Why You Should Purchase A Paid Subscription To Singal-Minded

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It’s that day. The day I try to convince you to spring for the paid version of Singal-Minded. If you’re sure you don’t want to or can’t pay for it right now, I totally understand and appreciate your readership regardless, and you can probably skip this post, or check it out if and when your situation changes. Those who have already subscribed — THANK YOU — might find the second section interesting, as it explains what you’ll be getting for your money. (Also, your first ‘official’ paid post will be coming a bit later than usual tomorrow, simply because this has been a chaotic week, with three very long posts three days in a row. But going forward they’ll arrive at the same time, every time — I haven’t decided between 8:00 and 9:00, Eastern, yet.)

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How this is organized:

-What Singal-Minded Paid Subscriptions Cost, And Why

-What Subscribers Get

-The Three Reasons I’m Doing This, In Descending Order Of Importance

Reason 1: It Could Be A Really Fun And Rewarding Side-Business That Produces A Quality Product

Reason 2: I Want To Protect Myself Against The Forces Roiling Journalism

Reason 3: I Want To Protect Myself Against The Possibly Burgeoning And Sometimes Rather Aggressive Movement Against ‘Heterodox’ Voices On The Left

What Singal-Minded Paid Subscriptions Cost, And Why

If you subscribe on a month-by-month basis, full access to Singal-Minded will cost you $5 per month. If you subscribe for the year, it will cost you $4 per month. I recognize that even $4 per month is a not-insignificant sum to pay for internet content, given the monthly cost of an online subscription to many full-blown publications. The question of what to charge for a product like this one is ridiculously complicated. Substack doesn’t let you charge less than $5 for month-by-month subscriptions, anyway, but would I make more money if I used a service that let me charge, say, $2 per month? Only if more than twice as many people would sign up at that price point than will eventually sign up for the $4 per month annual package. And would that happen? No way to know. The whole thing reminds me of one of those revenue- or utility-maximizing problems we had to do for microeconomics class in grad school. I didn’t do well in microeconomics.

So at the end of the day, this is sort of a “the market decides” thing. Either enough people will sign up at these prices for this to become a truly sustainable side gig, or they won’t. The only signal I have so far — the number of signups I have gotten before even publishing a single full-blown paid post — suggests there’s a market for this product at this price, but I’ll know a lot more in a week and even more than that in a month.

I really, really appreciate all my free readers, even the ones who don’t end up becoming paid subscribers. There’s a parallel universe, or perhaps there are many, in which I launched Singal-Minded on January 15 and it quickly became clear there wasn’t enough interest to even bother trying paid subscriptions at all. In our own universe — a universe that is terrible in so many other ways — that is not the case. The early returns are good, and that’s thanks entirely to the interest of all my readers, whether or not they end up paying to subscribe.

What Subscribers Get

As anyone who has been reading my work for a while knows, I’m a bit of schmuck. I quickly and randomly develop new interests and fixations, I don’t do well with strict routine, and sometimes I spill out a lot of words very quickly. All of which is to say that I’m not the sort of writer who is going to say, “Okay, here are the five weekly features, the four bimonthly features, and two monthly features I have mapped out for the next decade.” I think part of the appeal of a newsletter is that you can experiment and change things up on the fly, and that’s what I plan on doing going forward — in part based on the feedback I get.

So, while some structure is good, especially in a product you’re paying for, please don’t think of the following as an immutable long-term plan, but rather as the initial, bare minimum of what you’ll get if you subscribe (in addition to the ability to comment on any and all posts):

About six paid posts per month. Some weeks I’m going to do one extra post for paid subscribers, other weeks I’m going to do two, and sometimes there will be more. But things will average out to at least six paid posts per month in the long term. These posts will have the full range of, well, stuff I’ve published so far, ranging from column-length opinion pieces to Q&As to mailbags and, less often, the longer, more in-depth reported and researched pieces that have been overrepresented over the last week or so. (Free subscribers will continue to get Singal-Minded every Monday morning.)

More free books. There’s been a great deal of enthusiasm for the book giveaways I’ve done so far, and I’m hoping to keep doing them, as frequently as possible (there’s already a slight backlog, in fact). I will always give away at least one copy, per book, in a contest open to free subscribers. But whenever I have two or more books to give away, at least one copy will be reserved for a paid-subscribers-only giveaway, as an extra perk for subscribing. (At some point I’m also going to publish, on jessesingal.substack.com, a general page laying out contest rules, various disclosures, the fact that this newsletter is funded entirely by a shadowy oil company with close ties to the Saudi government, and so on.)

