A business case; single issue Substacks
How political influence might more easily be bought
Where did the TERF movement spring from? Why has it been successful? The unfortunate trend of ‘blackpilled’ commentators is to conclude that it’s because Leftist women fought in favour of it – being far more impactful than those impotent conservative columnists. The conclusion being that battles like immigration are unwinnable for the ‘right’ because this is a phenomenon that cannot be repeated easily - where are the harridan women to fight our corner?
I think this case is overstated - a lot of prominent TERFs are/were Gen X/Millenial conservatives, and ‘the right’ (a loose term) has clearly made progress on raising the question of housing in the last two-three years without the guiding hand and wise counsel of political lesbians.
The thing that differentiates the TERF movement from other political phenomenon over the last ten years is (forgive a Cummings-ism) relentless focus. When you are a TERF, you are a TERF to the exclusion of everything else. The rest of politics is noise. Linehan only cares about Starmer insofar as he will define a Woman. Suzanne Moore has a column at the Telegraph despite being left wing because she is totally possessed by this Trans Business and will write about it week, after week, after week. This is the sort of dedication you need to force social change over time; you can’t be chasing engagement according to the news cycle. It is in the very DNA of the ‘movement’ which began with obsessives on the internet (beginning on small Facebook groups, moving to bigger forms like Mumsnet). If you have the time, look at the TERF anonymous Twitter accounts in the replies of prominent TERFS - their bloody single mindedness is astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of tweets a year on Trans this and Trans that.
Return to the YIMBY briefly – the average devotee is someone struggling horribly with the London housing crisis. If you are spending 50% of your income on rent every moment of every day you are being crushed, and so you have a constant irritation to organise politically against. Britpopper journalists will occasionally pen an aside to how hard it is for les kids to buy their first flat in Wandsworth (£700,000 for a two bed! Flaming nora!) If this was the entirety of the discourse (I suspect it would be without X) there would not be any pressure on Messr Gove to build the bloody houses. The YIMBYs haven’t won, by any means, and I think the way Labour will implement housing reform (massive increases in social housing) will be a poisoned chalice, alas, you can measure a concrete impact.
The question we have to ask ourselves, as people who are interested in Reform; how could one recreate this focus on topics we want to see promoted politically? Being a TERF while ‘faceposting’ came at a social cost – what incentives can we use to encourage face posters to brave the shock of cold water when they push on racier topics?
Writing for a living
For the most part, Substack thus far has been used as a platform for individual authors. You convert your following on X in to a Substack. ‘Stackers commissioning other writers is uncommon; J’accuse has done it occasionally, there are a few media organisations (such as Aphoria) which have multiple authors but they are the exception. I believe this makes sense when you are asking people for paid subscriptions (I want to pay for the author I like who I follow, not random people) but this curtails how quickly these publications can grow their base. Everytime another prominent writer has written here we have had a sharp boost in growth – because they are sharing their audience with us. That is why there are never paywalls on articles other people write for this Substack – we want to encourage their followers in.
Most freelance authors do not have Substacks. It’s hard, even with a decent following, to convince other people to pay you a monthly subscription if you don’t have original ideas (CF the many graveyards of abandoned Substacks circa Summer 2020). Most follow the old route; convincing the editors of august publications to commission your articles. Article pitches to the Editor. This is a horribly inefficient system – boozy Tartan dungeons are maintaining large offices, commercial ‘teams’ and a fair amount of diversity related deadweight which means less money is getting to the writers. These organisations are also heavily tilted financially towards the bigger names, for example, a top flight columnist with thirty years of experience at a paper of Record will be earning over £400k a year. These salaries have little commercial reasoning and is often a reward for past political co-operation with a prominent Editor. All of these overheads squeeze your pay packet.
What editors want from smaller freelancers is what will drive engagement/circulation. If you have a particular hobby horse that is underdiscussed, take social housing as an example, it is challenging to write about this topic consistently and raise awareness of it. There is also a fair amount of arbitrary nonsense behind the scenes when it comes to getting articles published, it’s an advantage to live in London and know editors because there’s a social cost to rejecting your article pitches. Minorities often receive preferential treatment; it’s a big advantage to have a parent/family connection in journalism. This is not a meritocratic system by any means.
There is a whole wealth of writing talent locked out of the industry (read the Telegraph comment section and compare it to the columns). Editors attach their names and professional reputations to what they publish – this can make them very risk adverse, not just because of Britain’s world beating restrictions on freedom of speech, but because publishing an unknown/anonymous author writing about a marginal concept (like social housing privatisation) comes with consequences for their social lives and careers.
The inefficiencies of this model are obvious; there is a huge amount of waste and diffusion in the long pipeline between writer and reader. There is parallel wastage too in how individuals with a lot of wealth influence politics. Let’s discuss Think Tanks. Think tanks come with offices, staff (as do newspapers) – but another part of their business model is selling access to politicians. This means that they will studiously avoid genuinely controversial topics. For example, if you are a wealthy person who is interested in privatising Social Housing you will not be able to fund a think tank to research it.
Part of the reason the Conservatives are failing to offer radical policies to appease their base is that, for commercial reasons, the institutions which support the party have adopted the stigmas of the Left and use this as a filter by which they decide what can/cannot be published. This is especially true in public policy where think tanks do not only have to influence politicians but unabashedly left-wing Stakeholders (who hold democratically unaccountable power) – whether that be Civil servants, academics in education or the NHS.
What has been done to work around this blockage? Creating large alternative institutions like GB news has it’s appeal, but that is an enormous financial investment, available only to billionaires such as Paul Marshall. There are a lot of wealthy right-leaning people in Britain who are currently ‘pooling’ their wealth together to fund organisations like foundations and think tanks to put forward alternative concepts. I put to you that they would have more impact choosing specific issues and funding their spread directly.
