The more Substack succeeds, the more they become a prime target for acquisition and principles don’t matter fuck-all for VCs, or they wouldn’t be VCs. VC money means: a big offer comes in, you sell, and there is little to nothing original founders can do about it.

Should their trajectory hold and I have high confidence it will, what happens when the VCs get an offer they can’t refuse?

Who will be the new woke owners, board members, executives, and employees then?

I pray to God I’m wrong.

You can DIY, like I have

Gloriously, I doubt Substack would have any problem if I wrote this on their platform, at least now. You can duplicate everything they do with a WordPress blog and a couple of paid plugins. I use Paid Memberships Pro for the membership and paid-subscription stuff through Stripe. I use FluentCRM and AmazonSES for the management of the email list and sending. In total, the cost is less than $500 per year, including my cost of sending tens of thousands of emails monthly—1% the cost of charlatans like Mailchimp.

YET, since I see so many not-tech-savvy using Substack so effortlessly, and emails coming out regularly every time they post, I’m somewhat wowed. I sorta like the bit of management I have to do in terms of minimal housekeeping but the larger point is that I’m a lay techie going back decades, so it’s easy for me. Substack seemingly makes it easy for everyone and I really enjoy interacting with all creators I subscribe to, and I’m encouraged that not a single email in thousands has ever ended up in the spam folder (a whole other issue of discussion/suppression).

The only thing left to do is an A/B test

I’ve had this whatever-issue blog forever. I’ve had times when it made some good money, especially when hundreds of people were buying stuff I like on Amazon. Then I tried single-issue on Patreon and that was great, except I can’t do it because I can’t lie, pretend, and concoct in order to keep a dead or hibernating issue alive, squirming, or kicking.

To truly test it, I’m going to have to create a Substack account and make all the foregoing the first post. There will be zero impact here, I’m not moving or compromising anything. I’m creating a cross-post thing where I can judge whether I’m missing out out on a lot of potential lovers.

I suspect that I am. I’ll see soon enough.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Alan Andersen on April 25, 2022 at 01:45

    I’m big into Substack right now but share your concerns about VC acquisition. Take Joe Rogan who I’ve listed to for years. In my opinion, the content has declined markedly since he took $100 million in fake money to move it to Spotify. Now he has a woke corporate master, regardless of his denials. This has happened to me so many times in my world of legal research products. Some smart lawyer will start up an excellent publication in a practice area and after about five years, gets bought out by one of the major publishing houses. Prices immediately rise and customer service goes from contacting the owner to being directed to one of those smarmy customer service centers in India or the Philippines.

    Thus, I give Substack five years. No one can turn down $100 – $500 million.

    Will your Substack be a mirror of this site, where people can pay about the same fee either at Substack or here and get the same content? If so, I am staying here.

    Just checked out your new Substack. Will it essentially mirror this site?

    • Richard Nikoley on April 25, 2022 at 06:02

      Yep, exactly a mirror, and also for whether posts are public, free subscriber, or paid subscriber. Price exactly the same, 6/mo or 50/yr. Only diff for me is that I pay zero hosting or maintenance. I pay 10% of gross to Substack. What was cool is that they use Stripe for payments, same as I use here, so took 5 seconds to just plug that in.

      Here, I don’t pay that 10%, just the CC fees. But, hosting is about $600 per year and the plugins and email sending about $400 per year.

      My reason for doing this is to potentially tap into a market sector that is very amenable to paid content like this; whereas, the general blog reading population isn’t quite as much on board.

  2. Matt Miller on April 25, 2022 at 13:48

    That old shampoo post was how I first discovered Free the Animal. I had just joined the paleo cult and dutifully went ‘poo-less myself. My hair was a lot longer back then and it would still get pretty greasy. But eventually I learned to remedy that by occasionally cracking an egg over my head in the shower.

    Those early days of the paleo blogosphere were fun times for me, intellectually. The internet was booming with new ideas and information about health and lifestyle. And then I quickly became interested in applying the paleo philosophy beyond diet and fitness. Your blog was one of my favorites. I remember that you wrote some really nice posts examining political and social issues through a paleo lens.

    I started reading again about a year ago and decided to throw you a few bucks each month. The content still resonates and often contains information that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.

    Also, I enjoy reading your blog because it’s a lot like reading Nietzsche. Has anyone ever told you that?

    Best of luck with the Substack endeavor.

    • Richard Nikoley on April 26, 2022 at 07:28

      No, Matt, nobody has ever said I read like Nietzsche. Myself, I’ve only read bits and pieces here and there. Perhaps I should read more. Any suggestions?

      Thanks for the paid membership and, especially, thanks for testifying that I indeed still have readers as an initial result of that poo-post 13 years ago.

      • Matt Miller on April 27, 2022 at 01:27

        I think a good place to start would be *Beyond Good and Evil.*

        The thing to keep in mind about Nietzsche is that his books consist of lots of short sections that don’t seem to follow an obvious line of argument. They are more like mosaics or impressionistic paintings, that build up a general picture of what he’s about.

        On the one hand, this makes him difficult to read and figure out what his main point it. On the other hand, many of the short sections can stand alone and give you something to think about. I would suggest looking at the index and finding topics that interest you, and then flip to those bite-sized sections.

        Also, *Beyond Good and Evil* has a whole chapter full of aphorisms. A lot of them are clever, witty, and not very politically correct.

        Another book worth diving into is *On the Genealogy of Morality* particularly the first essay. But this one is best read in its entirety. One way of looking at this book is that he is trying to document the history of human domestication, via morality. Back in ancient times, ethical philosophy (such as Aristotle’s) was concerned with being a great human. Courage, integrity, honesty, confidence, etc. were championed. But in modern moral philosophy (such as Kant or Mill), the major question had to do with moral duty, the greater good, and what we owe to each other and society.

        The basic idea is that, over the last couple millennia, morality has been weaponized by the weak to tame the strong. It was interesting to re-read this book in mid-2020, when woke lefitsm reached its fever pitch and took over the culture here in the US. We have a new political movement rooted in victimhood and resentment, and this is just the newest manifestation of a phenomenon that has been going for most of western civilization.

      • Richard Nikoley on April 27, 2022 at 03:35

        Well, there’s suggestions that have me licking my chops like not in a while.

        Intense, in such a good way.

        I pride myself in saying I’m not particularly well read.

        I read enough to get to a point where I deemed myself competent to think for myself and also, I loathe the idea of regurgitating and repackaging.

        I suspect I’m not the first.

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