Meta’s Copy-Acquire-Kill Strategy Fails, Again

Less than 18 months after launch, the company’s Substack clone is biting the bullet

Stephen Moore


Spiderman Copycat Meme / Meta’s Business Strategy

When Meta launched its newsletter platform Bulletin in June 2021, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that it was directly competing with one other service: Substack.

It was visually similar.

It worked in a similar way.

It delivered similar content.

Meta even copied the strategy of paying high-profile authors to use the tool to drive up hype and interest. Of course, it was all wrapped up in a big shiny Facebook bow.

This wasn’t an imposter by mistake; it was an imposter by design.

And it was yet another example of Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite business play — one that fails time and time again.

Copy, Acquire, Kill

Meta has been deploying the policy for years, going back to Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram. (It might even go back further, with Facebook itself being a copy of Myspace and Friendster).

In documents reviewed by an Antitrust panel who are investigating whether the takeover should have been allowed to happen, Zuckerberg suggested in emails that Instagram was a threat. The answer? Worried about competing with it, Facebook decided to buy it.

In 2013, Facebook was worrying about the rise of another social media app, Snapchat. So, Zuck rolled up with his truck full of bucks and offered founder and CEO Evan Spiegel a reported $3 billion. He turned down the offer.

And so, when Facebook-now-turned-Meta fails to buy a competitor, the company turns to plan b. I like to think that Zuckerberg invites his top brass to a secret meeting room, where he utters the phrase “initiate the cloning device” like some tech-mogul Bond villain. When they launch copy mode, the company hopes its knockoff version can supplant the original, i.e., kill off the competition. Some do; most don’t.

There are countless examples of the strategy;

  • In 2016, Instagram added a new feature called ‘Stories,’ a nearly identical copy of Snapchat’s feature called… stories. A success? Probably. But…