Email priority. Reading your emails has become one of my favorite things about running this newsletter. I mean that — they’re so good. They’ve made me rethink things, given me ideas for both Singal-Minded posts and freelance articles, and sparked a bunch of fascinating conversations. I knew I was on the right track when I started getting emails responding not to stuff I had written, but to emails I had run from other readers.

I want to keep up the habit of reading and publishing and responding to your emails. But it’s gotten harder and harder to because of the sheer volume. So, with the help of some basic GMail filtering, I’m going to give attentional priority to emails that come in from paid subscribers. This does not mean that non-subscribers will be relegated to some sort of email-steerage and your emails will go forever unread. I’m going to continue doing the best job I can keeping up with emails. But reading, responding to, (lightly) editing, and publishing emails does take time that I could otherwise spend on writing posts for Singal-Minded, other types of freelancing, or working on my book, so I think it’s only fair to prioritize emails from those who are helping to support the newsletter directly.

“Email priority” doesn’t just refer to which emails I’m most likely to read closely, by the way — it also means I’m going to pay the most attention to input I get from paid subscribers, whether in the form of critiques of individual posts, suggestions for future posts, or anything else. I do think that I owe something extra to my paid subscribers, and that this — direct access to a writer whose work interests you (or enrages you enough that you are willing to pay to have your email in which you yell at me in all caps prioritized) — is one of the things I can offer that you don’t get with a traditional subscription to a news outlet.

A monthly “ask me anything.” The first Friday of every month, including this one, I’ll do an ask me anything in which paid subscribers can, well, ask me anything about my work, the news, which is my go-to brand for cargo shorts when that time of the year rolls around, or whatever else. AMAs won’t count as one of the 1.5 paid-subscriber-only posts per week.

Other community perks, potentially, if there’s enough interest. Substack actually discourages writers from going perk-crazy, as per this interview between Simon Owens (who you should follow on Twitter and whose work you should read and listen to) and the company’s co-founder Hamish McKenzie. McKenzie argued to Owens that “if you happen to offer a bunch of perks and send out, say, pairs of socks and postcards and things, it’s distracting you from your core focus, which should be poured into the newsletter and making it as good as possible.” McKenzie and co-founder/CEO Chris Best, both of whom have been extremely helpful and generous with their time as I have set this thing up, have expressed similar views to me directly.

I agree with that — sorry, no Singal-Minded branded socks or cargo shorts — but I also agree with Owens’ response in the interview:

...I’ve seen lots of success when publishers launch private Facebook or Slack channels, where once the channel gets large enough, the community becomes self-sustaining. It gives them a little bit of extra perks, but without the writer having to put as much extra work into it. I’ve seen lots of paid products that give you access to a Facebook group or a Slack channel. It does seem to be an extra perk that users will appreciate. And they like the personal access to the writer too.

So I think I’m going to simply leave this up to paid subscribers. If there is interest in creating a private Facebook or Slack or Discord group to use to discuss Singal-Minded content and other stuff, I’ll set one up, drop in there when I can, and we’ll see how much use it gets. To the extent Singal-Minded readers have anything in particular in common, it seems to be an appetite for intelligent, nuanced discussion, so I could see the potential in something like this.

Either way, it would be fun to, at the very least, do a paid-subscribers-only Google Hangout or Slack or Discord get-together twice a year. So that will happen, and I’ll coordinate with paid subscribers to make sure these occur at times when as many people as possible who are interested can join the fun — we’ll do the first one this spring or early summer.

The Three Reasons I’m Doing This, In Descending Order Of Importance

Reason 1: It Could Be A Really Fun And Rewarding Side-Business That Produces A Quality Product

Don’t get me wrong: I’m really lucky to have access to the outlets I do, and there’s a unique pleasure to the process of working with an editor to craft an article, online or in print, for, say, New York Magazine or The Boston Globe or The Atlantic. I love freelance writing, I believe that I’m good at it, and I’m not going to give it up.

But sometimes I just want to write and publish something on my own without worrying about whether it fits with what a given outlet is looking for at a given moment. Sometimes I have a rant I want to get out about The Covington Boys. Sometimes I decide it’s time to spend hours soliciting nad reading and publishing emails from people getting caught up in the weird young-adult-fiction culture-war vortex, or to dive deep (and I mean deep) into the science of gender dysphoria, with a podcast episode as my entry point, or into left-wing identitarianism via a Slate article everyone is making fun of. In my ideal writing world, I could shift a fair amount of my freelance efforts toward this kind of more flexible, more freewheeling work, because it’s a lot of fun — and a different sort of fun than other freelance writing. That’s the simplest way to sum up why I’m trying to build a paid newsletter.