How could we design a perfectly efficient system for recreating the TERF phenomenon on other issues? Let’s look at the value exchanges between a writer, a publication/think tank and a person with a lot of money.
The person with a lot of money wants a given social/political change. He funds an institution (publication/think tank) with money that the institution uses to pay a writer for content which aligns with a given cause. The relationship between the institution and the writer works in two directions; as generally both will have their own platforms. If I write an article for ‘the I’ and retweet it, both of us are sharing our respective audiences and increasing overall engagement.
If you want to drive a political point aggressively, while the quality of writing is important, the most important thing to do is activate as many extant audiences as you possibly can. Getting an X with 7 thousands followers to write for you. An X with 24 thousand followers. These are little pools of nectar that a bee must dip in to if we want to spread the pollen.
A Substack that is dedicated purely to the question of Social Housing, free to read, edited anonymously. This Substack will aim to commission ten articles a week critiquing social housing from different angles. While running on a relatively small budget, it will offer writers with pre-existing platforms higher pay per article than other comparable publications. This will create a sustained incentive for continued promotion of the anti social housing crusade.
Why Social Housing?
Trans is now a ‘wedge’ issue, it divides the Labour base between Terfy public sector managers and the activists, but originally it was what I would call a ‘knife issue’. When you drive it in to your political opponents they howl with agony. If you are a right winger with money this is the most cost efficient way of striking the enemy where it hurts.
That is currently where social housing is. As evidenced by the response on Twitter whenever the issue is Raised, the thousands of quote tweets etc. It enrages this privileged class of Somalians in London when you point out their largesse. Once you see the stats on social housing in Central London, you can never unsee it. Every time you visit Pimlico, Chelsea, the knowledge that you are subsidising the lives of upwards of 40% of the households in the area who get to live in a better area than and spend their bounty watching TV and committing crime will follow you around. Knowing this leads you to other conclusions about society and inequality.
We are at the point where most millennial professional graduates have never paused to even consider social housing as something that makes their life worse. The same was true of planning restrictions in Britain five years ago.
How will it be organised?
Instead of the old corruption of Media organisations, my intention here is to create something radically transparent.
To get commissioned for a piece there will be clear criteria. To be considered you would need to have, at minimum, 5000 followers on X, with a monthly engagement of over 500,000.
This would qualify you to write an article for £150 – with certain criteria (over 800 words, original in some way, no Online Harms etc). Thresholds for pay will increase with audience size; somebody with 10k followers/1 mil engagement would move in to a £250 per article tier. 20k followers /2mil would be £400.
Long Reads with novel research would merit more money. Every author would have to retweet the article that has been written before payment in full. Bespoke prices could be arranged for writers with very large audiences.
The aim will be to spend a budget of £2000 on commissioning authors a week as efficiently as possible with the aim of maximising engagement. Part of making this work is making writers lives as easy as possible – in the case of freelancing, quick payment (within a day) and feedback on why articles aren’t suitable is important.
I was shocked by how common it is in journalism for media organisations to mess writers around, but an element of organisational dysfunction is always going to happen in a busy office organising multivarious drinks ‘dos’ riven with personality conflicts. Often the person handling payments is not the person who commission the article.
A single individual is able to make decisions quickly without consulting other people. We are trying to minimise the amount of middlemen and overheads to get the best bang for buck. The sum of money has to be large enough (compared to other organs) that freelancers will spend time on it knowing there won’t necessarily be a Boost in prestige (words in…errr).
On my side, I will take 20% of revenue to compensate me for my time, remaining completely anonymous – such that my editing isn’t guided by what is and is not a good look.
Why does this work better than me giving money to traditional media/ a think tank?
This is many times more efficient as we have removed unnecessary overheads. As I have said, it’s impossible for you to get controversial stuff through these institutions. These institutions have to maintain a certain level of respectability as part of their product. An editor would explain that this is necessary to actually influence politicians – you need them at your Boozy summer parties if you want Impact. This is farcical. Cabinet Ministers are X addicts.
Political journalism is not Financial Journalism, where everyone on the Goldman FX desk is reading Bloomberg every day and ignore social media. You can very easily reach people in positions of power by provoking conversation online – see how much time the Tories spend responding to viral content on X already. You do not have to get through a Times of London filter to access power, that is simply untrue. The whole concept of prestige in politics is nonsense, the Editor has no clothes and it’s about time we started pointing that out.
What do I need?
I need a funder. Ideally a single individual, who can afford to spend around 150 thousand pounds a year on this concept. The vast majority of this will be on commissioning (as it should be), with a modest budget for paid advertising on X.
To give you an idea of how efficient this model would be (compared to old media) for less than three thousand pounds a week you will be able to drive millions of people in a single year to read about social housing and how it’s destroying the economy and stopping graduates having children. I guarantee you that every national newspaper/commentator will be forced to engage with the topic as a result. That’s what is possible when you don’t burden yourself with vain overheads like offices in Westminster and drinks events. A hundred/two hundred thousand pounds a year is practically a rounding error for some of the subscribers to this August publication – and for many of the Tufton Street lot.
Once this model is working and established, the potential for clones on other important topics is obvious. Genetic engineering, defunding the NHS, bully XLs. You can, with a relatively small amount money, create incentive structures for individuals with established platforms to promote your point of view consistently and relentlessly.
It is entirely possible that some of this initial investment could be recouped after two years by introducing some paid content, once the audience is sufficiently large. I am flexible about elements of the arrangement if it’s necessary to compromise to get it over the line.
If you are interested in funding this, or know a wealthy person who would be, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org