I wrote about my use for, and advocacy of, RSS readers in a post from last February. All writing websites should offer RSS feeds and make them readily accessible to readers. Feed readers allow readers to choose which content they follow and to collect all of their selections in one place. The freedom that RSS cultivation provides – wherein users are active consumers instead of products – is at odds with the principles upon which big tech social media is built. There are a few writers who use the Substack newsletter service that I am interested in following. However, I prefer to follow content with a feed reader than through numerous email newsletters. I was curious whether Substack offers RSS feeds for its own newsletters. I discovered that it indeed does. Below, I will show you how to follow Substack newsletters via RSS.
January 8, 2023 update: Substack newsletters work the same today as they did when I first published this article in 2021. However, as I explain below, the newsletter that I used as an example now has a different URL. I made minor changes to update our example. Moreover, I encourage you to read my February 2022 introduction to RSS feeds if you are unfamiliar with what they are and how they work.)
How to Find a Substack RSS Feed
(Update: Nothing has changed about retrieving Substack RSS feeds. However, the example that I used in June 2021, Common Sense with Bari Weiss, has a new URL at https://www.thefp.com/. You can obtain the feed for it in the same way as any other Substack newsletter (I detail the method below). However, because her new URL has a different structure than the vast majority of Substack newsletter URLs, I decided to change the example to a newsletter with an ordinary URL.)
Find newsletter’s base URL
Substack does not feature RSS feeds for newsletters in an obvious way. I looked up whether Substack offers RSS feeds for all of its newsletters. Substack notes on its information page for authors that it does:
You can find the RSS feed for your publication at https://your.substack.com/feed.
I will use “The Honest Broker” by Mr. Ted Giola as an example of how to find the RSS feed of a Substack newsletter.
Although Mr. Giola’s newsletter is called The Honest Broker, its base-URL has his username instead of the newsletter title: https://tedgioia.substack.com/
Add /feed to newsletter’s base URL
Substack does not make it obvious that Mr. Giola’s newsletter has a feed. However, per its documentation, you can obtain the feed for The Honest Broker by adding /feed to the end of the newsletter’s base URL. Thus, the feed is available at https://tedgioia.substack.com/feed.
Very interesting. Finding RSS feeds for WordPress sites works the same way. For example, the RSS feed for our own New Leaf Journal is: https://thenewleafjournal.com/feed. (However, unlike WordPress, Substack does not output additional feeds such as ATOM.)
Substack RSS feeds also appear in the page source for the newsletter home page. Simply view the page source and search for “feed” in the page source to find the RSS link. However, because the Substack feed URL should always be the base URL of the newsletter followed by feed, there is no need to resort to looking in the page source.
(Note: There are browser extensions which can find and show available RSS, ATOM, and in some cases JSON feeds on a page. Moreover, some feed readers are able to take non-feed URLs and find a feed, if available.)
Distinguishing Substack RSS Feeds from Substack’s Feed Reader
(January 9, 2023 update: I have a different feed reader set up than I did in 2021, but I will leave this section of the article as I originally wrote it.)
While putting this article together, I learned that Substack offers its own feed reader called Substack Reader. I have never used Substack Reader and have no plans to – although I think that Substack’s offering a feed reader to its large audience is a good thing.
I note the Substack Reader here to make clear that the Substack RSS feeds work in any feed reader. As of the writing of this article, I am using the Akgregator RSS reader – a desktop feed reader for Linux devices that is part of KDE’s application suite.
One of the best things about the RSS standard is that it is decentralized. For example, see my January post about how you can use an atom feed (similar to RSS) in a feed reader to follow my content on Pixelfed without making a Pixelfed account.
How I Came To Look for Substack RSS Feeds
I am reorganizing my desktop RSS reader. One reason for this is that I now have a very good RSS reader on my phone (Feeder – I recommend for any Android-users) that I use for my morning read. The second reason is that my desktop feed reader became a bit messy.
As I put together a new feed list, it occurred to me that there were a select few Substack authors who I would be interested in following via RSS. The idea that a newsletter may have an RSS feed would not have occurred to me had I not begun using the Buttondown newsletter service for our official newsletter, The Newsletter Leaf Journal. Buttondown offers newsletter creators the option of having an RSS feed for their newsletters. This was one of the many features that inspired me to switch from Tiny Letter to Buttondown for our newsletter.
Knowing that Buttondown offers RSS functionality, I became curious whether Substack does as well. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that Substack newsletters do have RSS feeds. Upon learning this, I added a couple of interesting Substack RSS feeds to my desktop feed reader.
The Value of Offering an RSS Option
I commend Substack for making it possible to follow newsletters via RSS. Both RSS feeds and newsletters empower discerning readers to choose what content they consume, without having their feeds manipulated by Google News, Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other services that treat people as products. Furthermore, both newsletters and RSS feeds make it easy for independent content creators to stay in touch with their audiences. For example, by offering The Newsletter Leaf Journal and RSS feeds, I make it possible for people to follow The New Leaf Journal and receive updates without depending in any manner on social media.
I hope that Substack not only maintains the RSS functionality going forward but also makes it easier for people to find the RSS feeds. I may not have thought to look without my experience using Buttondown.
Brief Thoughts on Substack
Substack inspires unusually strong opinions for what is a basic newsletter and blog service. Without getting too far into the weeds of the Substack hot takes, I will quote favorably from an article at The Spectator by Ben Sixsmith:
I’m not someone who thinks Substack will radically transform the media. It’s in essence a revival of the blogosphere, which gave writers independent outlets, and readers more diversity of choice…Ben Sixsmith
Mr. Sixsmith is correct, although “revival of the blogosphere” is a bit stronger take than I would offer. Substack is as good as the content on the platform. It does host some interesting writers.
If you are considering starting a newsletter, I suggest considering Buttondown. Had I studied the Buttondown vs Substack comparison before (see previous link), I would have found that Substack supports RSS without looking it up. However, I enjoy Buttondown’s feature and like the fact that posts are formatted in markdown. Buttondown is less popular, but it is worth a look for anyone considering starting their own newsletter.