RETURN x Substack
A match made in culture.
A few weeks ago, Substack hit a significant milestone—2 million paid subscriptions. To mark the occasion, co-founder Hamish McKenzie unveiled “a new mission statement: To build a new economic engine for culture.” Among other important things, he explained, that goal entails “helping you take back your mind from the attention economy” while “shoring up free speech and a free press as fundamental to a healthy media system.”
These two things are not unrelated. “We,” Hamish continued, “think the powers of the internet can be tipped in favor of culture makers by building on rules that reward quality, good-faith discourse, and trust.” But instead of trying to do so by linking up with “an existing social network,” Hamish insisted, Substack “can build something much better that’s completely new.”
This mission is one we at RETURN share. There’s little to recommend a tech media ecosystem defined by an adversarial relationship between thought-policing journalists and technologists forced to cover themselves to avoid naked hostility. Yet that ecosystem dominates and often defines public communication about how and whether we can successfully return to a healthy and generative mastery over our most powerful, pervasive, and dangerous digital tools.
Breaking out of the broken discourse around what’s happened to us and what’s next, and moving from words on the page or onscreen to a broad-based reestablishment of competence and autonomy, requires consistent and creative coverage that doesn’t treat content like drugs to be administered or propaganda to be instilled. It needs to build on a fresh voice that speaks freely in favor of the free association of Americans online and their free association with the fundamental technologies they must access and use to keep America’s online life distinctly and richly American.
We firmly believe America’s shared challenge is to secure our digital sovereignty in a way that keeps life free, fruitful, and fully human.
As a people, the severe challenges we face across the full spectrum of political, social, and spiritual life will not be solved simply by more tech, more ethics, or more compliance repressively enforced. All Americans have the right and the ability to organize their online activity on the strength of computing, platforms, and protocols that protect and enhance their constitutionally guaranteed form of government, their long-held and cherished way of life, and ultimately their humanity itself. And the many millions of Americans crying out for that future are ready to listen to those who can speak to their needs and show a way forward together.
That, in other words, makes RETURN an engine for culture, one which, on Substack, has a clear economic logic and structure. We’re one of the first brands to integrate our print publication and tiered membership offerings into Substack’s platform, which provides us the ability to deliver RETURN’s products in a way that’s unparalleled in its efficiency and responsiveness to demand.
We’ve observed as Substack has grown over these past years. Many of our favorite writers, readers, and RETURN contributors are Substackers. They get it. We get them. And with the stakes so high today for American life, in a world being made over by tech and lorded over by soul-sick elites, what we all want to build requires us to rally together.
On Substack, we can say more clearly than ever we’re where tech aligns—with the priorities of Americans who know our destiny is about more than sitting back and letting technology happen to us. We firmly believe America’s shared challenge is to secure our digital sovereignty in a way that keeps life free, fruitful, and fully human.
When you sign up for a free subscription, you’ll receive access to our archive of award-winning content, along with a weekly newsletter.
Paid subscribers will receive exclusive weekly content from some of the best writers in the industry, covering topics and people you won’t find anywhere else.
Founding members will get all of the above, plus exclusive invites to online and IRL events and gatherings.
In the coming year, we’ll publish and profile some of the smartest, most controversial, and most interesting people from tech and culture. Our coverage of the commerce and culture of tech will continue to provide a well-targeted guide to the people, the events, and the opportunities you need to know to make choices that’ll bear fruit for you and those you love, now and for generations. Whether you’re in the Valley or off the grid, in the Swamp or the suburbs.
The centralization, alienation, degradation, and cancellation defining our time marks a sharp break with the healthy, productive relationship Americans forged so well with their tools. In most of our lives, tech is now largely used to onboard us into a cyber enclosure where our hard-won form of government just doesn’t apply. This system is designed to forcibly remake the globe in its image, no matter the cost.
We’ll continue to blaze a different trail.
Without an American renaissance of competence, conviction, and trust, the worst is yet to come. Our human identity is at stake; failure here means all civilizations will suffer too. An America that turns markets and machines against our humanity imperils the future of free will and vitality as much as any tyranny. That’s why we need, and welcome, active allies worldwide, even where our respective civilizations rely on different answers to the ultimate questions tech raises about who we are and why.
And that’s why, on Substack, RETURN will continue to fuel a larger project, one of building the community and constituency we need to reclaim our digital destiny. We’re here to actively help you build the enterprises and institutions that will put American innovation and ingenuity back in alignment with our American identity. We invite you to join us as a paying subscriber to the RETURN Substack and as a full RETURN member, unlocking the insight and access that take you to the next level in your journey. We can’t wait for you to join us.
STOP - DO NOT INVEST IN SUBSTACK'S BROKEN MODEL!!!
Seriously if they are begging for money and VC bailed it means its a broken model. Think about it, how many regular people are paying per writer $5 to $10 per month? Not enough apparently and the next thing they will introduce is advertising which is 1million times worse. This monetization model is for elites, elite writers and elite readers who can afford to pay to "benefit" from their writing. Its not Twitter but its just as elitist as Twitter and will devolve into the same mess and control mechanism.
Go check out web3. Go check out crypto. Go check out the MVP of my solo hobbiest project "dplatform.me" The next platforms will be web3, crypto, micro-transactions, and governed by decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) or no one
The future is decentralized!