Thomas Pack writes the After Hours column for Information Today newsmagazine, which features a quick look at sites info pros might not know about, but should. It reflects when readers would typically have a chance to dig into the sites covered—that is, after work hours.
Here are excerpts from Pack’s columns from January/February 2022 to November/December 2022, which have been lightly edited and condensed for the web. You can read the full columns five times a year in Information Today, starting with the January/February 2021 issue.
Read Part 1
Subscription Newsletters, Part 1: The Rise of Substack
Thousands of subscription-based newsletters are available through Substack from both well-known and unknown writers. They cover such diverse topics as the climate crisis, cooking, and Australian basketball. You also can subscribe to digital newsletters from people who aren’t primarily known for writing, including filmmaker Michael Moore and punk rock pioneer Patti Smith.
According to Jack Shafer, POLITICO’s senior media writer, the rise of Substack and its competitors “signals a new juncture in journalism, one that combines the power and mystique of the byline with the editorial independence afforded by the blog.” But editorial independence can be a double-edged sword for both readers and writers.
SUBSTACK FOR READERS
Kik Interactive co-founder Chris Best, developer Jairaj Sethi, and tech reporter Hamish McKenzie founded Substack in 2017. The website now attracts more than 12 million monthly users and has more than 500,000 paid subscribers. To find newsletters you want to read, you can search the site by writer, topic, or publication, or you can browse through 2 dozen content categories, including Culture, Politics, Technology, News, Music, Finance, and Art & Illustration. Most Substack subscriptions are $5–$10 a month, and you can sample content before you sign up.
SUBSTACK FOR WRITERS
Substack’s homepage includes a calculator so you can see how much money you could make through the site. If you have, say, 800 subscribers paying $7 each, you’ll add $4,638 to your monthly income. (Substack will keep 10% plus credit card fees.) Of course, unless you’re famous, you’ve built an audience through another media channel, or you have especially valuable content, getting to 800 subscribers could be a challenge. To help you get started, Substack lets you import content and mailing lists you already have on other sites, such as WordPress and Tumblr.
But you don’t have to bring in revenue; you could make your content free—or a mix of free and paid. A Resource Center on the site offers advice on such topics as Growing Your List, Fostering Community, and Building a Media Business. You retain all rights to work you publish as well as your mailing list.
Subscription Newsletters, Part 2: Substack Alternatives
Jack Shafer, POLITICO’s senior media writer, pointed out that “Substack is teaching us that not only will readers pay for top-drawer copy, but that the work of some writers was actually undervalued in the market before readers were given the opportunity to purchase journalism a la carte instead of from a prix fixe menu.” But Substack isn’t the only publishing platform that’s teaching this lesson.
Launched in June 2021, Bulletin is a Meta newsletter site built on its own platform to “enable creators to grow their audience in ways that are not exclusively dependent on the Facebook platform,” according to the Bulletin FAQ. Creators on Bulletin include well-known writers such as Mitch Albom and Malcom Gladwell. Other authors cover a wide range of topics, including food, health, science, sports, fashion, and the arts. A great deal of Bulletin content is free, but some is kept behind a paywall.
According to a blog post that Meta published 6 months after the launch of Bulletin, the newsletter site had 115 content creators who garnered more than 1,000 free email subscribers, with many having more than 5,000 or even 10,000. Of course, these numbers are low compared to those of Substack. Writing for The Verge, reporter Mitchell Clark points out, “Even if most Bulletin publishers are closer to the 10,000 side, it doesn’t look like Substack will have its lunch eaten anytime soon.” But Clark also notes that “it’s probably too early to write off Bulletin,” which, according to the blog post, plans to “thoughtfully” increase the number of creators in 2022.
OTHER PUBLISHING PLATFORMS
Unlike Substack, Bulletin doesn’t currently offer tools that let users launch their own newsletters, but if you’re looking for alternatives to publishing through Substack, you’ll be happy to know that several other platforms do, including Medium, Ghost, TinyLetter (by Mailchimp), and Revue.
Is the a la carte media model that all of these platforms facilitate the wave of the future, or will consumers eventually tire of so much fragmentation and too many choices in the media marketplace? According to Shafer in POLITICO, “You can enjoy conventionally edited publications and unfettered newsletters at the same time without being ridiculed for wanting it both ways.”
An Easy Way to Track Bands Headed to Your Town
Demand for live music is back in a big way. The number of tickets sold through Bandsintown, a concert-tracking website and app, was twice as high in January 2022 as it was in January 2019—even though people could attend more concerts in that pre-pandemic month. You can use Bandsintown not only to see who’s coming to your town and link to ticket sellers, but also to get personalized alerts and recommendations for other concerts matching your musical tastes.
A LIGHTBULB MOMENT
According to an article in the Boston Herald, Massachusetts College of Art and Design alum Todd Cronin got an idea for a new company after an ex-girlfriend casually asked him, “What bands are in town?” Cronin and partner Phil Sergi launched Bandsintown in 2007. It was acquired by the company now known as Bandsintown Group (previously Cellfish) in 2011. Today, the website and app connect more than 68 million music fans with 560,000-plus artists. Bandsintown features more than 2.5 million events and maintains a unique database of 24,000 venues. You can find live music information for just about every musical genre—from alternative to zydeco. Bandsintown lists concerts in 100-plus cities in North America and dozens of others worldwide—from Athens, Greece, to Zagreb, Croatia.
