How a handful of independent publishers are doing their thing

I really like paying good writers so I thought I’d recommend a handful of publications I’m paying for and look at how they do things.

I’m completely fascinated by independent publishing. It’s mainly because I’m thinking a lot about the future of this publication, so let me explain what fascinates me about these publications.

The first is The Cascade by Robin Rendle. You’ve almost certainly read Robin’s fantastic writing before when they published loads for CSS-Tricks. They are certifiably one of the best in the biz.

I’ve only discovered The Cascade very recently, which is shameful. It shows how fragmented stuff on social media is right now I guess. That’s a conversation for another day though.

Regardless, The Cascade is 100% member supported for $10 a year, which is outrageously good value. Even reading one article that skills you up is worth that and let me tell ya, The Cascade is packed full of excellent content. It’s a similar model to Dense Discovery, which I also really like.

I like The Cascade’s membership page. It describes the publication’s intentions really well, but these two paragraphs really stood out to me:

The relationship is between you and me with a membership program and I like how up front that is. Plus, I’m going to be spending all my time thinking about how to make The Cascade better instead of doing devious and evil 2024 website things.

When you buy a yearly membership for $10 you help me cover the marginal costs of maintaining this website, sure, but becoming a member is really about trusting me to try out this weird thing and see if it works. When you do that you’re also asking for more things like this to exist in the world and I think that’s kinda neat.

That is kinda neat! This bit stood out too:

A lot of websites are written for search engines instead of people and so a membership program allows me to ignore all that and spend my time making The Cascade the best reading experience possible: a calm, quiet thing that you can return to every day and learn something new about CSS. It opens up so many doors in terms of making my writing weird and fun that simply wouldn’t be possible if I had to worry about search engines or social networks.

I think about this a lot. I’m trying to get this publication to a higher level of quality than most but that of course, is not cheap. Finding the right balance is hard, but I feel like people are more open to supporting smaller publications, especially after big publications have been sold and desecrated. There’s a shift in trust happening.

Related, let me introduce you to 404 Media. While they have a slightly different model to The Cascade, they are singing from the same sort of song sheet.

404 Media are a journalist-run publication who set the whole thing up because tech publishers were laying off writers and generally not doing a great job. 404 Media are also member supported, but they have ads for non members.

The ads are not overly intrusive but 404 Media do ask for an email to read free posts. I don’t like that, but they explain the reasons well. Basically “AI”, yet again, is spoiling the party, so to stop “AI” companies stealing their work, they only let you read the whole article when you’re logged in.

This is a sorry state of affairs that a publisher has to create a barrier. They’re making it work though as they’re making a profit and getting some big wins with their work. They also explored a premium full text RSS feed, which is something we’re concerned about because getting a full text RSS feed with MDX and Astro is difficult and caused us problems, but we managed to hack something together.

I’m personally taking a lot of inspiration from 404 Media at the moment. Absolutely not related to requiring an email, but more that I really like their overall vibe and confidence. They’ve earned the right to operate like that too because their content is top quality.

Interesting stuff is happening in the independent publishing world too. Publications I like such as Garbage Day and Platformer recently moved away from Substack. Casey Newton of Platformer wrote about that well.

There’s a whole undertone here about owning your own content, which is something we will always do here. I find the way publications navigate these difficulties that are absolutely not their fault interesting though. In fact, it’s all pretty interesting in the publishing world right now, that’s for sure.