Full Stack Economics is back!
New publishing platform, same great economics content.
After a two-month hiatus, I’m back in the newsletter saddle! I have at least two meaty posts coming this week, and I’m aiming to do at least a post a week thereafter.
Alan’s departure from the newsletter in July was a sad moment for me, but it was also a chance to take stock of what we’ve done so far and how I can do it better. I want to briefly explain two concrete changes I’ve made to the newsletter, then discuss what readers can expect going forward.
New, lower pricing
When Alan was part of Full Stack Economics, we asked people to pay $99 per year or $9.50 per month. The solo version of Full Stack Economics will publish less frequently, so I’m cutting my rates accordingly. The new standard rates will be $7 per month and $66 per year.
I’m also offering an extra discount for readers who sign up during our first few weeks. Until October 14, readers can get an annual subscription for $49.50—half our previous rate. You can click here to sign up.
Note that I plan to take August off each year. So an annual subscription will get you 11 months of content. I’ve set the annual rate low enough that it’s still a significant discount over paying monthly.
Switching to Substack
For our first year, we were on Ghost, the open-source, non-profit competitor to Substack. Ghost worked fine, but two things ultimately motivated me to make the switch.
First, Ghost is very much a do-it-yourself platform. While you can pay the Ghost team to host the core publishing software, I had to find third-party software for several key functions, including comments and analytics. This wasn’t very expensive in financial terms, but it did take a non-trivial amount of my time to keep everything running smoothly. And as an independent writer with three small kids, I don’t have a lot of time to spare.
My experience with Substack so far has been amazing. When I told them I was ready to make the switch, they assigned a project manager and an engineer to help me migrate my content and subscribers. Substack has a built-in commenting system and offers a number of other features that Ghost doesn’t.
Perhaps the most important feature is Substack’s new recommendations system. After someone signs up for a Substack newsletter, they’re encouraged to sign up for several others hand-picked by the author of the first newsletter. This feature seems to have dramatically accelerated the growth of other Substack authors I know.
Substack charges writers 10 percent of their revenue, and over the years I’ve seen a number of people wonder how they’ll hold onto writers while charging that much. After trying out the leading alternative, I think Substack’s investors have nothing to worry about. Substack simultaneously saves me time and helps me gain new subscribers. Either one of these functions could easily be worth 10 percent of my revenue.
A stubbornly non-partisan newsletter
Over the last few months, I’ve had a fair number of people tell me that the key to making the newsletter more successful was to stand for something. People don’t want to just pay for accurate news and insightful analysis, they told me. People want to feel like their money is supporting a worthy cause.
Pragmatically, I think this advice is absolutely right. Many of the most successful Substack writers pander to like-minded, highly partisan audiences as they fight the good fight against big corporations, woke liberals, the Fed, or whatever. I bet my newsletter would grow faster if I picked an ideological team and wrote more predictably partisan pieces. But I’m not going to do that, because I want this newsletter to have a positive impact on the world, not just on my bank account.
I think that the United States in 2022 is one of the greatest societies in the history of the world. But one of our biggest problems is a media ecosystem that misleads people into thinking things are worse than they really are.
A key way for someone to rise to prominence in the media is by exposing (and often exaggerating) flaws in important social institutions. Holding powerful institutions accountable is useful up to a point, but we now have so many doing it—and in many cases, doing it in a dishonest or incompetent way—that it’s destroying public confidence in the institutions that make our society function.
Also, this kind of writing frequently deepens partisan divides. And because our political system is based on compromise, it’s making our government increasingly dysfunctional.
So I’m trying to lean against these trends. I try to approach issues with an open mind and accentuate the positive whenever the evidence supports it. Sometimes I defend established institutions against unfair attacks. I’d like my left-leaning readers to gain a better understanding of economic policy ideas on the right, and vice-versa.
Of course, that leaves open the question of how to build a big enough audience to make this newsletter viable in the long run. I’m still trying to figure this out, but there are a few things that worked well in our first year that I’m planning to do more in year two.
One is to make a lot of charts. Two of my most successful posts to date have been “18 charts that explain the American economy” and “24 charts that show we’re (mostly) living better than our parents.” While that second piece has a point of view, I think people mostly shared both of these pieces because they found the data interesting. Later today I’ll be posting “14 charts that explain America’s inflation mess.”
I also plan to double down on first-hand reporting. People have told me they loved my posts on visiting grocery stores using Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” technology. I’m working on a couple of other pieces in this vein, including visiting a college campus swarming with sidewalk robots and possibly spending a week driving for Uber and Lyft.
I hope that writing about these less political topics will attract an ideologically diverse readership that appreciates an open-minded, non-partisan, and deeply reported approach to covering policy topics. This probably isn’t the fastest way to build a large newsletter audience. But it’s one that will let me sleep well at night.
If you appreciate this kind of writing, I hope you’ll become a paying subscriber. I sell no ads and have no investors, so I won’t be able to keep doing this work without support from readers.