One Year of Superb Owl
Lots of gratitude and a few announcements
Let me start by saying: thank you to everyone who has participated here or reached out privately over the last year. Y’all have taught me a bunch and made me feel more connected to the world.
I have a few minor announcements, after which I’ll go into some reflections on what the last year has meant to me, as well as some hopes for the future.
First: my name. While I plan to remain anonymous (this blog could make things weird at my full-time job), I’ve started interacting with a number of you both online and in meatspace, and having people call me “Superb” feels…off. So I’ll be going by Max Goodbird (get it??) from here on out. I’ve also updated my about page with some vague biographical details.
Second: subscriber-only posts. To help incentivize paid subscriptions, I’m starting a new series, Exegesis, which will be a bit fluffier than your average Superb Owl essay. I’ll use this space to project my ideas onto popular art—mainly fiction, music, and film—with little regard for the artist’s intentions. The first article will be on the Tarkovsky film Stalker (free sample!); in the coming months I’m planning to cover Octavia Butler’s Earthseed Series, the music of Dan Deacon, and TV’s Adventure Time.
Third: paid subscriptions. Currently 100% of subscription revenue goes to charity; going forward I’ll only be committing to 10% (though it’ll probably end up being 100% for the foreseeable future). Those of you already paying will be grandfathered in—I’ll always give at least my current annual revenue ($590) to charity. See Looking Forward for why.
Fourth: switching to GiveDirectly. My current thinking is: the fewer intermediaries between the money and the people receiving aid the better. So I’m switching donations from GiveWell to GiveDirectly.
Fifth: new website. Superb Owl is staying on Substack, but I’ll be mirroring the free content at blog.superb-owl.link.
Most people don’t really like talking about spirituality and philosophy, or even science for that matter. They don’t want to hear about weird dreams or psychedelic experiences or jhānas or neural correlates of consciousness. The fact that over 1000 of you have raised your hand and said “I like this stuff” makes me feel less alone in the world, like I’m finally starting to find my tribe.
I still can’t decide if 1000 feels like a tiny or a massive number. It’s certainly more than I expected in my first year, even if it’s only a fraction of the following of your typical internet microcelebrity.
Regardless of quantity, the quality of the folks reading Superb Owl has consistently blown me away.
The comments here and on Reddit, Twitter, Hacker News, etc have been immensely valuable. They’ve helped me correct my thinking, expand my knowledge, and introduced me to dozens of new ideas. Again, a huge thank you to everyone who’s participated.
Superb Owl has even gotten attention from writers I love and respect, including some bigger names in the blogosphere. Slime Mold Time Mold, Gwern, Scott Alexander, Dynomight, Dawson Eliasen, Mills Baker, Anton Cebalo, Wood from Eden, Alex Dobrenko, and The Living Philosophy have all publicly acknowledged (though not always endorsed!) the blog. Other writers I admire have reached out privately with words of encouragement.
My writing has also put me in touch with organizations like the EPRC and QRI, where I’ve been able to connect one-on-one with other folks interested in exploring the gaps between science and spirituality. There’s some really important work being done here, and I’m happy that I get to play a role in it, however small.
The subscriber base has been growing steadily. When I post regularly, I pick up 3-5 subscribers per day. When I get lazy it slows down to ones and twos. Including the bumps from viral articles, I’m averaging about 3.7 subscribers per day.
The fact that over a dozen people have (at some point) chosen to pay for a subscription—despite all content being free!—makes me immensely happy. It’s a huge encouragement to keep writing.
My wildest dream is to be able to support myself, even poorly, as a writer. I’m currently about 1% of the way there. But with dedication and luck, the following things could make it happen:
Increasing free→paid conversion from 1% to Substack’s target of 10%. I’ve added the subscriber-only Exegesis series to help with this.
Increasing overall reach by 5x. If things keep moving at a linear pace, I’ll be there in four years. If I get some accelerating returns (more subscribers leads to more shares!), it could possibly happen faster.
Doubling the price. I’m not going to consider this until I’m able to dedicate more time to writing. I’m also hoping Substack will implement a sliding scale, pay-what-you-want system that just defaults to, say, $8/month.
All that adds up to a 100x increase in revenue—enough to cover my living expenses. A wild goal to be sure. Someone start a prediction market.
Whatever happens, as long as y’all keep reading, I’ll keep writing. Thanks for being here!