Are you struggling to decide between Substack vs Ghost for your newsletter? Discover the key differences between both platforms.
I set up my personal newsletter on Substack several years ago. Substack is relatively popular with newsletter writers everywhere. It’s easy to use and is free of cost. The default homepage converts well for turning visitors into newsletter subscribers too. But after a year, I migrated to Ghost, a lesser-known content publishing platform.
In this comparison, I’ll explain the merits and pitfalls of both so you can decide which is the best for your newsletter or content publishing business.
Substack Vs Ghost: The Background
Substack was founded in 2017 by Hamish McKenzie and Jairaj Sethi. It’s backed by investments from Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator, Fifty Years, and others.
Substack has invested significantly in attracting content and writers. In 2020, author Salman Rushdie agreed on an undisclosed fee with Substack for serializing his next book, Sea of Stories, on the platform.
Unfortunately, Substack has also attracted a lot of nefarious actors. As it’s free, anyone can set up an account. I’ve received spam emails from supposed Substack publications phishing my financial information related to cryptocurrency.
Unfortunately, the platform is popular with the far-right and anti-vaxxers spreading misinformation. Many early adopters have left Substack as a result.
You don’t need any custom design, coding, or technical skills to use Substack. It is also free to set up an account too, although it takes a cut once you turn on paid subscriptions.
Substack bills itself as a home for great writing. It features free and premium newsletters by journalists and writers across various industries, including news and current affairs, food and drinks, politics, and cryptocurrency. I subscribe to several premium newsletters on Substack.
Discover the best Substack newsletters.
Ghost is a non-profit and fully open-source. It was founded in 2013 following a Kickstarter campaign and is run by John O’Nolan. The platform’s mission is to enable independent journalists, writers, and content creators to earn a living online. It claims over three million installations or sites to date. You use it to manage a blog, a paid newsletter, a membership site, and a podcast.
Any writer can start on Substack for free, that’s the beauty of it! However, if you turn on paid subscriptions, it takes 10% of your revenue. That can translate into a significant amount. For example, if you’re earning $50,000 a year, expect to lose $5,000. However, you don’t have to pay to use Substack, if paid subscriptions are off.
Ghost starts at $9 per month, but you don’t have to pay any fees and you keep all revenue. You can take out a 14-day free trial before signing up.
Its pricing model is an important distinction if you’ve hundreds or thousands of email newsletter subscribers or if you want to build a paid membership program. Think of that $9 as a hosting fee. If you’ve more subscribers, pricing goes all the way up to $199 per month for an unlimited amount.
The Ghost concierge will migrate a Substack publication with a caveat for you. When I migrated, they said I needed to sign up for a year to a premium plan. That said, you can always migrate without their help for free.
Ease Of Use
It takes minutes to set up a Substack publication. Basically, create your account, upload email subscribers and start writing. It’s kind of like setting up an account on Medium. If you don’t have any newsletter subscribers, you’ll need to go out and find some via paid ads or content.
Twitter is a handy social media platform for building a newsletter via word of mouth. It even offers a Substack alternative: Revue.
Look And Feel
You can customize or change the look and feel of a Ghost publication using dozen-plus free inbuilt themes. Or you can buy premium themes, much like WordPress. In other words, a Ghost publication can reflect your personal or business brand.
It’s hard to change the look and feel of a Substack newsletter beyond some basic adjusting of colors. That said, many writers and newsletter owners don’t care as much about what their publication looks like as we usually read newsletters in an inbox.
You can connect Ghost and Substack to your personal or business domain and remove their branding. It’s free with Ghost, but Substack charges $50.
Ghost enables content publishers to create and save a template for content too. For example, I can write a call-to-action at the bottom of my articles that only appears in readers’ inboxes. The article still appears in Google search results, but this CTA is hidden from organic visitors. I use these CTAs for email promotions. Substack doesn’t support this.
The Substack content publishing experience is relatively straightforward. It’s geared towards writing and sending newsletters, much like an email client. In short, write your newsletter and paste it into Substack or write it directly in their editor.
The Ghost content publishing experience exceeds Substack. You can add free images quickly using shortcodes for Unsplash. It supports additional features like image galleries, forms, videos, and podcasts. It supports dynamic cards for Twitter, YouTube videos, and more.
The Ghostwriting experience is similar to Medium. It also integrates with some of the best writing Markdown apps. I usually write my articles in Ulysses or IA Writer. I can publish them formatted straight to my Ghost publication within these apps. That’s not possible with Substack yet.
Ghost also supports creating a membership program. Subscribers can access gated and premium content. You can even launch a referral program.
Both platforms support podcasters. However, I recommend investing in podcast hosting rather than relying on Substack to distribute a podcast simply because you have more control over podcast analytics and your podcast feed. You’ll need to do this anyway with Ghost.
Ghost integrates directly with several services, including Google Analytics, YouTube, Twitter and PayPal. You can connect it to email marketing software like MailChimp and ConvertKit. You could, for example, set up an email marketing campaign that new subscribers receive after opting in.
These campaigns are a great way of automating the promotion of digital products and services. With Substack, you need to send any promotional emails to free or paid subscribers manually.
It also supports a membership program, which is ideal for selling digital downloads or gated content. I also liked that Ghost enables me to add team members who can edit articles on my behalf and manage the site. With Substack, I have to share my login directly.
Why I Switched From Substack To Ghost
After building a newsletter with several thousand readers, I migrated to Ghost. I wanted some additional features and functionality.
I specifically wanted to optimize my content for search engines. With Ghost, publishers have more control over meta titles, page descriptions, and URLs. Ghost automatically indexes new content with the Google search algorithm.
It’s more difficult to optimize content for search in Substack in terms of meta descriptions and URL structures. As a result, Substack content is far less likely to rank in search results.
Substack Vs Ghost: The Final Word
Both Ghost and Substack are great tools for writers and content creators. You won’t go wrong with either if you’re starting out.
If you’re a new writer and don’t have money for online tools or a content publishing platform, you can get started with either for free. That said, Substack is probably the easiest platform to use today.
With Substack, you don’t have to worry about fees until you turn on a paid membership program and start converting readers into subscribers. You can always migrate later if you want.
However, if you’ve got an existing audience, run a membership program, or value content ranking in Google search results, opt for Ghost. At $9 for 500 subscribers, it’s relatively cheap too.
Substack vs. Ghost
|Product||Price||Ease of Use||Use For|
|Freemium||Quick and easy to use||Geared towards newsletters only|
|Free trial, then $9 per month, Cheaper in the long run||Powerful content publishing tools||Supports newsletters, membership programs, and digital downloads|
Substack and Ghost are just two popular newsletter and content publishing tools. Many more exist. We’ve profiled some of the most popular.