there's an app for that

Substack’s new iPhone app is here to clean your email inbox

The Substack app will let you choose between email delivery and a simple push notification. Game-changer.


In the past five years or so, my inbox has been bombarded by my beloved newsletters — essays and roundups and dispatches that simultaneously spark joy and bury more urgent emails. And I’m not alone: over the years, people have come up with creative fixes to rescue their inbox from being drowned out by newsletters (RSS feeds! A separate email for newsletters! Intense organization schemes!).

Now Substack has introduced a solution of its own: the Substack Reader app.

Let’s stack those subs — In an announcement released on Wednesday, Substack described its iOS app as “your email inbox, but better.” It’ll allow subscribers to toggle between email delivery and mobile notifications for their newsletter deliveries.

The app, with its minimalist and ad-free layout, allows readers to subscribe to new publications. To actually pay for subscriptions, though, users will have to head off the app. (Perhaps Substack wants to avoid the notorious App Store tax that scrapes 30 percent off the top of in-app purchases). Users can also add RSS feeds to the app, and, for now, it’s only available on iPhone and iPad — though Android users can sign up for a waiting list.

Substack emphasizes that the app will be beneficial to writers, not just readers: “As ever, you retain total ownership of your content and mailing list,” reads the announcement. “But now you also get instant, reliable delivery (no more Promotions folder!), multiple media formats in a single package, and another way for readers to connect with you and your work.”

The Substack Reader app can also connect to Twitter to better find what their favorite tweeters are writing about — which is surprising, given that Twitter has owned the competing newsletter platform Revue for over a year and doesn’t have to let Substack scrape its data about who users are following.

It’s not about email anymore — Some of the great success of the email newsletter— a boom that seemed unlikely a decade ago — can be chalked up to newsletters meeting you right where you are, in the inbox you check anyway. There’s no app to download; there are no links you must click; there’s no maze of pop-up ads to deftly navigate. You don’t have to conjure up the energy to think, “I should read an article,” when the article pops up right in front of you. But Substack’s app release shows that the five-year-old company is more than an email delivery service. It’s now a bona fide platform — and a decisive winner in the great print media unbundling.

One of the app’s four main tabs is a “discover” page for exploring top newsletters; another is the “library,” which includes podcasts. Substack’s new in-app podcast delivery system is a major step in its its foray into the billion-dollar industry.

Substack CEO Chris Best recently proclaimed to CNBC watchers that “social media has made us angry and dumb,” but, as Substack expands to offer podcasts, video, and its own app, it starts to resemble the dot com giants it disparages. Substack claims its key difference from reigning social media powerhouses like Twitter and Facebook is its commitment to the financial dignity of creators, what it calls “culture makers,” and its goal of crafting a media landscape where the “power is tipped in favor of the people, not the platform.”