Julian Novitz, Swinburne University of Technology.
Email newsletters might be associated with the ghost towns of old personal email addresses for many: relentlessly accumulating unopened updates from organisations, stores and services signed up to and forgotten in the distant past. But over the last few years they have experienced a revival, with an increasing number of writers supplementing their income with paid newsletter subscriptions.
Most recently, Salman Rushdie’s decision to use the newsletter subscription service Substack to circulate his latest book has sparked conversation around this platform and its impact on the world of publishing.
What is Substack?
Launched in 2017, Substack allows writers to create newsletters and set up paid subscription tiers for them, offering readers a mixture of free and paywalled content in each edition.
Substack has thus encroached on the traditional territories of newspapers, magazines, the blogosphere – and now trade publishing. Though it is worth noting that until now it has been most enthusiastically adopted by journalists rather than authors.
Rather than monetising the service via advertising, Substack’s profits come from a percentage of paid subscriptions. Substack’s founders see the platform as a way of breaking from the ‘attention economy’ promoted by social media, allowing a space for more thoughtful and substantial writing that is funded directly by readers.
Rushdie’s decision to publish via Substack signals a surprising inroad into one of the areas associated with trade publishing – literary fiction – and certainly makes for a good news story. He is the first significant literary novelist to publish a substantial work of fiction via the platform and Rushdie himself talks jokingly about helping to kill off the print book with this move.
However, the novella that Rushdie is intending to serialise will almost certainly be available in a more conventional format at some point in the future, given all Substack writers retain full rights to their intellectual property.
Other experiments with digital self-publication by prominent fiction authors, such as Stephen King’s novella Riding the Bullet (first published independently as an eBook), and the fiction first generated on Twitter by writers like David Mitchell and Neil Gaiman, have made their way to traditional publishers.
While this movement provides excellent publicity for Rushdie and the Substack service, it’s perhaps better understood as a limited term platform exclusivity deal than as a radical disruption of the literary publishing ecosystem.
Potentially more interesting is what the “acquisition” of Rushdie by Substack illustrates about their operation as a digital service. Throughout its history, Substack has offered advances to promising writers to support them while they cultivate a subscriber base.
This practice has now been formalised as Substack Pro, where selected writers, like Rushdie himself, are paid a substantial upfront fee to produce content, which Substack recoups by taking a higher percentage of their subscription fees for their first year of writing.
The exact sums paid vary between writers, but it is not dissimilar to a traditional advance on royalties. When coupled with some of the other services that are available to writers with paid subscriptions – like a legal fund and financial support for the editing, design, and production of newsletters – Substack can be seen as operating in a grey area between publisher and platform.
They pursue promising and high-profile writers, generate income, and provide services in ways that parallel the operations of trade publishers, but do not claim rights or responsibilities in relation to the content that is produced.
Although Substack do not see themselves as commissioning writers it could be argued they do play an editorial role in curating content on their platform through not terribly transparent Substack Pro deals and incentives.
The evolution of Substack
Recently Jude Doyle, a trans critic and novelist, has abandoned the platform. They note the irony of how profits generated by the often marginalised or subcultural writers who built paid subscriber bases in the early days of Substack are now being used to fund the much more lucrative deals offered to high-profile right-wing writers, who have in some cases exploited Substack’s weak moderation policy to spread anti-trans rhetoric and encourage harassment.
It could be argued Substack Pro is evolving into an inversion of the traditional (if somewhat idealised) publishing model, where a small number of profitable authors would subsidise the emergence of new writers. Instead, on Substack, profits generated from the work of large numbers of side-hustling writers are used to draw more established voices to the platform.
The founders of Substack have been unapologetic about their policies, considering the “unsubscribe” button to be the ultimate moderation tool for their users. They do, however, acknowledge Substack’s free-market approach may not appeal to all and anticipate competition from alternatives.
Ghost already exists as a non-profit newsletter platform with a more active approach to moderation, and Facebook’s Bulletin provides a carefully curated newsletter service from commissioned writers.
At this stage, the use of newsletters for literary fiction is an experiment, and it remains to be seen if it will be sustainable. As Rushdie puts it: “It will either turn out to be something wonderful and enjoyable, or it won’t.”
By Keiran Hardy, Rebecca Ananian-Welsh and Nicola McGarrity.
Australia has long been regarded as a leading liberal democracy, but our global reputation is declining. Extensive lawmaking in response to terrorism, combined with an entrenched culture of government secrecy, has put our democracy in a troubling state.
