CNN+ vs Substack: No Contest, and Here’s Why

This is a good one, folks.

The word is, CNN has so far spent $250 MILLION on its new + subscription service, which features Chris Wallace, whom they lured away from FOX.

Wallace has steam coming out of every orifice as he notes the + service has fewer than 10,000 subscribers.

It’s not just a flop, it’s a house that burned down to the ground the day after it was built, and the ashes have already been swept away.

Check my math. I calculate CNN has spent 25 thousand dollars for every subscriber to +. Each subscriber pays six bucks a month for the service.

Meanwhile, a number of substack writers have more subscribers than CNN+, for whom these substack writers have spent virtually nothing.

In other words, CNN could have just launched a modest substack page, saved $250 million, forgone the effort to sign Chris Wallace, and avoided the massive embarrassment of failure.

But no. CNN had to think big. Because that’s what mainstream networks do. It would have been beneath them to go the substack route.

Here’s another comparison. CNN+ has 10,000 subscribers. The premiere episode of season 4 of Paramount’s Yellowstone racked up 15 million viewers. Yellowstone came out of nowhere. Meaning it came out of the mind of one man, Taylor Sheridan.

But CNN’s + service came out of a committee, and an assurance from the PR firm, McKinsey, that + would be a hit. Which tells you something about the group vs. the individual.

Taylor Sheridan had the rogue notion that the story of one rancher and his family defending their land against all comers would interest viewers. How mad, how lunatic.

And how correct. Against all odds.

CNN believed Chris Wallace and the gang of usual news/commentary desk sitters at the network would galvanize viewers and turn them into subscribers.

How wrong.

“Here’s the plan. We take our same people who throw stuff at the wall every day to see what sticks…and we put them behind a paywall where they throw more of the same stuff.”

“That’s what we’re all thinking, Marmaduke. It’s a sure-fire hit. An idea whose time has come.”

Yeah. It came and went in about five minutes.

On the other hand, this is what substack did. With an infusion of $14 million, it hired good software engineers who assembled a smooth platform, it IDed maybe a dozen writers who were well-known, and it paid them significant up-front money to do their work on the new platform.


Thus, visibility was gained.

It then invited all writers everywhere to start their own substack pages. And write freely. No censorship (so far). No selling the company to a larger fish who would impose heinous writer standards (so far).

CNN? Substack?

Support individual writers by kicking in five or six bucks a month, or pay that sum to a network whose content is already numbingly predictable?

Support individual imagination, talent, and research, or pony up for filtered groupthink and its insistence on censoring dissident voices and minds?

Invite writers in out of the cold to earn their own keep by virtue of their work, or bar those writers because they fail to reflect an engineered consensus?

You decide.

Well, you are deciding, and the results so far couldn’t be more vivid.

Realize what’s happening here. Substack—unless it changes its mind—is betting on INDIVIDUALS. Writers and readers.

How often do you see that?

Reprinted with the author’s permission.