SubStack: Anti-vaxxers making ‘at least $2.5m’ a year from publishing with online subscription site

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A group of vaccine-sceptic writers are publishing newsletters to tens of thousands of followers through an online subscription service and making upwards of $2.5m a year. SubStack, the online publishing platform, hosts prominent figures in the anti-vaccine movement such as Dr Joseph Mercola and Alex Berenson who both have large followings on the site.
Substack has more than 1 million paying subscribers who sign up for individual newsletters from an array of authors who include novelist Salman Rushdie, the writer musician Patti Smith and former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings. Under Substack’s business model, writers keep about 90% of the subscription income, with the platform taking 10% and payment company Stripe charging the writers 3% of their take.
Mercola is an alternative medicine doctor from the US who is also a prolific producer of anti-vaccine content. Research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a campaign group, showed that Mercola’s newsletters made a minimum of $1m a year from charging subscribers an annual fee of $50.
Another author on the site is Alex Berenson, a journalist banned from Twitter last year after questioning the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. The data collected by the campaign group showed the writer charging $60 a year and making a minimum of $1.2m. Three other vaccine sceptic newsletters, from tech entrepreneur Steven Kirsch, virologist Robert Malone and anonymous writer Eugyppius, generate about $300,000 between them.
Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH, said to The Guardian that companies like Substack were under “no obligation” to amplify vaccine scepticism and make money from it. “They could just say no. This isn’t about freedom; this is about profiting from lies … Substack should immediately stop profiting from medical misinformation that can seriously harm readers.”
A Substack spokesperson pointed to an essay published on Wednesday by the platform’s co-founders, Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi, in which they said silencing vaccine sceptics would not work. “As we face growing pressure to censor content published on Substack that to some seems dubious or objectionable, our answer remains the same: we make decisions based on principles, not PR, we will defend free expression, and we will stick to our hands-off approach to content moderation,” they said.
The statement came as Spotify began removing Neil Young’s music after the streaming service refused to take down Joe Rogan’s podcast despite the musician’s objections that it spread vaccine misinformation.


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Claire Gordon



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