Police investigations into journalists and prosecutions of whistleblowers suggest government respect for transparency, accountability and freedom of the press is at an all-time low.
11 September 2021 marked twenty years since the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Across these two decades, the Australian government has built a powerful national security apparatus. Over this time, we have gone from having zero national laws addressing terrorism to 92 such laws.
Collectively these amount to more than 5000 pages of powers, rules and offences. This is significantly more than comparable western nations.
Many of these laws contain unprecedented powers – from preventive detention to citizenship stripping and secret trials.
Such powers deserve careful deliberation in Parliament, but they have been enacted in haste, sometimes in mere hours, their passage smoothed by a rhetoric of urgency and fear.
Like Australia’s historical wartime powers, our counter-terrorism laws have been justified as extreme responses to an immediate threat. However, unlike their wartime equivalents, these laws are a permanent fixture.
In 20 years, only one significant power has been repealed, and those with expiry dates have been routinely renewed.
These vast, complex laws undermine the core pillars on which Australia’s democracy is built.
Recently, their impact on free speech and freedom of the press has been recognised globally.
In 2021, Australia ranked 25th place on the RSF Global Press Freedom Index – down six places from 2018.
Ranked higher than Australia is Suriname, where the ‘public expression of hatred’ towards government is punishable by seven years in prison. Its President, Desi Bouterse, has been amnestied for the 1982 murders of 15 political opponents, including five journalists.
Australia also falls behind Samoa, where the Prime Minister, Tuila’epa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, has threatened to shut down Facebook and warned citizens not to ‘play with fire’ by criticising the government online.
This sounds like a comment that Australian politicians would not make – but when Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned journalists to ‘be careful’ making allegations of sexual harassment, and Defence Minister Peter Dutton threatened to ‘pick out’ some Twitter users to sue for defamation, it became clear that the political climate in Australia had changed for the worse.
There has been a marked cultural shift in Australian politics. Holding politicians to account and exposing wrongdoing are core tasks that should be valued – and protected – in a democracy.
Now, these tasks are not only much harder, but also riskier.
A secretive culture which resists transparency and accountability has become the hallmark of the current Coalition government, making it difficult for journalists to access information about what government departments are doing, and what they are doing wrong.
When this information is leaked, journalists and their sources face significant jail time, even if it is in the best interests of the Australian people to know about it.
Australia’s counter-terrorism laws make public interest journalism a risky day job. Powers of surveillance and decryption mean that journalists who report on national security matters can no longer guarantee the identity of their sources will be protected.
Journalists also face significant jail time under sweeping espionage offences, which define national security as anything relating to Australia’s political or economic relations with other countries.
Holding governments truly accountable in this restrictive legal environment – and keeping the Australian people fully informed – is more of an ideal than a reality.
A healthy democracy demands open, transparent government. It demands legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers who act in the best interests of the Australian people, and careful deliberation of new laws in Parliament.
A healthy democracy requires rigorous checks and balances on government power to uphold the rule of law. In this report, we explore how these democratic values have been chiselled away by counterterrorism powers and a growing culture of government secrecy. We identify four necessary actions to help repair this democratic deficit. It is time to take stock of what Australia has given up in the name of national security since 9/11 – and start gaining it back.
To access the full Open Democracy Dossier: Secrecy and Power in Australia’s National Security State go here.
Dr Keiran Hardy is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University and the Griffith Criminology Institute. He has researched and published widely on counter-terrorism law and policy, radicalisation and countering violent extremism, intelligence whistleblowing and the accountability of intelligence agencies.
Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland, TC Beirne School of Law. She has a combined expertise in constitutional law and counter-terrorism, and a recent research focus on how national security laws impact fair trial rights and press freedom. Prior to commencing her academic career, Rebecca held legal positions with DLA Piper Sydney and the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department.
Dr Nicola McGarrity is an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the School of Global and Public Law, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales. She has previously practised as a barrister in the fields of constitutional and criminal law, and written extensively on Australia’s anti-terrorism laws and prosecutions.
AUSTRALIA is now well and truly on the global map, for all the wrong reasons.
The British historian Guy de la Bedoyere claims that “Australia is falling apart”. The Off Guardian suggests that we are “going full fascist”.
