Facebook shuts Bulletin, it’s take on Substack

Facebook shuts Bulletin, it's take on Substack

Facebook parent Meta announced on Tuesday that it will shutter its newsletter platform Bulletin in early January, less than two years after it was launched.

The service was intended to capitalize on what at the time appeared to be a robust market for subscription newsletters, led by the publishing platform Substack, which raised $65 million in initial capital, and similar start-ups such as Pico and Ghost. Last year, Twitter purchased Revue, another newsletter platform.

But the newsletter boom has cooled in recent months. Substack laid off 14 percent of its staff in June and put plans for further fundraising on pause, and pundits began questioning Bulletin’s long-term strategy of signing creators to big contracts while at the same time avoiding the kind of political posts that draws readers, controversy and subscriptions.

“Facebook will either stick to their apolitical agenda and create an insanely boring product that no one cares about and then quietly sunset it,” Substack newsletter creator Ryan Broderick wrote last year about Bulletin, “or, they’ll give up on keeping it apolitical , respond to what does best among their users, and immediately pivot into a right-wing news outlet. Excited to see which happens first!”

Meta said it regularly evaluates products to ensure they are focused on giving consumers a meaningful experience on the platform and said it would pay out the remaining contracts in full. Bulletin creators will retain full control of their subscriber email lists and can choose to archive all their content or move it to a new platform of their choice. Creators will be able to publish until early January, and the site will remain in read-only mode for a short period after that, Meta said.

“Bulletin has allowed us to learn about the relationship between creators and their audiences and how to better support them in building their community on Facebook,” the company said in a statement. “While this off-platform product itself is ending, we remain committed to supporting these and other creators’ success and growth on our platform.”

Meta sought to cultivate content around sports, fashion and the environment that it framed as apolitical. It signed six-figure deals with high-profile writers such as journalist Malcolm Gladwell, activist Malala Yousafzai, reality-TV star Tan France and sports reporter Erin Andrews, paying them a flat rate to create content on the platform until 2024. Meta also announced a $5 million commitment to support 25 selected local news writers.

Despite the refusal of some writers to work with Substack over complaints that the platform fails to moderate misinformation and hate speech, popular celebrities and sports figures — as well as contrarian influencers such as Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald — picked Substack over Bulletin. Those include actor Nick Offerman, former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, singer-songwriter Patti Smith, musical artists Tegan and Sara, and writers George Saunders and Salmon Rushdie.

“Bulletin was worth trying, and we’re glad Meta did it,” said Hamish McKenzie, co-founder and chief writing officer at Substack. “We know that there were people on the Bulletin team who cared deeply about the project and helping writers. There were lots of great writers using Bulletin, and we hope they continue their newsletters. If they’re looking for a great home where they have full ownership and full control of their destinies, then Substack is here for them and we’d love to help them go to the next level.”

In addition to providing publishing tools, Meta also offered third-party services to Bulletin creators including legal resources, design support and editing assistance. “Our unique ability to help talented people find and connect with the audiences and markets they need to flourish gives independent journalism a greater opportunity to thrive,” Campbell Brown, Meta’s vice president of news partnerships, and Anthea Watson Strong, product manager for news, wrote last year.

In June, Facebook shuttered its podcast business and merged its short-form live audio feature, which was meant to compete with Clubhouse, into Facebook Live.

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