Substack isn’t the only newsletter platform that can help you grow and monetize an audience. Substack may not be the best option for you, depending on your needs.
Every month, almost 100,000 people type the word ‘Substack' into Google. That’s a lot of people interested in this product that does just one thing, newsletters. And don’t forget the dozens of other related searches people type into Google like ‘Substack newsletter' and ‘best paid newsletter platform'. Substack tops the charts for a lot of these search terms.
This barely 4-year old San Francisco-based startup is not only the hottest thing in the newsletter space, it’s perhaps the tool that fired a resurgence in newsletters in the last couple of years.
Like email marketing, people have predicted the death of email in general. Email newsletters were viewed, until recently, as some sort of stuffy legacy of the 90s internet. That’s no longer the case. Marketers, journalists, writers, and a host of other entrepreneurs are making bank with daily, weekly, and monthly messages to their followers on one of the oldest technologies on the internet.
So why use Substack for your newsletter and why not?
A few years back, it was common to come across stories of individuals who abandoned traditional email in favor of Instagram messages, Facebook, or Twitter profiles.
Why? Well, one reason is that they genuinely believed in the demise of email. On the other hand, unconventional thinking often makes waves (and money) on the internet. So there's that.
But as social media has become the dumping ground and spam playground for every business and chancer with something to sell, our busy email Inboxes have been given a second chance. Many conscientious consumers of information prefer to read only select messages from trusted authors or content curators. The fact that most newsletters have a publishing frequency means that subscribers know in advance what to expect.
- Simple to set up and use
- Simple and clear pricing model
- Viral growth through recommendations from other newsletter publishers and constantly improving SEO features.
- Community building features like discussion threads and chats.
- Limited customizations
- No tagging
- No segmentation options
- Limited referral software
- No API access
- No integration with apps or 3rd party tools like Zapier or Make.
- Focused on writers and bloggers.
Added to this, there are serious concerns about where Substack is headed. Many accuse the platform of becoming an influential media outlet and poacher of talent from other platforms and publications. This flies in the face of the indie-style creator-led independent writing the platform began life as. The company is also actively filtering and moderating the types of newsletters and content it allows on the platform. There are serious concerns in the writing community about Substack’s power and ability to censor and control.
Substack is a free platform, as long as your newsletter is free. Once you start charging readers (and let's face it, that's the whole point of the platform), Substack gets very expensive, very fast, as your subscriber count grows.
The table below presumes you are charging for access to your Substack list and compares the pricing to two alternative email marketing tools. Note that Substack pricing is a little harder to pin down as the platform charges a 10% fee on all revenue generated by your standalone newsletter.
In addition, Substack uses Stripe as its payment processor, which charges a 2.9% + $.30 per transaction fee, but for the sake of clarity, I'll leave it at 10%. But keep in mind that the final cost is slightly higher.
So these numbers are rough figures. Let's imagine you are charging every subscriber $5 a month.
|Subscriber count ⬇️||Substack||Beehiiv||MailerLite|
|1000||$ 500||$ 0 [Free]||$ 9|
|10,000||$ 5,000||$ 42||$ 47|
|100,000||$ 10,000||$ 84||$ 360|
Will Substack turn into the new Medium, where loyal readers were hit with a Paywall after spending years following their favorite writers? Interestingly, many Medium writers defected to Substack as a way of continuing to deliver content for free. Substack is free as long as the newsletter is not monetized.
Those that used Medium’s revenue-sharing partner program could opt to use Substack’s paid plans. 10% of revenue might seem small, but considering total sales it represents quite a substantial amount.
So if you’ve heard that Substack is the best newsletter platform or the only option because every blogger, tech founder, and Twitter user talks about it, I’ve got news for you.
There are many alternatives.
Here are a few of the best.
Beehiiv is a powerful newsletter platform and the fastest growing alternative to Substack. Beehiiv helps businesses and individuals to increase their email subscribers and monetize their content through some new and old techniques, all done through a thorougly nodern interface. Beehiiv has a laundry list of interesting features and business tools (much more than Substack), each crafted with the needs of modern digital marketers, content creators, and business owners in mind.
The user interface is beautiful and very fast. Compared to my other favorite newsletter platform, MailerLite (which can be sluggish at times), Beehiiv is lightning-fast.
It’s so nice to have a responsive, fast interface that doesn’t make you wait for anything. The templates are also beautiful, but if you don't like them there is an option to import your own design files so you can customize it yourself.
