After about a year and a half of deliberation, I decided over the weekend to start a Pietist Schoolman newsletter on Substack.
Founded about five years ago, Substack provides writers with an easy means of hosting a newsletter that is both emailed directly to subscribers and can be shared as a link to a website. Some of the most popular Substack newsletters come from journalists, political pundits, novelists, and tech writers, but several academics have also experimented with it.
None more successfully than historian Heather Cox Richardson, whose daily Letters from an American became such a phenomenon in the dark days of 2020 that she was profiled in the New York Times. A professor at Boston College whose most recent book is a history of the Republican Party, Richardson is regularly cited as the most popular writer on Substack, with tens of thousands of paid subscribers and many more getting the free version every morning in their email. (I’ll come back to the free/paid distinction before this post is done.)
I found Richardson’s story compelling enough to float the idea of taking The Anxious Bench to Substack. Probably for the best, that idea didn’t materialize, but I did continue to toy with the idea of starting my own newsletter. As it happened, around the same time that I decided to leave Anxious Bench, my former AB colleague Kristin Du Mez started her own popular newsletter on Substack. (It inspired my post last week on Calvin University and the “messy middle” of Christian higher ed.) So have several other writers that I admire, many with Christian college connections: e.g., sociologist John Hawthorne, political scientist Daniel Bennett, and literature professor O. Alan Noble.
So, after a decision that was both belated and sudden, I launched The Pietist Schoolman on Substack over the weekend. The first full newsletter — a reflection on patriotism via Frederick Douglass — went out today, and I’ll expect to write 2-3 times a week this summer before reevaluating everything at the end of August.
You can read more about my interest in Substack here. Let me just underscore two points here for blog readers:
I’m not sure yet what this will mean for the blog you’re reading.
In most respects, I expect the Pietist Schoolman newsletter to read a lot like a longer Pietist Schoolman blog post: similar topics, similar style. But I’m still feeling out just how often I want to send out a newsletter, and which topics make the most sense for that platform. Certainly this summer I’ll split time between the two, and maybe cross-post at least some content. But even if I decide to continue the newsletter at the end of the summer, I suspect that I’ll still use this blog occasionally… and pietistschoolman.com will continue to be my personal website, the place to go to learn more about my books, European tours, and speaking events.
I may start a paid subscription option later, but will always offer free content.
In yesterday’s announcement at Substack, I admitted to feeling least certain about this aspect of that site. I’ve always liked the idea of some aspect of my professional life being more detached from market forces, so one way or another, I will continue to engage in public writing that doesn’t require payment. But I do like how Substack makes it possible for readers to support authors they appreciate (especially when those authors work in a sector as unstable as higher ed), and there are ways that adding a paid option (usually $5-$7 per month, with a discount for a full-year subscription) can actually deepen the sense of connection and community for writers and readers.
(For the record, the Substack business model is to take 10% off any paid subscription revenue, with the rest going straight to authors. That lets Substack and its authors avoid ads entirely — a big plus in my mind, especially after six years of dealing with the incessant, mismatched advertising that pops up on every Anxious Bench post.)
One way this often works on Substack is that authors will continue to make most newsletters free, but offer special benefits for paid subscribers: not just special subscriber-only content, but full access to archives and the ability to comment on newsletters. If I do start a paid subscription option later this summer or early this fall, it will almost certainly look like that.
So with all that said… let me encourage anyone who has followed me at this blog to join me at Substack. I’ll continue to share those links on Facebook and Twitter, but the best way to keep up with The Pietist Schoolman newsletter is to subscribe. (All it takes is an email address… and it’s as easy to un-subscribe, if you decide Substack isn’t for you.)