The journalist class is so utterly diminished by sitting out the crushing of our lives (at best) and their active spread of COVID propaganda (at worst)…
REVIEW: Paul Collits
Unfolding Catastrophe: Australia
There are daily accounts reported in France, Russia, everywhere in between and beyond, of our descent into what British journalist Toby Young has called a reversion to our penal colony roots.
The old line from Clive James – that we are not so much descended from convicts as from prison guards – gets a pretty good run.
International reaction, no doubt ignored, perhaps not even noticed, by our COVID robots in their Spring, George and Macquarie street echo chambers, hovers between pity, amusement and disbelief.
How did this happen – in Australia? The overseas storytelling can barely keep up with the never-ending stream of new announcements designed to grind us into the ground. But on and on it goes.
There is, at last, a book-length account of Australia’s eighteen months of madness that will either warm the hearts of COVID realists, remind us of all the COVID policy absurdities or perhaps simply provide yet more chilling evidence of the sinister forces at work that are changing us irrevocably.
Unfolding Catastrophe: Australia (Sense of Place Publishing, 2021), by John Stapleton, arrives at three minutes to midnight.
Thank God he wrote this solid three hundred pager.
It restores – perhaps only a little – the faith we ought to have in the journalist class, so utterly diminished by their sitting out the crushing of our lives (at best) and their active joining in the spread of COVID propaganda (at worst).
With a (former Fairfax and Murdoch) journalist’s sober eye and a skilled wordsmith’s elegance, and clearly anticipating very early on the biggest story of all of our lives, Stapleton set out to record in graphic detail and with authenticity the developing catastrophe.
From the toilet paper crisis at the start to the emerging apartheid regime for those who refuse the State injectible.
He tells the story through the character Old Alex, a retired journo living down the coast at picturesque Oak Flats.
He draws upon the chronicles he has compiled from his own online journal, A Sense of Place Magazine, which has remained a bastion of common sense on the COVID affair and is a haven for indie journalists generally.
Stapleton records with palpable astonishment the now familiar litany of harms that have been done, not only to the body politic, but to our core values, indeed, to our very sense of our country. Our place.
They include the impositions of lockdowns that do not work but cause harm beyond telling; the “wildly inaccurate” modelling that predicted catastrophe and instead merely delivered fame and riches for those involved; the succession of non-medical interventions with no basis in science and without popular understanding that this is the case; the low information voter; the punitive policing; the absence of real leadership in the crisis; the incoherent messaging from the top; the disaster that is “national cabinet”; magic money tree economics; the relentless announcables; the COVID cronyism; the corruption of JobKeeper; the entrenching of power by the political class.
This all amounted to “a radical social experiment going against decades of epidemiological wisdom.”
It has been, as Stapleton suggests, “demonic”.
Not just stupid and deranged, but evil. It has caused, as we now see in all our empty churches, “spiritual damage”.
Earthly lives gone, and souls lost. A sad tale of deceit and compliance, of induced fear, isolation, economic deprivation, destroyed friendships and civil fracture.
A creepy but unmistakable feel of the Biblical end times, the streets all empty.
Astonishing submissiveness. A story of manufactured narratives, of a “disinformation feedback loop” as Stapleton reports, his previous faith in the scepticism of his countrymen utterly destroyed.
Societal dysfunction. The pattern was established well and truly by the onset of winter 2020, and a nightmare has ensued ever since. Many “conspiracy theories” across the internet have proven to be spot on.
The book draws upon a broad range of expert observers, thoughtfully spliced into the narrative.
Also spliced into the narrative are poignant reflections on John’s own youth. The experts referenced include journalists of every colour and distinguished academics such as The Spectator’s own Ramesh Thakur, himself a breath of fresh air amid the fetid atmosphere of secular decline.
Ramesh’s call on the COVID response, as reported by Stapleton? “The greatest mistake in history”. World War I is right up there, but this call is no exaggeration.
Rational argument simply does not work with our rulers.
Copious evidence relating to the policy disasters of the pandemic never breaches the walls of the bubble.
As John Stapleton said in an interview with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, “it all fell on deaf ears”.
ScoMo especially is a target of the book, but there is, truly, plenty of policy blight to be highlighted around the land.
Is the tide of opinion turning against the ever-increasing crush of medical technocracy?
Stapleton has cautious optimism. Speaking up for those of us who, mercifully, live outside the cities, he says: “But there are no cases or virtually no cases in this area. Nobody knows anybody who has died.”
Indeed, pennies may, at last, be dropping. Crisis? What crisis? It is a case-demic of a very mild strain of the initial virus, without the remotest hospitalisation crisis.