Beehiiv's customization game is strong. Design your newsletter exactly how you want, whether it's adding your own logo, custom images, custom domain, and a landing page builder with a specific layout. This level of flexibility is especially handy for businesses looking to maintain consistency in their own brand image across all their marketing materials.
Beehiv offers publishers the ability to offer their subscribers paid subscriptions.If you want to create premium content and sell it directly to your subscribers, it's easy with Beehiiv. Apart from incrasing revenue, this strengthens relationships with your subscribers by providing them with exclusive content they can't find anywhere else. Sure, Substack has this, but it's not as nuanced or flexibile (or as cheap to run).
Beehiv's referral program is turning heads thanks to the simple setup of what is normally a complex problem to solve. You can reward people who invite their friends sign up for your newsletters – a powerful growth hack.
The platform's integrated ad management system lets you earn money from your newsletters by running targeted ads and promotions.
In conclusion, Beehiv is a no-brainer for those looking to create and monetize top-notch email newsletters. With advanced customizations, both paid newsletters and subscriptions, a referral program, popups, monetization features, and a newsletter recommendation engine, it's a one-stop-shop for all your email marketing needs.
Beehiiv offers arguably the best value email marketing platform prices and is one of the best Substack alternatives for most people, so I recommend giving it a try. You've nothing to lose on the 100% free plan.
As a business owner with many different projects, I try to streamline and save costs. MailerLite has consistently been one of the best value and one of the most reliable of email marketing platforms. While MailerLite doesn’t offer a dedicated or sophisticated product for charging subscription fees, it’s pretty easy to connect Stripe payments to your account, add a password-protected landing pages for your newsletter, and charge customers a monthly subscription tier fee to receive your content.
While this is a simple solution to accepting payments, unlike Substack, you’ll have to manage the subscribers to your paid newsletter subscriptions yourself. This isn’t difficult but could take some time if you have a big mailing list.
- User pays for subscription in PayPal or Stripe
- Stripe connects with Zapier to add the user to a paid subscriber list
- After one month, if the user doesn’t continue paying, they are removed from the subscriber group.
MailChimp is one of the most popular email platforms and beginners love it. But I don’t recommend it as a Substack alternative unless you enjoy unintuitive, opinionated software that leads you down rabbit holes and makes it frustratingly hard to do the simplest things.
5000 subscribers costs $53 per month on the cheapest (most restrictive) plan. There are no direct monetisation channels and no way to offer a paid newsletter directly with MailChimp
If you want to sell subscriptions to your own newsletter, you’ll need additional tools that often add subscription fee charges on top of your MailChimp monthly subs, you’ll spend a lot of money with this solution.
If want to keep things simple, without compromising on features and power, and you love the WordPress ecosystem, try MailPoet.
MailPoet is a plugin for WordPress that helps you to create newsletters and send them directly to subscribers without using a 3rd party email marketing service. As a Substack alternative, it's great if you want a simple solution that slots straight into the WordPress ecosystem. It's easy to use and essentially performs the same functions, albeit with a little less pizazz. It's less of a platform and more of an add-on.
You can send unlimited emails to unlimited mailing lists and use any one of the 50 built-in templates in the MailPoet dashboard.
This alternative to Substack is for WordPress website owners who want to design and send beautiful personalized emails that reach inboxes every time. It's also great for WordPress users who want a WooCommerce-ready plugin. MailPoet is one of the highest-rated newsletter solutions and I believe it's mostly because of its simplicity and great price. You can do a lot with this plugin.
You're in control so the possibilities are endless. But the interface will be familiar to WordPress users and you don't need to jump through hoops to get things done.
With an easy-to-navigate system and subjectively the most elegant interface of email marketing software in this list, ButtonDown is worth checking out.
ButtonDown offers plenty of integrations with other popular marketing tools and platforms and offers free and paid tiers. Add to this the built-in analytics and the ability to run multiple newsletters from the same account, ButtonDown is not only flexible, but user-friendly, and inexpensive.
The tool offers two pricing plans that are easy to understand and involve no hidden fees.
The free plan has some limitations (no custom domain, white labeling, API support, or Zapier support) . Pay $5 per 1000 subscribers on the paid plans. With our 5000 subscriber example, the total cost would be $25. If you’re charging your customers $5 a month, as in our example, the fees work out at 0.5%. That’s 20 times cheaper than Substack.