Of course, for me to do this well will require sticking to what I know, or what I’m willing to learn a lot about. I’m not going to use Singal-Minded to spout off on, say, Kardashian fashion choices or Chinese politics. Rather, I see it as a space for me to focus on the stuff that interests me the most, and where I know the most: clashes between social-justice advocacy and scientific research, the ways the internet (particularly social media) melts its users’ brains and leaves them in a state of perpetual exhausted outrage, political psychology, human behavior more generally, and so on. I’ve built up a demonstrable track record on these subjects in my work over the last decade-plus, and I feel qualified to chime in on them without an editor’s say-so. The fact that about 2,200 people, and counting, have signed up for Singal-Minded since it launched suggests there’s a sizable group of readers who agree.

So that’s my biggest motivation for doing this: It could be fun. And if I grow it big enough, it will allow me to be more selective in the freelance work I take on, and a bit more experimental in general.

Reason 2: I Want To Protect Myself Against The Forces Roiling Journalism

For the sake of honesty and transparency, allow me to quote myself from the post where I first announced my intention of launching a paid version of Singal-Minded:

I have been exceptionally lucky, professionally speaking, and in light of my book and freelance situations, barring some catastrophe I will be comfortably affixed to the underbelly of journalism, like a stubborn barnacle, for at least a few more years — which is really all that any journalist who isn’t a superstar can ask for at this point given how tumultuous the field is. Starting a paid newsletter is primarily a way for me to 1) hedge myself against various forms of journalistic uncertainty, some endemic to the field itself at the moment (or maybe forever) and some specific to the more controversial subjects I write about; and 2) potentially shift some of my workload from freelancing to newslettering, which is sometimes a more fun and flexible type of writing. I don’t want anyone, in deciding whether to sign up, to get the false impression that I’m about to fall off the face of journalism if I don’t build up a huge newsletter. Again: I’ve been lucky, and that luck has brought with it the time and freedom to experiment a bit.

That’s all still true. The success or failure of Singal-Minded will not, in the short run, bear much on my ability to continue making a career doing journalism.

In the longer run? There’s really no way to know. Journalism is a complete mess right now. Staffers are getting laid off left and right, some outlets are shutting down entirely, many local and regional newspapers are gone or on life support, and all too many ‘successful’ publications seem to be chugging along largely as a result of the whims of — if my understanding is correct — venture-capital guys who descend via helicopters onto the roofs of random companies at random times hauling giant burlap sacks with dollar signs on them.

Given the general situation, carving out an independent source of journalistic income seems like the right move: It can shield me from some of this uncertainty. The more of my income comes directly from my readers, the less I have to worry about the stability of my various freelance arrangements. It’s as simple as that. We’re at a point where any journalist who isn’t hedging his or her bets a bit is asking for trouble. If I can potentially hedge my bets while also doing something I enjoy a great deal, why not give it a shot?

Reason 3: I Want To Protect Myself Against The Possibly Burgeoning And Sometimes Rather Aggressive Movement Against ‘Heterodox’ Voices On The Left

It’s not a good time to be a genuinely left-of-center ‘heterodox’ journalist. And the thing is, usually how it works is they tag you with the H-word. I don’t think anything I’ve written is particularly heterodox relative to any belief system not held by a really, really small slice of the left-of-center universe. Unfortunately, that slice is seriously overrepresented in journalism. There are structural reasons for that: For one thing, when any institution or group is threatened, it tends to adopt a bit of a bunker mentality rife with Manichean thinking. Progressive journalism is no different.

For another, massive numbers of experienced, ‘traditional’ middle-aged journalists have lost their jobs, and as they’ve departed, it has caused the ‘average’ editorial staffer to become a bit younger, probably a bit wealthier (as things get worse journalism chews up and spits out more and more people who lack the family money to compensate for its generally low pay), and a bit less exposed to basic journalistic ideals. As a result, certain longstanding norms about the difference between journalism and direct activism have shuddered and in some cases collapsed. That doesn’t mean the old, mostly extinct ideal of perfectly ‘objective,’ above-the-fray reporting didn’t have serious problems of its own, but the sweet spot is clearly somewhere in the general middle of Robotic Objectivity and Activism Posing As Journalism, not near either pole. It feels like things are more and more tilted toward the latter.

There are many examples of how this is harming journalism’s ability to deliver accurate information to readers. In some cases, multiple outlets have completely botched important stories because it was clear they wanted to loudly broadcast being on the morally correct side of an issue rather than, you know, report accurately on that issue’s messy innards. In one Singal-Minded post, I laid out the difference between what I call “accuracy norms” and “rightside norms,” as in being on the right side of a morally charged issue, and that’s a good general model for explaining what’s happening in progressive journalism — a shift from the former to the latter.

