Jerry Saltz: “My only work is to write for the reader”

Renowned Senior Art Critic for New York Magazine Jerry Saltz, on his reasons to turn down a Substack offer:

I think it’s fishy to always be barking to your readers to subscribe. I think it is not my real work to write for “subscribers.” My only work is to write for the reader. […] I want to reach strangers; be loved and hated by strangers; talk about art to anyone any where any how. I like being in my huge department store @Nymag where people find me who have no idea who I am or what I do or even thought about art before.

I love this so much. I strongly advise you to read the full post. The department store analogy seems especially great, and I cannot find a better one to express the idea of wanting to reach people unfamiliar with your work.

With Substack, the huge majority of your readers activily decide to subscribe, and therefore most of your audience knows you, expects something from you, already likes you.

With a column in a publication like New York Magazine, you’re reaching not only people who bought the magazine for your column, but also people who bought it for another column, for the feature pages, people who read it in a waiting room, people who read it months after buying it, people who subscribe to the magazine precisely for the reason that it contains many, many different things.

On that note, I’m confident that the next big move for Substack-like products is not only to bundle subscriptions, but to offer something more in the likes of a magazine. Much like what Medium tried to do: one subscription, access to a bunch of content/authors.

Back to Saltz’s analogy.

If you write a novel, you’ll want to have your book displayed in every book store. If you’re planning to sell it in a tiny members-only shop with no front window, your general audience will barely grow, you’ll always reach the same amount of fans, the same narrow, engaged readership. I may be more lucrative, but your work won’t be as easily discovered. Both options are good, they just have a different intent.

If you’re a teacher who truly loves teaching, a teacher who wants to touch as many souls as possible in their life, you’ll want to teach in a public school. In this analogy, Substack feels more like a private school.

PS — I cannot find the original source of Jerry Saltz’s post, so I’m linking to Craig Mod’s tweet, which, like most of his tweets, may soon be deleted. Here is a screenshot of the post, just in case.