Charge in multiple currencies (not just USD like Substack). Offer the ability for users to pay whatever they want. This is popular in the creator economy and indie hacker communities. People often end up paying more than you would have charged them anyway. Letting people decide what to ay you is also a way of evaluating the value you’re offering and of finding out what you could charge if you were to fix a price.
Ghost is an alternative to WordPress and at the same time, is an alternative to the Substack platform. Like WordPress, Ghost is a website content management system, but it also has a sophisticated email newsletter platform and email management tool. Ghost is built on open source code and does not charge transaction fees.
The newsletter templates are beautiful, much nicer than the rather bland Substack one-size-fits-all, and you have a choice of running your own server.
The Ghost platform costs $9 per month but if you host the platform yourself on your own servers, it’s free. Of course, you have to pay for your own hosting but many people already have web hosting and can simply add on another website for free. Owning your own domain and hosting your own website comes with added SEO benefits so you can benefit from discoverability in search engines.
I recommend Cloudways as web host. I use it to manage over 20 websites and it always performs brilliantly.
Ghost lets you create your own referral program and custom email address.
You can also integrate with thousands of apps (Substack offers no integrations) and technically-minded online creators and media publications can connect to an API. And yes, you guessed it, Substack doesn’t offer API access.
MemberSpace + WordPress + MailerLite
Another option that would appear to the No Code fans here (No-code is where people build products and workflows using multiple software products, without having to learn to code – Bubble is probably the most famous nocode tool) is combining MemberSpace's membership platform with WordPress and MailerLite or another email provider.
Try MemberSpace here
The cost is $25 a month but there’s a 14-day free trial. It might not be the best option for someone who is just starting out and doesn’t already have a list. This is why I left it toll last. However, if you already have an active and engaged list and you believe you can sell a paid newsletter subscription or products to your subscribers, Memberspace + WordPress + MailerLite is a solid solution.
Note that MemberSpace takes 4% commission on sales a the lowest price point of $25 a month. The good news is that the higher the plan, the lower the transaction fee.
If you pay $50 a month, the transaction fee is only $2 and it keeps reducing as you pay more. So this is a solution that doesn’t end up costing you a lot when you grow your list. You can do that math to work out just how much you’d save with this solution at your price point vs Substack. In all cases, it’s a lot. Plus you have full control, it’s highly customisable, and you can sell a bunch of other products and have an online community built in to your system.
With Moosend, businesses can build emails, marketing campaigns, and more with just a few clicks. From your desktop or mobile device, you can create professional-looking email newsletter campaigns. Moosend works natively with all major ecommerce platforms and shopping carts, so customers are automatically segmented and re-targeted the moment they start browsing through your site. If you're looking for a newsletter marketing tool that helps you sell products or services, Moosend is a great option for the price.
Moosend has the features to make email marketing seamless, including a wealth of personalization options, the ability to add images, videos and interactive elements directly into personalized emails, and a dedicated professional design team working on new templates.
There's a free plan for up to 1000 subscribers and the Pro plans start at a very reasonable $8 a month.
Patreon is a website that allows creators to be supported by their fans through regular or one-off payments. Patreon essentially provides a platform for musicians, writers, podcasters, and pretty much any kind of creative professional or amateur to monetize their work.
While Substack is heavily focussed on writers, Patreon is a platform used by all kinds of creators. Patreon offers hosted creator pages, app integrations, multiple tiers, special offers promo features, detailed analytics, and mobile apps. Patreon offers many more business tools than Substack.
With Patreon creators can offer extra features to paying subscribers such as
- subscriber-only newsfeeds
- Q&A section priority
- Direct messages from fans to creators
- community areas for discussions
- embedded videos, PDFs and other content.
Again, these popular features are lacking in Substack.
Both the Ghost and Beehiiv platforms are probably the main contenders in the “Substack alternative” race. Substack offers easy access to the most important features that most new newsletter publishers will need. The free plan is also very tempting (but also worrying – how will Substack survive with what must be astronomical costs?).
In the medium term, I can only see Substack increasing its user base. In the long-term, I'm not so sure.
Other platforms offer a lot more and often at a better price (this mostly applies to paid newsletter creators) so it's always worth looking around. One of the main draws of Substack was the ecosystem and network of Substack newsletters that people recommended to their current subscribers. From all accounts, it's a great way to grow your newsletter. But how long will this last? And now that Beehiiv has introduced a similar feature, can Substack improve on this?