One of the (many) problems with hosting your newsletter or blog on platforms like Substack is the inherently undifferentiated user experience.
When I see an email from Substack, or land on an article someone shared, there’s no feeling that comes from having an original design.
It feels—to me at least—like I’m reading content churned out by a machine, not a craftsperson.
My eyes glaze over.
I remember Ben Thomson of Stratechery saying that he wanted his blog to have a distinct typeface so people would feel like they had been there before if they came across his ideas more than once.
People often need to see your website a few times before they commit to subscribing to your newsletter. You want them to feel familiar with you when they do. You want to stand out.
Platforms like Substack will try to commoditize you. To package you into a neat box with limited formatting designed to fit their platform and VC-backed objectives.
They don’t want you to be overly differentiated because it’s not good for business. They want you to help build their brand and keep eyeballs on their platform.
It’s the same with LinkedIn, Medium, and many others. They’re aggregators of attention. That’s how they grow.
Whether you take that as a cynical view or not, there’s truth to it.
I’d rather publish on my own platform (ideally an independent one) and treat other platforms as syndicators.
I’d rather craft my identity one pixel at a time than force my ideas to fit into a box of someone else’s design.
When people come across my content, I want them to notice if they’ve been here before.
You may get distribution on a platform like Substack. But it will be hard to stand out—or leave an impression—when all you have is a restricted set of visual (and other) rules to conform to.
Build on your own platform. Distribute wherever you like, though.