My 10 Most Popular Articles of 2023
Number one will surprise you
2023 has been a wild year for me.
Not at home—it’s actually rather quiet since our sons launched their own independent lives (moving to New York and Philadelphia). The excitement in my neighborhood is all at The Honest Broker.
We published 180 articles this year. These got 12 million page views—up from 5 million the previous year. Given the current trajectory, we should surpass 20 million views in 2024.
For several months we’ve added more than a thousand new members every week to our community. I keep thinking it will fall off, but it hasn’t—growth actually accelerated during the last half of the year.
But I have no clue where our new friends are coming from.
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It’s NOT social media, which has launched a silly war against Substack and other creator platforms. Elon Musk is the worst culprit—we only get a trickle of traffic from Twitter (quite a change from the past). But Facebook, Instagram, etc. aren’t much better—each seems to have grown more hostile to authors lately.
So where do all these new readers come from?
My hunch is that it’s mostly due to the world out there. It brings people to our community as an alternative.
People are definitely arriving from other parts of the Substack universe. I’ve heard the same from other writers on the platform. That’s reassuring—because it gives us some immunity from outside pressures.
We are truly self-sufficient (that’s a lovely, underrated word).
We don’t rely on advertising.
We don’t rely on social media.
We don’t need to rely on a fickle billionaire to pay our bills (unlike, for example, the folks at The Atlantic).
We are capable of flourishing without them. Or even in the face of their displeasure.
[SIDE NOTE: An honest broker definitely needs that—because this year I published sharp critiques of Spotify, Facebook, Google, Apple, Disney, Twitter, Netflix, several private equity groups, a half dozen huge media outlets, every major record label, and 20 or so foreign countries. So if this thing folds, I’m not getting new gigs from the rich and famous.]
I thank all of you for being part of this.
And those aren’t just empty words. Not only do you make independent journalism possible, but newcomers are always pleasantly surprised at how much interesting stuff happens in the comments. The comments are often better than my articles.
‘Nuff said. Let’s go on to the top 10.
Below are the ten most popular articles of the year. I’m listing these in reverse order—a countdown to number one.
THE TEN MOST POPULAR ARTICLES OF 2023
Here I took the pulse of the dying corporate dinosaurs, and compared them to the rapidly growing alt culture—fueled by YouTubers, happy Bandcampers, podcasters, Substackers, etc. This is a genuine war, as will becoming increasingly apparent during the imminent election year.
The information highway is rapidly turning into a sewage pipeline. I provide 30 ugly examples of how reliable data is disappearing from public discourse.
I describe my frustrations with broken ethical systems from my days as an Oxford philosophy student. And I show how this same dangerous worldview led to the biggest financial scam of the digital age.
The most frequent search term for teens on Spotify is sad. Other metrics tell the same story—people want sad songs, more now than ever. Why is this happening?
I’ve been obsessively reading big and difficult books ever since I was a teenager—day after day, year after year. In this article I tell my reasons, describe my techniques, and share some surprising benefits of this self-directed program.
Physicist Richard Feynman kept a list of his 12 favorite problems—and used them to guide his vocation. I’ve done the same. In this article, I list my 12 favorite problems and explain what I’ve gained from worrying about them.
I dig into the numbers and show how AI growth is driven almost entirely by the supply chain, not consumers—who distrust and fear it. This creates a bizarre situation in which the most touted technology of today is being implemented in stealth mode with powerful interests adopting it secretly. If AI is really so good, don’t they tell us when they’re using it?
I recently started buying vinyl records again, and was shocked at what I discovered. The vinyl revival began a decade ago, but the music business is still asleep at the 12 inch wheel, doing very little to support this trend and the ardent fans driving it. Their embrace of physical media could revitalize music and shift power from streamers to creators. But instead the vinyl resurgence might die because of laziness and greed.
I have a dream of a healthier music ecosystem and a plan to make it happen. But I need help to make it reality—and this is a big job, requiring somebody with power, influence, and a willingness to take on entrenched interests. There’s nobody at record labels or tech platforms that I trust—so I turned to Taylor Swift. (She still hasn’t responded. Sigh!)
I wrote an advice column—and it became my most popular article of 2023. Here I share my techniques for evaluating character. Some of them are a little unusual. But they’re useful for me (and apparently for readers too).
Who would have guessed that this would have been my biggest hit of the year? When I started The Honest Broker, I thought people would come here for record reviews.
And now? Last week I was even offering grooming tips. Who knows where this will end? (I promise—no dinner recipes. Even I draw the line somewhere.)
And Here Are the Ten Most Popular Articles for Premium Subscribers
The articles below are (partially) paywalled. But even the paywalled articles have some stuff that’s free—usually the first third of the article.
These ten articles also generated lots of interest in 2023.
You can take out at a premium subscription too!
Some final observations:
I note that only three of the top ten are articles about music—which is still the main focus of The Honest Broker.
I plan to continue mixing it up in the future, covering a wide range of topics—but still with lots of music writing, too. I appreciate my readers’ openness to the (sometimes extreme) variety of topics addressed here.
We’ll do it some more in 2024.