At some outlets, real strife has broken out between those who, roughly speaking, hold journalistic norms and those whose job description says ‘writer’ or ‘editor,’ but who see themselves (or should see themselves) first and foremost as activists. Off the top of my head, despite being someone who is not particularly centered in journalistic social networks and whose friends are mostly not journalists, I know of two major American publications at which HR complaints were made against staffers for expressing, in writing or in person, centrist-ish views the vast majority of Americans would not blink an eye at. I wish I were making this up but I am not. (Nothing subsequently came of these complaints, to be clear, but what’s disturbing is that they happened at all.) And sometimes I am privy to specifics: When Glenn Greenwald got a bit Get Off My Lawn You Damn Kids in one of his Intercept articles last year, for example, I was told by people who know that it was because staffers at his outlet had claimed that they had been ‘traumatized,’ or language to that effect, by a photo essay of white nationalists published by Topic, another First Look Media property.

That’s where we are now: Journalists narcing on other journalists to HR for expressing thoroughly mainstream views they find offensive. Journalists claiming that their colleagues’ work ‘traumatizes’ them. I can’t honestly claim I have evidence this is some sort of out-of-control epidemic, or that there isn’t (mostly quiet) pushback — there are many writers and editors, younger and older alike, who do still respect journalistic norms, even when they also have strong political opinions of their own — but I strongly suspect it’s getting worse, based on snippets of these and other stories I’ve heard from other publications.

This climate has affected my own work a bit, of course. Some people have tried to get me fired, and have spread crazy rumors about me, because they don’t like the way I write about certain issues, particularly gender dysphoria. Of course, I’d faced versions of this before, particularly when right-wing figures got mad at my coverage of them. Stuff like these tweets, from the far-right clown and promiscuous-pedophilia-accuser Mike Cernovich, who has over the years sent many emails to my bosses, and to other peoples’ bosses, trying to get us fired for ostensibly unfair reporting on his griftery:

The newer attempts to get me in trouble, or to drive me out of journalism, do feel a bit more worrying since they come from my ‘side’ and have been echoed, in some cases, by major journalists with platforms of their own. I don’t want to share the full details, lest I end up sounding aggrieved and whiny, which isn’t my general stance toward journalism at all. But suffice it to say that a lot of the public discussion of my work, even public discussion carried out by professional journalists, has centered less on reasonable criticism — and I’ve written thousands and thousands of words, unpaid, responding to critiques of my reporting on gender-dysphoria and diving into the weeds of why my views are my views — and more on my ostensible moral worth, fevered speculation about the extent and origins of my bigotry, and so on.

And I’m far from the only progressive journalist who has been affected by the increasingly radical-middle-school-locker-room atmosphere of our industry at the moment. Increasingly, the point of progressive journalism is to divide the world, as quickly as possible (there’s a lot of content to get out), into Good and Bad, and to celebrate things that are Good and bash things that are Bad. This impulse is absolutely, fundamentally inimical to true journalism, by any definition of the term that would make the industry worth saving.

I don’t want to overstate this: I still think that I’m more likely to be negatively affected by the big, swirling forces mentioned in Reason 2 than by progressive journalism’s internecine culture-war spasms and devolution into Manichean screamery. But the worsening climate for true intellectual engagement is still a concern of mine, and another reason to hedge my bets.

Plus, I like the idea of building up a group of readers explicitly fed up with all that stuff. Because away from social media, I get a lot of emails and other messages from people who appreciate my work, including media figures, and I know my fellow Problematic journalists do, too. It’s just getting harder and harder for us to do certain types of reporting because of how loud social media is and because of the ongoing colonization of progressive journalism by people who are really, at heart, activists.

And I don’t want to stop doing it! I think this stuff is quite important. I stand by my journalism. I stand by the idea — the ethos — that a lot of the time, well, shit’s complicated, and accurately portraying a given subject involves charting a complicated course that takes into account the various players’ claims without treating any of those players as having infallible and unique access to the truth of the matter. And I know, from the quiet feedback I get, which is so very different from the loud feedback, that there’s a market for journalism and writing that doesn’t seek to make quick judgements about what’s EPIC and what’s TRASH, that really tries to understand the world in an honest way, even when that means taking some bruises. I’m blessed that I get to do this for a living, I cherish those bruises even when they sting a bit, and I want to participate in this frequently ridiculous adventure for as long as possible.

Thanks for reading.

Questions? Comments? Offers to pay for my content not with American currency, but with magic beans? I’m at singalminded@gmail.com, or on Twitter at @jessesingal. The Simpsons screencap of Lyle Lanley trying to sell Springfield on his own premium product is from here.