The publishing platform Substack, already suffering from being stigmatized on Twitter, appears to be losing money at a prodigious rate and has taken steps to cut spending, according to financial statements filed with the SEC and published news accounts.
Newly disclosed financial statements reveal Substack spent roughly $25 million in 2021 in pursuit of an expansion begun about a year after the platform completed a successful $65 million fundraising. Substack spent a little more than $1 million in 2020.
Substack filed financial statements with the SEC after it began trying to raise money from individual writers. The fundraising was based on Substack’s valuation of $650 million, which was set in 2021. The financial statements filed with the SEC conspicuously exclude 2022 results. Substack is raising funds on Wefunder, a crowdfunding site. A 2016 law regulating crowdfunding does not require a company to disclose the previous year financials if the crowdfunding campaign begins during the first 120 days of a calendar year.
“We’re a private company, so we’re releasing what we’re required to release,” said Substack co-founder and CEO Chris Best.
It bears noting, though, that the law doesn’t preclude releasing the most recent financial data. Nonetheless, the filing reveals that Substack’s expenses rose dramatically in 2021, resulting in significant losses. The company responded by trying to reduce spending.
Gross 2021 revenue for Substack was $11.9 million, nearly all of it from subscriptions. That revenue, however, was paid mostly to the writers who publish on its platform. According to the financial statement, because Substack guaranteed some writers a minimum income, it cumulatively paid writers more than its gross income, resulting in Substack reporting “negative revenue.” The payments to writers were in addition to Substack’s own staff costs and general expenses.
The statements did not disclose Substack’s debts but did reveal that it borrowed money from JP Morgan Chase and arranged another credit facility last year.
To editorialize a bit, we at Grit Daily know full well just how tough this business is. Substack is a noble experiment in getting writers paid for their work, and we sincerely hope they succeed.