You can browse all of the acts coming to your town or search for specific artists. Last fall, Bandsintown launched a new website with expanded features for searching by date range, genre, city, venue, and festival. The updated website also added personalized recommendations, which were previously available only to Bandsintown app users. If you find a show you might want to attend but aren’t quite ready to shell out for the tickets, you can set a reminder on the concert page, and it will show up on your My Events page.
GETTING IN SYNC
To instantly follow your favorite artists, Bandsintown lets you sync music libraries on such apps as Spotify, Apple Music, Facebook, and Amazon Music. You also can sign up for email notifications, including not only a weekly list of shows matching your musical tastes, but artist messages, exclusive deals, and details on app updates. In addition, Bandsintown offers general music industry news, such as tour reports, reviews, and monthly charts of the top established and emerging artists. The artists can use Bandsintown to promote new releases, make tour announcements, highlight merchandise, and send messages to fans attending their shows.
Bookish? No, This Site Is a Riot!
Book Riot is a website offering news, reviews, and recommendations in several genres, including children’s books, comics, mysteries, nonfiction, sci-fi/fantasy, and young adult. Book Riot also offers a range of media to help you explore the book world, including newsletters, podcasts, and even a fee-based personal recommendation service.
BUILDING A BOOK SITE
A news release announcing the launch of Book Riot in 2011 noted that book coverage in traditional media was shrinking and that the publishing industry was undergoing fundamental changes, so there was a clear need to rethink book coverage. Jeff O’Neal, co-founder of Riot New Media Group (Book Riot’s parent company), said in the release, “[R]eading is now social in ways we are just beginning to understand and people are looking for new ways to engage with what they are reading.”
Book Riot now gets more than 3.2 million monthly visitors. It calls itself “the largest independent editorial book site in North America” and maintains a strong commitment to diversity. “We’re dedicated to the idea that writing about books and reading should be just as diverse as books and readers are,” says the site’s About Us page. “[W]e do the work each day to innovate fresh content and services to our readers, amplify marginalized voices, and challenge ourselves and our community to be inclusive.”
A RANGE OF MEDIA FOR REACHING READERS
Book Riot articles often focus on several titles in a specific genre, (e.g., “New Books About World War II”) or publishing trends (e.g., “Intro to the Social Horror Genre”). You also will find unique approaches to book recommendations (e.g., “Read These 11 Books If You Like the Show Arcane”).
You can sign up for any of more than 30 (!) Book Riot newsletters. For instance, Check Your Shelf is “the librarian’s one-stop shop for news, book lists, and more.” Past Tense will keep you current on historical fiction. Literary Activism offers “tools for the fight against censorship.” The Fright Stuff covers “the latest and greatest from the world of horror.”
You can always turn to Book Riot for an entertaining tour of today’s literary landscape. As the site says, “Come for the book recommendations, stay for reading life tips, book news, and general literary chatter.”
Did You Know Google Docs Offers These Features?
It probably would be an overstatement to say it was a critical point in the evolution of communication technology when Google Docs introduced pageless formatting earlier this year, but it’s at least a notable development when the leading free online word processor completely liberates its millions of users from the idea that they are typing on the digital equivalent of a piece of paper.
Helping to redefine what we mean by a “document,” pageless formatting lets you “remove the boundaries of a page to create an infinite surface to work on,” Google announced. “In this setting, there are no page breaks, images adjust to your screen size, and wide tables are viewable by scrolling left and right. Line breaks for text will adjust to screen size and as you zoom in and out.”
The ability to create a pageless document is just one of many features Google Docs has introduced during the past year.
Your favorite emojis are now available on Google Docs. You can easily add them to your text by navigating to Insert > Emoji, or you can use the @ menu by typing @emoji and pressing Enter to see your options.
You also can add special characters to your text, such as shapes, arrows, accent marks, and em and en dashes. Go to Insert > Special Characters, or type @Special Characters.
Google has made sending polished emails easier than ever by enabling you to write and collaborate on them in Docs and then preview and send them in Gmail. To use this feature, go to Insert > Building blocks > Email draft. You also can insert an email draft anywhere in your document by typing @email and pressing Enter.
To preview the draft in Gmail, click the blue icon at the left of the draft in Docs. This will open a Gmail pop-up window. You can continue to edit or go ahead and send the email.
You now can easily add text and image watermarks to your documents. This feature is particularly useful for any files that need to be marked with a status such as Confidential or Draft when you share documents because the watermarks will repeat on every page. To add one, look in the Insert menu or the @ menu and select Watermark.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
With all of these new features, Google Docs has created an even more efficient, collaborative, and customizable word processor. Visit the Google Docs Editors Community for more information on the features listed here and to learn about new ones as they’re added.