Writers turned to Substack for newsletters. Why are they running away for Ghost?
Why, then, has Ghost become the go-to for people looking to ditch Substack? When asked, the writers who made the switch had a few responses as to why Ghost Without Moderation is considered more righteous than Substack in Light Moderation. For starters, Ghost’s nonprofit status gives its reputation an impeccable shine. But more importantly, Ghost knows what it is and what it isn’t, and it’s not a post.
One of the main reasons Substack has received so much backlash is because of Substack Pro, its program that pays out mind-blowing sums of money to well-known writers for creating newsletters. To be clear, Linehan is not one of those writers. Yet the existence of this program suggests to many reviewers that Substack, whether admit it or not, is a publisher as well as a platform. Paying writers is, after all, an editorial choice. “Substack has taken a stance on moderation,” says progressive political consultant Aaron Huertas, who recently moved his writing from Medium to Ghost. “If you want to have a policy, you should enforce it. (Asked to comment, a spokesperson for Substack said, “Advances have nothing to do with particular views or moderation decisions. A light touch in moderation.”)
Ghost, which does not pay any of its authors or attempt to curate, does not occupy the same gray area between the platform and the publisher as Substack. So new converts don’t necessarily expect him to behave the same way they wanted Substack to behave. “Ghost works differently from Substack,” says Yanyi.
Ghost’s co-founder agrees. O’Nolan sees Substack as much closer in the spirit of the Medium publishing platform. Since its launch in 2012, the company has served as both a blog host and home of its own publications and a stable of authors. By paying writers, O’Nolan sees Substack following Medium’s playbook. “I think that really changes the stance you can take on content neutrality and moderation when you fund certain content, and especially when you host it on a single website, which of course they do. “
While the Substack moderation controversy ended up raising Ghost’s profile, many writers are now switching to Ghost for other reasons. Like the financiers. Uri Bram, editor of the popular “The Browser” newsletter, says Ghost has a “better product for 10 times less money” than Substack. For writers who want more control, Ghost’s customization is key to its appeal. Isabelle Roughol, another recent Substack-to-Ghost migrant, likes how Ghost gives her more control over the finished product for her podcast and website. Limit. Using Ghost “requires a bit more technical know-how but is quite manageable,” she says. “I built a self-hosted WordPress site in the heyday of blogging, and it’s pretty similar.”
But it is important to stress the need for a certain know-how. Again: Substack’s and Ghost’s offerings just don’t compare. Another member of Yanyi’s Substack Fellows class, college sports reporter Matt Brown, recently moved his “Extra Points” newsletter from Substack to Ghost, using Ghost Pro. He found the migration process a bit more difficult, so far calling it a “mixed bag”. He hopes it will all be worth it in the end, but didn’t find the change as seamless as he had imagined. “The best way to describe it, I think, would be to go from Mac to Linux,” he says. “If you know what you’re doing, Linux can do it all, but the command line is scary, you know? “