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June 3, 2024updated 06 Jun 2024 1:47pm

London news Substack signs up 225 paid subscribers in first month of paywall

A separate daily digest of London local news is on 230 total subscribers after its own May launch.

By Charlotte Tobitt

More than 225 people signed up as paying subscribers to a new investigative newsletter-based outlet for London in the first month of its paywall.

The London Spy is a Substack-based newsletter publishing digests, features and investigations about the capital – inspired by the model behind the Manchester Mill. The Mill itself added 272 paying subscribers in a week in May after it went public about a threat of legal action against it.

The London Spy‘s recent reports for paid subscribers have included an investigation into last year’s smoke-fuelled panic on the Tube at Clapham Common, a look at the decline of independent pubs and a 2,500-word report on how Brixton Academy had managed to reopen 16 months after two people died in a crowd crush.

The newsletter launched in summer last year and has more than 5,000 free subscribers Paid subscriptions were turned on at the start of May and more than 225 people have signed up to pay about £5 per month each, meaning more than £1,125 in monthly income so far.

The London Spy publishes two emails per week: one with a news round-up and free feature at the weekends, and one on Thursdays with a paid-for long-form piece.

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Editor Alex Clark told Press Gazette the aim with further investment would be to add one more email per week on Tuesdays featuring a free news briefing and a paid piece below – although any balance of free and paid will depend on the response of readers.

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Clark, currently a part-time journalist at The Guardian‘s visual storytelling department who has spent time at Tortoise, The Telegraph and Newsquest, works on The London Spy with one friend who also works in journalism. They both hope to eventually go full-time.

Clark said: “We’re really excited about how our first month has gone — it’s been a clear sign from our readers that they’re ready for a different kind of journalism in London.

“For too long Londoners have had to watch on as their own city media crumbles, and quality suffers.

“That’s about to change. Our jump in funding unlocks so many big things for the Spy, and we have our readers to thank for that.

“We’re optimistic that we can build on this momentum, and create a sustainable news model supporting quality journalism for Londoners.”

The London Spy's Substack homepage on 3 June 2024
The London Spy’s Substack homepage on 3 June 2024

As The London Spy prepared to mark one month of paid subscriptions last week, the Evening Standard told staff it planned to drop its daily print edition and launch a weekly paper instead alongside its online presence.

Clark said: “Our thoughts are with any Standard journalists during the uncertain weeks ahead.

“There are so many journalists there producing great London reporting — from scoops about City Hall to smaller stories in individual boroughs. They’re just being let down by their bosses.

“But we want to say that the Spy’s door is open to anyone at the Standard who’s fed up.”

The outlet has published a pitching guide for freelance journalists as it put out a call for “news exclusives and anything investigative, as well as in-depth features that explore a current issue” of between 1,000 and 2,000 words – with a rate of 30p per word.

Clark said of this rate: “We’re refusing to cut corners when it comes to paying our external writers. The rationale is simple: how can we credibly report about London, and its huge problems with affordability, if we’re not willing to play our own part?”

Potential contributors are told the Spy wants “pieces that could have just as easily appeared in the Guardian, Times or Economist. Vice News and Private Eye aren’t too far off either.”

The London Minute launch

Also in May ex-Guardian journalist Michael MacLeod launched a London version of his daily digest of Edinburgh local news.

With The London Minute, which is also on Substack, he curates a list of links to local news stories in and around the city and sends them at 7am every day.

MacLeod told Press Gazette he launched the London version on 14 May and by last Thursday had reached 230 subscribers, of whom 20 were paying, which he said was ahead of where he was at the same point in Edinburgh. (Update: on Monday morning it surpassed 300 in total.)

Both newsletters “will always be free with the option to pay”, MacLeod has said, but the paying subscribers helped MacLeod go full-time on the newsletters this year, earning a salary after the 10% hosting fees, payment provider fees and savings for tax.

He also does consultancy work for other publishers on newsletters and helped Newsquest launch The Glasgow Wrap, which has more than 1,000 subscribers, this year.

The Edinburgh Minute has 10,400 free subscribers and 1,445 paying subscribers and has so far sent 500,000 visits to local news websites – which MacLeod said is “not huge for some of them, but for others I’ve been told it’s significant.

“It’s also helped people sell out tickets for events, make friends, raise money for various causes and increase a sense of community. That for me is the biggest win. I care as much about traffic as I do about helping people realise that all this great stuff was already happening where we live, and I’ve just put it in one place each morning.”

Explaining why he decided to launch in London, MacLeod said: “The London news ecosystem is patchy. Some areas are vibrant while others are under-served. I have so far gathered 80 sources which I check every morning for updates on, then link to their work in the 7am newsletter. It’s a lot of tabs open, with the aim of saving everyone else from that pain.

“Before going live, I spent the first part of this year asking local publishers if they’d find something like The Edinburgh Minute useful in London and literally everyone mentioned how referrals from Google and social media had plummeted. So the Minute has been welcomed and I’ve enjoyed meeting publishers on calls and in real life to understand where we can collaborate.”

MacLeod added: “It’s great to see new enthusiasm around local independent news despite the bleaker news about larger corporate ‘local’ titles. I think a reason the Minute format works is that the local media landscape is more fractured than ever while people’s need to know is stronger than ever.”

The London Minute's Substack homepage on 3 June 2024
The London Minute’s Substack homepage on 3 June 2024

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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