If your plan is to run a newsletter as a hobby, Substack is perfect—it’s free, easy to set up, and makes sending out emails and building a subscriber base fairly straightforward. The problem comes if you want to make a living publishing your newsletter, at which point Substack can quickly become expensive. That’s because, instead of charging a monthly fee, Substack takes a 10 percent cut of all revenue.
Flawless as their reputation may be, the economics of using Substack are hard to justify over the long term. Say you manage to get 500 people to pay $10 a month for your newsletter—that’s a real accomplishment. It also means your newsletter is pulling in $5,000 a month, of which Substack will take $500. Annually you’ll be paying Substack $6,000, and it only gets more expensive with the more success you have. You might think this is fair, you might not. Either way, sticking with Substack when other options may be more cost-effective at that point is leaving money on the table.
It would be hard to leave Substack, granted. They are a very good, normal company—one that does not at all enable extremism (wink.) Everything Substack does is justified, and good, and pure, and the company certainly wouldn’t send a mob of transphobes into the mentions of a freelance service journalist. Being associated with Substack isn’t bad for your brand, in any way.
With that in mind, here are some more affordable alternatives that are worth checking out, what they cost, and a few links to newsletter publishers who migrated from Substack and discussed their experiences.
Ghost is open source and run by a nonprofit. You could, in theory, install Ghost on your own server, although most people opt to pay Ghost instead, including several former Substack publishers. Ghost offers an official guide for migrating and even a free concierge service that will handle the migration for you.