So clearly content creators now have many options to choose from.
The Squarespace offering is similar to Memberful
, the granddaddy of all paid newsletter solutions. Memberful was founded back in 2013 and acquired by Patreon in 2018. It’s a plug-in that allows creators to add memberships to their existing Wordpress CMS, email service provider or community platform.
While Memberful, Ghost and Squarespace started out as website tools, ConvertKit is an example of a paid newsletter provider with an email background. Like Memberful, ConvertKit was founded in 2013 with roots in the blogging space. Its initial focus was, however, email marketing and it is only now branching out into paid content.
ConvertKit’s email background makes it similar to Substack and our own paid newsletter offering at Revue.
has been getting the majority of attention in the paid newsletter space since its founding in 2017. It decided early on to focus narrowly on email as a channel and member payments as a business model.
focus also has been fully on email as a channel, but broader in allowing publishers to monetize through ads, sponsoring, affiliates, services or other models besides member subscriptions.
That brings us to six options to create a paid newsletter, three originating from website CMSs and three built around email as a channel. But what are the other criteria to consider when evaluating platforms?
Flat fee versus transaction fee: Ghost and Squarespace charge a flat monthly fee only, Substack charges a transaction fee only, and ConvertKit, Memberful and Revue a combination of monthly fee and commission.
The transaction fee aligns the incentives of the author and the platform, as both earn if the newsletter is successful in attracting paying subscribers. It’s attractive for new authors, because fees are low initially, but can get expensive if the fee percentage is maintained for higher subscriber counts as Substack does.
Tech skills required and customization options: Memberful is a plug-in that allows creators to continue working with their current CMS and ESP. As such, creators have full control over branding but also require some tech skills to tie everything together.
Ghost and Squarespace have all features built into a single platform. As CMSs they still offer many templates and customizations, but the more authors tweak the designs, the more tech skills are required.
The email platforms ConvertKit, Revue and Substack are the easiest to use and guarantee that emails look great in all email clients. At the same time they impose the most restrictions on customizations, with Revue being the only one offering custom template design for professional publishers.
Ownership and vendor lock-in: Email gives publishers much more control over their audience than social networks. Whereas Facebook, LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter closely control audiences and reach through their algorithms, newsletter editors can export their subscribers and import them into another ESP.
Another concern is the domain name, which creators also need to control. This was always a given for CMSs but not always possible with the email platforms. Revue has had custom domains for a long time, and ConvertKit and Substack now offer them also. So domains can be used and transferred when switching providers in all cases.
Migrations are more complicated for content and designs. There usually are options to export content as CSV or TXT files, or designs as HTML or CSS, but these are generally not easy to import in a new tool.
APIs and integrations: It’s nice to have everything integrated into one easy to use package, but there’s bound to be a point in time when a newsletter publisher wants to do something extra. That’s when you need an API or integrations with a tool like Zapier.
Ghost is a full fledged CMS with an extensive API and many integrations. Squarespace also has extensive developer tooling although more focused on its main market, e-commerce.
ConvertKit, Memberful and Revue also have APIs to build custom extensions. Substack doesn’t at this time.
The five tools with an API, ConvertKit, Ghost, Memberful, Revue and Squarespace also have integrations with Zapier to automate audience or content workflows for example.
To summarize, there are numerous good options, with differences in web versus email background, flat versus transaction fees, customizations and tech skills required, ownership of audience, domain, content and design as well as existence of an API.