The new era of the solo publisher
I recently read about the drama surrounding Glen Greenwald leaving The Intercept and moving to Substack. Glen claimed it was because The Intercept editors were censoring him. They in turn accused him of wanting to escape editorial oversight, and cash in on one of the latest online trends this year - solo premium newsletters and publishers.
No matter who is right in this little skirmish, both the accusation and defence are features of broader movements in journalism and entertainment. Independent content producers and journalists can now use simple easy-to-use platforms to get huge followings, and make serious money while doing so, without having to be part of large traditional publishers or news organisations.
I went to Substack, the platform Greenwald was reported as having claimed asylum in, and had a little look-see.
Tens of thousands of subscribers at $5? Interesting. 🧐🤔
Naturally, as someone who is known to have a need for income too, this piqued my interest. I decided to compare Substack and one of it's much mentioned alternatives, Ghost Memberships.
Substack & Ghost Memberships
In short Substack is a newsletter platform where writers can have readers subscribe to and receive their premium content via email for a couple of bucks per month. All they take is 10% of cream of your subscription income.
Ghost Memberships, in a similar vein, allows publishers to host and manage premium content(and send out newsletters as well) for a small monthly fee. Or you can host it yourself, and only pay for your payment processor.
This sounds familiar...
Now of course, the astute will observe the obvious - is this not just good old blogging and email marketing dressed up in modern costumes? Well, yes, indeed.
It does all seem to be the same species we first encountered in the 90s, but with all the PITA of monetisation, email lists and membership management being abstracted away for you. Some new marketing lingo was slapped on to create product differentiation and ta-da!
And there we have it - writers can now create and monetise their content easier and faster than ever before.
Which one should you choose?
I had a look at some of their features and came up with this little table.
|Speciality||Newsletters & podcasts||Multi-media publishing|
|Cost||10% & CC fees||Self-hosted or $29pm-$199|
|Hosting & CDN||Yes||Your choice|
|Custom Domain||Yes, $50 fee||Yes|
|Payment Processor||Stripe only||Multiple via Zapier|
|Email management||Built-in||Built-in or Mailgun(self-hosted)|
|Analytics||Yes||Sorta, plugins available|
By all accounts, Substack seems to be the simplest and quickest to fire up and get started with. The entire process is on rails and you're guided the whole way through onboarding. For this convenience you sacrifice the ability to do customisation, however. This is pretty much like doing Facebook posts and getting paid for it.
Ghost on the other hand, takes more work to get set up, especially if you're hosting yourself. But you have way more freedom with regards to design customisation and extensibility, and you get to keep most of your revenue if you get a large audience.
Unfortunately, both Subtack and Ghost requires Stripe to get going properly. Which leaves me and the millions like me who are not lucky enough to live in the developed world out in the cold.
Stripe doesn't work where I live, so neither options are really appropriate for me. Ghost is a little more lenient, it that it allows you to somehow-sorta use PayPal instead, but it's not nearly as seamless an experience as with Stripe.
So I guess I'll stick with Ghost for now.