If you’re worried about all your newsletter subscriptions getting lost in your inbox, Substack may have a solution. Today the platform is launching an RSS reader called Substack Reader, which offers a streamlined collection of your latest newsletters. Any Substack newsletter you already subscribe to will automatically show up, and if you want, you can add third-party RSS feeds, too.
The goal was to “create a distraction free space” for people whose email inbox isn’t their ideal reading experience, Substack CEO Chris Best told The Verge.
“It could be a way to discover new writers you want to subscribe to”
Substack Reader is launching as a beta, and it feels very much like a version one product. It presents a chronological list of every newsletter you’re subscribed to, and you can click on those entries to open them in a new window and read them. Right now, there’s no way to read stories inside of Substack Reader, like you can in a traditional RSS reader, and stories stay in your queue even after you’ve read them. (In-line reading is “something we are strongly considering for the future,” Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie wrote in an email to The Verge.)
The reader also separates out podcasts published through Substack, and it shows a lock icon next to subscriber-only newsletters, which could help to highlight just how much non-paying readers are missing out on. Anyone will be able to sign up for the beta starting today. At launch, it’s only available on the web. Mobile apps are “something we’ll look at,” Best said.
RSS readers have traditionally struggled to gain a large enough audience for companies to keep supporting them. Google infamously shut down Google Reader in 2013; Digg launched Digg Reader in response the same year, then shut it down five years later. Substack seems to be thinking about its reader as a companion to its newsletters, more than as a competitor to full-on RSS readers like Feedly. Still, Best said he hopes to expand the audience for a reader app by making it “as easy and simple as it can possibly be to get started.”
Longer term, the service may finally give Substack a space to start recommending different newsletters to existing users. “I think one of the reasons that we think an experience like this could be really good is it could be a way to discover new writers you want to subscribe to,” Best said.
As Substack adds discovery features, Best said the service will stay away from putting “a bunch of clicky stuff in there that’s super tantalizing,” and stick to the platform’s existing goal of fostering a relationship between readers and writers they can trust.
Substack is adding some basic new discovery features to its website today, too. The service’s existing list of top publications is being expanded to include a number of specific categories (beyond the previous “top paid” and “top free” lists), so you’ll be able to see the top political newsletters or top business newsletters and explore by your interests.