Are you trying to decide between Ghost and Substack for your blog or newsletter? We can help.
Whether you’re considering a migration or creating something brand new, this guide will help you understand the key differences between two of the most popular platforms for building blogs, newsletters, and a loyal community of readers.
Ghost and Substack have both proliferated over the past couple of years as newsletters and independent blogs experienced somewhat of a revival, particularly during the pandemic. With so many new sites popping up showcasing hobbies learned in lockdown, serving as a creative outlet for remote workers, and sharing news broken by independent journalists, now is a great time to join the creator community.
Choosing a platform to get started on can be a challenge. Beyond Ghost and Substack, there are dozens of tools designed to help you spin up a new blog or newsletter. Choosing the right one for you isn’t easy. If you’ve narrowed your search down to just these two, let’s dive into the details to help you make a call.
Ghost is open-source software maintained by a nonprofit. Ghost positions itself as a “powerful, independent alternative to Substack.” Ghost offers a lot of customizability, and you can download and install it on a self-hosted server if you want to avoid the more costly route of hosting directly with the company. At its core, Ghost focuses on helping creators and independent writers produce blogs and newsletters.
Ghost is the complete package if you’re on the hunt for an alternative to Substack. It features a user-friendly website admin, SEO-friendly publishing tools, email newsletters, several pre-made themes, and customizable membership tools.
Some additional Ghost features include:
- Rich writing experience, similar to what you may be familiar with on Medium
- Customizable web domains and email “from” addresses
- Referral programs to reward your community for recruiting new subscribers
- Thousands of integrations with other applications
If you choose to host your website directly with Ghost using Ghost Pro, you can take advantage of a 14-day free trial. After that, it will set you back by at least $9 a month. Ghost Pro only charges for the hosting, so any revenue your site generates is yours to keep (minus whatever the payment processor charges). If your choose to self-host a Ghost site, you’ll save a few bucks each month. DigitalOcean has an easy installation process and will cost you only $5 a month for their lowest tier.
Substack is a popular newsletter software that allows writers to publish and monetize their work. The Substack platform offers a fairly cookie-cutter approach for creators getting started on a new blog or newsletter, with a rigid feature set that allows for some, but not much, customizability. Substack’s solution is aimed at independent writers and small publishing teams. Unlike Ghost, the platform requires no technical know-how to get started. Its ease of use comes at a cost, limiting custom designs and eating into any revenue you generate through your Substack newsletter.
Substack offers a solid platform for writers to grow an audience and then monetize it by focusing on producing great content. Some may find the tool limiting and expensive when compared to Ghost, though many Substack users appreciate how easy the tool is to use.
Some additional Substack features include:
- Simple welcome page, designed to convert visitors to your newsletter into subscribers
- Simple home page to showcase your best and most recent posts
- Community features to encourage audience engagement through comments and likes
- Two plan options: the free plan where anybody can read your content and a paid plan only the subscribed audience can access.
Substack doesn’t charge a flat monthly rate like Ghost. Instead, Substack takes a percent of your earnings if you choose to gate your posts behind a paywall. You get to choose the monthly fee you want to charge your subscribers for access to your posts, then Substack takes a 10% cut from all revenue you generate. This means, if you want to host a free-to-access blog, Substack is completely free. However, if you decide to start charging your readers, Substack can quickly become a much more expensive platform to use than alternatives like Ghost.
So, What Sets Them Apart?
Level of Control
Ghost is an open-source platform that gives you added levels of control and flexibility. You can customize it to suit your preferences and specific content. Substack is a closed platform, which means you cannot customize much. You’re stuck with the platform's design and themes, giving you low levels of control and minimal flexibility overall.
With Ghost, you can extend functionality, and even replace certain functionality with more than 1,000 apps, extensions, and plugins. This is impossible with Substack. While Substack already has some community features that these extensions provide, the possibilities with Ghost and its ecosystem extend much farther than what Substack can reach.
Pricing and Revenue
In a way, Substack is free. However, if you decide to monetize your content, Substack will charge you 10% of your earnings as their commission. On the other hand, Ghost has a simple monthly charge of $9+ according to the scale of your work – divided into four tiers, but you retain all your revenue.
Ghost is a nonprofit enterprise with more focus on developing better products for its customers! Ghost receives funding from its customers, not from venture capitalists. Substack is funded by investors who expect a return on investment.
A domain name will boost your website's legitimacy and recognition, resulting in improved SEO ratings. While both platforms offer custom domain names, Ghost offers the name for free, while Substack offers the same for an extra $50.
To build a solid and profitable subscription content business, you need a platform with advanced options and friendly pricing. Ghost is a content management system (CMS) that allows you to format posts, add images natively in the editor from other sources, and insert custom modules to personalize your posts to the reader. Substack does not have such capabilities, resulting in a much less powerful publishing experience when compared to Ghost.
Ghost offers a much more robust platform for customizing to your needs. Substack takes a more one-size-fits-all approach that favors ease-of-use over customizability. Additionally, because Ghost is an open-source platform featuring a robust API, it’s much easier to adapt the platform to your specific use case. Substack is a closed platform that limits the level of customization you can achieve. Substack does not have advanced editing tools, making it the hardest to publish your content the way you prefer or as your audience would engage with best.
Which is best?
Both of these platforms offer easy-to-use solutions that are great at helping writers create, host, and monetize their content.
However, Ghost offers a much more flexible and cost-friendly solution that gives you greater control over your work. While it’s not free to get started with Ghost, unlike Substack, your earnings over the long-term are much greater when compared to Substack’s 10% commission rate.
Substack offers a free and uncomplicated approach to newsletters with paid membership features. However, if you decide to monetize your posts, be ready to surrender 10% of your earnings.
Overall, Ghost has more features, more versatility, and a lower cost when compared to Substack. It’s a great option for new writers looking to start a new website, and for those looking to migrate away from Substack’s high costs.