Super Membership, Close Friends, and Invitation-Only Newsletters: Welcome to the Secure Internet

In early September, Twitter officially introduced Super Follows, the highly anticipated subscription level that allows users to create and bill for exclusive content. Basically: OnlyFans – or Substack, or Patreon, or Cameo – for tweets (as well as the death knell for that evergreen joke about how the Crazy Bird website stayed free). At this point, the only slightly surprising thing about Twitter joining the subscriber-based movement in 2021 is that the platform has taken as long as Salman rushdie to get with the program.

The specifics of Super Follows differ slightly from a now familiar model: There are three price points at which you can set your monthly subscription rate, as well as a special badge to demarcate who is a Super Follower and what content is exclusive. Twitter’s initial use cases for Super Follow content ranged from college admissions advice at Tarot Questions and Answers. Importantly, the big blue bird pointed out the feature’s potential to unleash “additional special access,” previews and subscriber-only conversations galore. This is an important sleight of hand: if all goes according to plan, Super Follows won’t just be about getting more of the same from a given account, but gaining access to a more exclusive Twitter experience, to starting at $ 2.99 per month.

Of all the ways we have dissected the subscription internet – how it is both empowering and able to replicate existing power dynamics – a curious consequence is how the ability of everyone’s creator to monetize it Exclusivity has also standardized the ability to segment its subscribers between paying and non-paying members. Celebrities have always done this: They rely on real superfans, not casual listeners, to join their mailing lists and purchase their VIP concert packages. Now anyone on Patreon (or Substack, or OnlyFans, etc.) can also stand out and sell to their own personal fan club. You couldn’t do this before, even though you had a spectacularly large Twitter audience, because that next group was always a flat, monolithic group that more or less put your high school English teacher and your co-workers on the same footing. to see your 2 a.m. drunk tweets (speaking theoretically here) for free.

Audience segmentation is undoubtedly the whole point of Substack, of course. You, the writer, can create “free” content available to anyone who signs up for your newsletter (or who encounters the link in the wild), and you can create “subscriber-only” content that is sent to your paying readers. The art of successful sub-stacking is balancing the content for both audiences: Free posts need to be engaging, accessible, and optimized for maximum exposure, because you want the post to be shared and seen by many. new potential readers. Meanwhile, paid posts are said to offer enough value to satisfy monthly subscribers and potentially convince freeloaders to feel like they’re missing something (and therefore winning). Where once a typical writer had a general audience (usually their employer’s) in mind, a successful Substacker caters to at least two.

What’s also interesting is how the professionalized ability to divide your online subscribers into paid and unpaid tiers also coincides with increasingly formalized pathways to separate your internet presence between what is public and what is. private. For anyone who maintains a public figure online, the appeal of keeping parts of their internet at least semi-private in an age of instant cancellations, cyberbullying, and truly toxic troll culture is obvious.

I would say the Close Friends feature on Instagram Stories, which launched in 2018, was a crucial formal innovation here: While Myspace and Facebook have long allowed the designation of private or friends-only content, this measure was positioned as a matter of safety and save face, lest employers encounter your study abroad photos. On Instagram, where a typical individual must simultaneously care for a brand and their actual social circle, Close Friends has created a private intimate circle – connected by a special little green star, not a poop padlock – of fairly transparent way. The result: regulars got your daily stuff and close friends got the bonus thirst traps, naked, and even party invitations, all with just one click (a mix of content that could make Tina Brown proud).

Where the line between privacy and exclusivity begins to blur, this is where the most interesting parts of the internet have always been, from niche blogs to LordeThe onion ring secret account of the new wave of invite-only newsletters (of course, we were always going to come back to newsletters).

The poster child for this particular kind of exclusive missives: GQ fashion critic Rachel Tashjian“Opulent Tips,” recently billed as “newsletter fashion insiders can’t get enough”. The funny thing is, “Opulent Tips” isn’t even so much of a newsletter as we know it in 2021, but a private mailing list. Like Tashjian (who is also an elder Vanity Fair staff member and contributor) told me over the phone, the style newsletter does not exist on Substack or Mailchimp but as a literal Gmail missive sent to 500 addresses (450 from his personal email, the rest from a burner account due to Gmail’s daily email limit).

For Tashjian, the invitation-only status of the newsletter started out partly as a joke and partly as an ironic dig against the cliqueism of the fashion industry and the idea of ​​exclusivity itself. “The fashion world has cultivated this horribly exclusive attitude that makes you not realize that you can just go to the Balenciaga store and ask for the sneaker,” she explained. “It was funny to say it was by invitation only, it’s just to say that I got a bunch of people every Sunday. There is no secret code. You can just send me. a DM and I will probably add you.

Maintaining a members-only status for the newsletter also keeps “Opulent Tips” as the “bubbly and babbling point of sale” that Tashjian wanted, separate from his work covering men’s wear for. GQ and general pressure for any form of digital media to reach the widest possible audience. That an intentionally closed newsletter could serve as a ‘reaction to content monoculture’, as she put it, was echoed in a conversation I also had with Terry Nguyen, the author of another invitation-only newsletter called “Over Lychee Martinis”.

Harry L. Blanchard