SARN is now on beehiiv – here are my first impressions

Towards the end of 2023, I decided to move my anti-racism newsletter to a new platform. It was because of the decision by Substack’s founders to use some of the money they earned from publishers like me to attract and promote neo-Nazis (yes, actual ones, with the insignia all over their publications and the eugenicist attitudes to match). When this was raised by Jonathan Katz, Marisa Kabas spearheaded the publication of an open letter to the founders. I was one of more than 200 publishers to publish it and eventually we got a response from the founders which basically said they were ok with it. You can catch up on all that here – and if you Google, it’s made national news in several countries.

Moving to beehiiv

While some people have stayed around to continue the fight on the platform, many others chose to leave. I was one of those, though it doesn’t mean I’m abandoning the campaign to have fewer Nazis promoted in online spaces. And since I’d started looking into alternatives ever since the trolling incidents on Substack in April, I was pretty sure I knew which platform I wanted to go for. So I sent a couple of emails with a dozen or more questions, got them all answered, and signed up for beehiiv. The beehiiv founders have been pretty clear on their stance on the Nazi issue: “no Nazis, and you can quote me”, said Tyler Denk, so I feel pretty good about moving the newsletter to that platform. (I also considered Ghost and looked at buttondown, but beehiiv seems the best fit for me right now.)

Now, normally, I’d give you a play by play of how to move your newsletter, but beehiiv’s own guide is so reliable (hit up their team for the PDF version which has a little more detail) that I don’t need to replicate it here. Instead, I’ll focus on some of my observations during and after the move.

When you start your account, there’s a checklist of steps to follow to tweak things – use it! It’s on the right of your screen, and there’s also a welcome email that suggests some steps. I then went to the beehiiv 101 guide and watched every video, pausing every so often to adjust settings. While some bits of the interface have changed since the videos were recorded, I didn’t have any real difficulty finding what I needed to.

setup tips

A seamless move but some manual pain with Stripe

First, if you don’t have any paid subscribers, moving will be seamless if you follow the instructions, and by default you’ll end up with a decent newsletter website. If you DO have paid subscribers, there’s an extra step or two to sort out the Stripe stuff as well as a manual step to ensure subscribers don’t get charged twice. Having done this manually for 300 subscribers, I can say that you should definitely take up the offer to the beehiiv team to help where they can, or see if Stripe’s support can help. While not difficult, it was time-consuming, but worth it to reduce any potential friction for subscribers. I checked in with a couple of them and they had a seamless experience. I was also able to maintain all existing plans, which means those who subscribed early stayed at $70 a year rather than the current price of $100 a year. (The trial flag on Stripe simply reflects that the subscriber in question hasn’t made a payment yet – it goes once the first beehiiv payment is made.)

stripe transfer

Content imported well, but no podcasts yet

Content import was pretty good, but paywall breaks are removed, so any paid posts will simply display the title and subtitle in the feed. Depending on how many posts you have, you may choose to adjust this manually. I haven’t done it for all of mine yet, but am handling this bit by bit as I cross-link posts. And podcasts aren’t yet supported, though I understand this is coming in Q1. I’ve put my transcripts on the site (I used the old emails to find the dates and URL slugs) and will give premium subscribers access to a Google Drive folder with all episodes until that’s fixed.

URLs and tags

Beehiiv uses similar post URLs to Substack, so if you have a custom domain (don’t make the mistake I did; disconnect it from Substack first or you will lose access to your Substack admin dashboard), your post URLs will continue to work.

I didn’t really use tags much on Substack, but if you do, know that they won’t transfer. I’ve gone back and tagged content manually, though I understand that a bulk tagging feature may be on the cards, which will be pretty useful.

Website look and feel

In terms of the look and feel of the website, I’d love to see a couple more layouts – right now there’s default and newspaper, which is the one I’m using). However, given that you can change fonts and colours, you can create something that suits you pretty quickly and easily. The tags I’ve created add another layer of navigation, in the categories menu. One thing that was a little tricky was working out how to add pages and ensure they showed up in the navigation – that seemed clunky to me as there are two spots in the admin dashboard to handle this so I hope it will be simplified soon.

Website overview

The writing experience

What’s it like to write a post? Probably a little more complicated than on Substack, but worth it. I started with the posts interface, which is basically a blank page where you write, with a section to the side where you can tweak titles, SEO, add a header image, adjust delivery (free or premium, web or email, or segments) and run A/B tests on your title (once smart warming of your list has happened).

I’m really enjoying the granularity of audience selection, as well as the ability to change the display date for posts (I used that when reconstructing my podcast – more on that in a bit), and to archive posts or remove them from the feed. For example, I’ve hidden one of the posts about the Substack move which wasn’t related to my usual content. You can also create polls (like a reader feedback poll) which you can reuse in different posts.

Stats are a huge win!

Beehiiv’s stats are stellar! There are stats in the overview dashboard, in the posts dashboard, stats for each post and then an analyze section with even more stats.

Stats

Beehiiv also makes it easy to create segments, so you can get data on different parts of your audience.

Segment in beehiiv

I used their video on this initially, then found another useful guide in their Slack group. That group is kind of busy and has a lot of new publishers, but there are some good nuggets for more experienced publishers too.

There’s also a stats email after a few hours:

Email stats beehiiv

Still exploring other features

Like Substack, beehiiv has a referral programme and recommendations feature, as well as built in ads and boosts – I’m recommending one publication and haven’t set up the other features yet.

Final word

Overall, I’m happy to have moved the newsletter to beehiiv. It’s a better values fit, which is hugely important to me. I love, love, love the email analytics and the polls, and I’m excited about some of the other opportunities to reach new people and earn a bit more income.

4 thoughts on “SARN is now on beehiiv – here are my first impressions”

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience with Beehiiv, Sharon. I’m glad you’re excited to continue and grow with them.

    Can you elaborate on the disconnect domain from Substack? I’m assuming you needed to disconnect it so that you could use it with Beehiiv, but then you needed access to the Substack admin area to do…??? 😁 (I’m just curious, as all my stuff is already gone from Substack.)

    • Yeah, I needed to disconnect to use it with beehiiv, but then I wanted to check something in Substack that I wanted to replicate in heehiiv and I’d lost access (plus I hadn’t deleted everything yet, and I needed access to do that.)

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