Outpost vs SubStack

There are big differences between sites powered by Ghost and Outpost versus by Substack: practical, technical, and philosophical.
Alien infographic

There are big differences between sites powered by Ghost and Outpost versus by Substack: practical, technical, and philosophical.

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tl:dr: Outpost added to Ghost is a combination of indie tech that gives sites powerful, inexpensive and open tools to run their newsletters and subscription sites. Substack is a VC-funded operation with a closed-source CMS that intends to monopolize newsletters and takes a hefty 10% of all subscriber revenue.

Outpost is a member-services cooperative that helps publishers using the open-source Ghost CMS to power their newsletter and subscriber-driven sites. Most of our clients use Ghost(Pro) to host their sites (Ghost is a non-profit).

The combination of tech from independent, non-VC-funded companies gives publishers a powerful, customizable site with newsletters and subscriptions baked in (Ghost), and powerful tools to convert and keep paying subscribers (Outpost). In other words, indie tech for indie publishers. And those sites pay far less than they would with Substack.

Substack is a centralized service with the goal of cornering the market on paid newsletters. While easy to get started, sites have little control over their look and feel, pay 10% of their revenue to Substack, and can be locked into proprietary tech that lacks any export feature. Substack has taken over $80M in funding from secret investors and, like all VC-funded companies, must grow fast to figure out how to be worth over $1 billion. That pressure ultimately leads to bad decisions, such as banning tip buttons in their terms of service, laying off staff and firing contractors for daring to work with a writer that left Substack for Ghost.

Ghost(Pro) + Outpost Substack
Pricing Flat Fees starting at $33/mo combined Free + 10% of Subscription Revenue
Open-source CMS ✅ Yes, Ghost is open source with MIT license ❌ No
Independent & Service-Oriented ✅ Yes, Ghost is non-profit; Outpost is a cooperative ❌ No, $80M invested by secret sources
Custom Website Design with Complete Freedom ✅ Yes ❌ No, a few basic templates
Custom domain name ✅ Yes, free on Ghost(Pro) ✅ Yes with fee
Memberships ✅ Yes ✅ Yes
Native payments ✅ Yes ✅ Yes
Native Payments ✅ Yes, with no % taken ✅ Yes, but 10% charge
Discount Offers ✅ Yes, both Ghost and Outpost ✅ Yes, but 10% charge
Group Subscriptions ✅ Yes, via Outpost ✅ Yes
Email newsletter sending included ✅ Yes, included with Ghost(Pro) ✅ Yes
Modern Publishing System with Posts, Pages, Tags, Author/Editor Roles ✅ Yes (Ghost) ❌ No
Tip Button ✅ Yes, by Outpost w/ Stripe and Paypal ❌ No, Violates ToS
Comprehensive, Custom Auto-Responder ✅ Yes by Outpost ❌ No, a few basic actions only
Tech Integrations with Other Services ✅ Yes, either via Ghost or with Outpost help Extremely Limited

Longer explanation:

Astronaut showing you rainbow galaxy

There are three main differences between an Outpost-enhanced Ghost site and a SubStack site:

Practical

Astronaut reaching towards the light

On the practical side, the biggest difference between an Outpost-enhanced enhanced Ghost site and a Substack site is that Substack takes 10% of a publisher's revenue, plus Stripe's fees. By contrast, neither Ghost nor Outpost takes a percentage of your revenue.

Instead, we and Ghost charge affordable flat fees based on the size of your audience. That means you keep more of your subscription revenue using Outpost and Ghost. While the difference may be small for small sites, as you grow, the difference becomes substantial.

For instance, when Lever News moved from Substack to Outpost and Ghost, they saved over 60%, providing them thousands of dollars more per month in revenue. That leaves you extra revenue to pay yourself, invest in new technology, run marketing campaigns, and/or hire additional help.

Suppose you have 5,000 total subscribers, and 500 of them are paying on average $8 a month. Substack will take 10% of your monthly income, so $400 of your $4000 monthly income would be going to them. Ghost and Outpost combined would cost you about $129, saving $271 a month. That comes out to out more than $3,250 savings a year.

The difference gets more stark the bigger you get. If you have 30,000 subscribers, 3,000 of them paying an average of $8 a month, Substack would take $2,400 a month from you, making their annual cut $28,800 out of your hard-earned income. By contrast, for 30,000 subscribers, Ghost and Outpost combined would cost you just a hair over $6,000 a year, saving you nearly $23,000 per year.

Technical

Astronauts working in space

On the technical side, Ghost is an open-source publishing system similar to WordPress that can be extended and built upon by outside companies. You can host Ghost yourself, you have choice of hosting provides, and all the data is yours. There are hundreds of themes you can choose from, or you can build your own so that you have complete control over the look, feel, and operation of your site.

That openness is what allows Outpost and other services to augment Ghost and make it more powerful, much as how WordPress has thrived with ecosystems of plugins and services built around it.

By contrast, Substack is a centralized, completely closed system very similar to Medium. While it's relatively easy to get started, you have extremely limited options in terms of integrations with other technology, and no ability to change what your site looks like outside the very limited options that Substack provides.

Substack does let you leave and take your content and paid subscribers, you do not get to take with you all of the data, or, for example, continue with the same podcast provider. Additionally, Substack is now building proprietary features that lock you in to using Substack. For instance, they debuted a new "community tool" that lets you chat with subscribers, but if you leave Substack, you will lose all of those interactions.

Philosophical

Astronauts in conversation

Outpost and Ghost believe that independent creators should have tools that are independent and non-parasitic. Ghost is a non-profit, while Outpost is a member cooperative.

Like Ghost, Outpost has not taken any Venture Capital investments, which means we get to build tools that help our publishers without having to find a way to extract money that makes billionaire investors even richer.

Outpost believes that independent creators will thrive most in an open ecosystem with a rich variety of tools to build their business and connect with their audiences. By contrast, Substack is a typical start-up that wants to monopolize newsletter publishing. They have raised over $80 million dollars in Venture Capital funding, and thus must find a way to be worth billions of dollars to enrich their investors.

Additionally, they do not disclose whose money they have actually taken, so Substack writers have no idea who it is they are helping get even richer.

The only way to turn newsletters into a billion dollar business is to build a closed network that monopolizes the industry, then slowly raise the fees of their publishers, who then have nowhere else to go.

We've already seen how angry and vindictive Substack can be when publishers leave. In August 2022, Spencer Ackerman moved his publication Forever Wars from Substack to Ghost, and wrote a short post that was not particularly mean about it.

That post was edited by Sam Thielman, who Substack was also paying to help edit some of their preferred publishers. Substack immediately ended Sam's contract with Substacks' publishers, even though Sam didn't even write the post.

Ryan Singel
Ryan Singel
Ryan Singel is the co-founder of Outpost. He's a former journalist for Wired, the co-founder of online recommendation company Contextly, and a Fellow at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society.

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