The author describes, too, an emotion that many of us feel, even if we rarely, if ever, watch one of those daily media briefings from the junta.
“Every pantomime of a press conference from Gladys, Chant and Hazzard is making them more hated.”
Whatever the tainted YouGov polls might suggest. Hatred is never good. We should all be worried.
Chillingly, as he says: “All of this has been done in secret, and in our name.”
The parliaments rarely sit. Public health orders trump democratic processes. Reasons are never given for policy actions, beyond formulaic tosh. We never signed up for this.
Steve Waterson, one of the consistently sane voices in the corporate media, describes the book as a “devastating indictment of Australia’s response to the COVID pandemic”.
I am glad Waterson didn’t confine himself to “Australian governments”, for we are, all of us, complicit in this truly diabolical attack on everything we have all lived for.
Stapleton uses the term “manipulated” and “held hostage” to describe our corporate media’s role in the fiasco.
He, alone, it seems, among our publishers and authors, has taken a stand – for freedom, common sense, perspective and Aussie values.
His is a stand for life itself. His work shames those of his colleagues who have chosen either to sit quietly in the corner these past eighteen months, or worse, to join in the chanting for the COVID fascist State.
This book is the methodical work of a brave truth-teller who is willing to call a spade a bloody shovel, in the best tradition of fair-dinkum journalism.
As the first draft of history, this magnificent book should be marked “essential reading”.
Normally, one might add here – send a copy to your local member of parliament.
Alas, I fear, in this case, such a course of action might well be pointless. Our rulers are in and settled, on a good wicket, and they intend to bat on.
A “signal collapse and rearrangement of society”? Who on earth could disagree?PC
Shellharbour is a small coastal town two hours south of Sydney.
Only a few short years ago a lost in time surfing village, it is now surging ahead as young families flee the nightmare that Sydney has become.
Village Fix is its most successful café, seeing queues of coffee lovers gathering from 6am well into the afternoon.
The owners hit on a winning formula, the best coffee in the state, well prove me wrong, and friendly service.
The owners, Anthony and Natalie Reale, are second generation Italians who are proud to have never received a handout from government as they bring up their three young children.
You couldn’t meet nicer, more decent, more hard working people.
And like thousands of business owners across the state, they’ve been brought to their knees during the COVID era by government overkill.
For weeks I’ve been making the same joke as I line up for my early morning coffee, “the last surviving small business in New South Wales”.
With the entire state, some eight million people, now enduring a highly controversial lockdown which has wearied the population beyond belief, lasting, this time around, some ten weeks with no end in sight, the joke is becoming all too real. Thousands of small businesses are not expected to reopen, crushed not by the virus but by the politicians and health bureaucrats perpetrating a disgraceful scare campaign on the population.
Put simply: people have had enough.
Australia’s democracy has proved virus thin. There has never been a more politicised and thereby more disastrously mismanaged disease. Eighteen months on from the country’s first COVID death Australia is almost unrecognisable.
The Australian government ignored all the cautionary tales emanating from some of the world’s leading tertiary institutions, all warning that lockdowns were a dangerous social experiment which would do more harm than good. The result has been an authoritarian derangement, with military on the streets, unprecedented levels of highly aggressive policing, a dramatic loss of liberties, thousands marching in the streets and uber surveillance at a level previously unimaginable.
Government overreach has destroyed all the nation’s traditional freedoms, from barbeques in the backyard to going to the beach.
And while public servants thrive, even receiving pay rises during the “pandemic”, small enterprises such as Village Fix are bearing the brunt of the authoritarian abuse which has made Australia a laughing stock around the world.
Rebel News reported the case thus:
Anthony and Natalie Reale were arrested, charged and fined for not wearing facemasks in their Shellharbour coffee shop two weeks ago.
Village Fix made headlines when NSW implemented mandatory facemasks for posting on Instagram:
“No mask? We won’t ask!”
While it’s illegal for a business to demand to check an exemption, police targeted the small business.
The pair were issued a $1,000 fine each for allegedly breaching the Chief Health Officers directions.
Police also criminally charged the pair for not wearing a facemask, and Natalie received an additional charge for maskless staff.
Both Anthony and Natalie have valid medical exemptions.
However, their strict bail conditions mean that police may jail them every time they leave their home without a mask.
We’ve added the pair to our Fight The Fines initiative to crowdfund their defence.
In a “name and shame” exercise emanating from the top levels of the NSW Police Force, local media outlet The Illawarra Mercury were notified prior to the arrest of Mr O’Reale, and his picture plastered all over their front page.
As a result the young family received a number of threats, and the tyres of their work van were slashed.
Australians are being turned against Australians.
All those “Covid Safe” signs festooning the entrances of businesses across the state are not signs of cooperation but of coercion.
“Most businesses are drowning,” says mother of three Natalie Reale, who was also arrested.
“When Victoria was in lockdown but we weren’t, nobody could care less.
“Now it is affecting everybody, they can’t go to work, or can’t go to work without the jab.
“Yes, they’re coming to our window with masks, but they’re only wearing them because they don’t want to get a thousand dollar fine. They’re still questioning things. A lot of people have had enough now.
“How are they going to stop people swimming in summer?
“We had a couple of nice days and there were people everywhere, because they have nothing else to do.
“We’re fine, we’re not affected by our stand on anti-discrimination. We have attracted people we wouldn’t have known before the mainstream media dragged us through the ringer.
“We thought we were not going to do very well because mainstream media bagged us, but I have to thank them for connections we wouldn’t have had.
“Now people won’t go anywhere else, they’ll only come to us. And we’ve gained businesses from the other cafes who bagged us because they saw their true colours and were disgusted.”
As Australia has become increasingly communistic in recent years, setting up a business was becoming more and more problematic, even before COVID.
The Reales put everything they had into the business, working long hours, negotiating the blizzard of local council regulations.
Now, with the entire state in a never-ending cycle of lockdowns, almost every small business is on its knees.
“We feel sad, we feel sorry for everyone that is suffering, businesses. All these businesses are essential, they’re people’s livelihoods.
“At first, when COVID appeared, we gained a lot of business from the cafes that closed. Which was good for us. But the families who had lost their jobs, we were just giving them free coffees. We didn’t want to take money off them when we were thriving.
“It’s been disheartening. I’ve felt ashamed to be Australian; Australians have just fallen into this. It’s disheartening to see a country that was so free fall on its knees.”
Natalie says the family feels like they are the subject of inappropriate attention from the authorities, with police sitting outside their home or regularly cruising past the café.
“I feel targeted, like all the other owners of organic cafes and shops, all the health oriented business people they targeted.
“They didn’t target any of the fast food joints.
“There was a lady down the beach the other day fined for walking her dog, because she wasn’t exercising herself, and therefore had no reasonable excuse to be out of her home.
“People are getting fined outside our café for not wearing a mask.
“I’ve seen people fined because they have a mask in their hands. It is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, mind blowing. Even talking about it makes my brain fry. How stupid.
“The harassment and intimidation, it is a police state.
“And some of the police don’t want to do it, you can tell.
“But I feel the veil is lifting, and all this corruption will be exposed.
“I believe Australia will follow suit; and scrap it all.
“Restricted in lockdown, people are seeing a lot of stuff, because before, all they were doing was watching government narrative. Now there’s little channels of counter information. A lot of people are questioning what is happening.”
Village Fix is popular with everyone in the area, from yummy mummies to property developers to long time residents, from the rich to the poor, for the simple fact they make the best coffee anywhere in the state.
Their loyal following included the local constabulary, with more than 50 police officers attending the café every day.
They have now been ordered by their “superiors” not to drink at the café or to associate with the owners.
One young police officer is reportedly now under investigation for the “crime” of liking one of the café owners Facebook posts.
That’s a clear example of the signal derangement of authority now consuming Australia and destroying community after community, business after business, liberty after liberty.
Many police do not agree with the vicious diktats deriving from government, a blizzard of constantly changing rules and regulations which has left the population impoverished, confused, disillusioned and increasingly resentful.
Embedded in the communities they serve, they are ill-equipped to act as a paramilitary police force, as they are now being asked to do.
Village Fix is just one of the stories coming out of Australia’s totalitarian derangement.
Day by day, step by terrible step, the situation in Australia gets worse, and worse, and worse. Suffering under lockdowns has become the single devastating experience driving the population to despair.
It has to end.
Australia has become the laughing stock of the world.
And you can bet one thing: the local Shellharbour police miss being able to get a decent cup of coffee.
This piece was written by veteran Australian journalist John Stapleton, who worked for 25 years on two of the country’s leading newspapers, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. A collection of his journalism is being constructed here.