The Switch to Ghost

Ghost reduces the pain of starting a membership based independent publication

The Switch to Ghost

Ghost reduces the pain of starting a membership based independent publication

As someone who writes a lot, and has written on almost all blogging platforms in the last 10 years, switching to Ghost to start this publication was a weighed decision. I wanted  to take a moment to outline the reasons for this switch, and why I think it makes sense for most serious writers across genres. Although this is not an outright "tech" topic, I think this is an important technology problem, that deserves more attention than it currently gets. There is a need for changing the way blogging platforms work, and Ghost is leading the way towards that change.

The Clamour of Social Media

Social media in 2020 has emerged as a distant cousin of mainstream media, which thrives on conflict, commercialization and negative news (mostly). Real in depth reading, educational content and non-clickbait content are neither relished, nor made visible on most outlets. As a nerd and bookworm, this is disconcerting to me. That a lot of writing is expected to conform to this dull, flaky, hype-oriented style is even worse.

Those who appreciate good writing, thought provoking insights, mind bending ideas, and a fair balance of criticism and appreciation of important (often deliberately overlooked) matters, are getting fatigued of this social media culture.

This demand/supply gap in social and mainstream media is what I wanted to fill through an independent publication like A Random Variable.

Why Not Any Other Blogging Platform?

Platforms like good old Wordpress, new age Medium and newer age Substack have grown phenomenally. But they all pose several challenges when it comes to solving the problem outlined above:

Customization Ability

Medium and Substack are plain Jane when it comes to looks and presentation. You can only write. The look is pre-fixed. It does not give you room to allow your character to shine through.

Wordpress.com gives very limited customization (unless you are on the premium plan). Wordpress.org gives the entire playing field. But anyone who has ever setup a Wordpress.org site knows that it takes a long time, and requires you to know Wordpress to set up. The themes are not always simple to figure out, and customization comes at a cost of intense effort.

I did not expect customization on Ghost to be this simple. It has some limitations (unless you are a web developer and can breeze through the code), which I hope can be addressed going forward, but the available theme plans give a good range of customization and are plug and play. It does not require anything from the user to setup, apart from uploading. Integrations with Zapier and other apps allow you to add on any features you like.

The biggest bonus for me is that Ghost is built for clutter free reading. It is not meant to be a marketing engine or an overcrowded news magazine site or an eclectic mix of "stuff." It is built to be clean, minimalist, modern.

For any serious writer, the writing must start paying at some point, for it to be fulfilling and meaningful. Not just paid gigs, but even publications must pay for themselves for it to grow into a self sustaining go-to site for good content.

Most blogging platforms tried to add some monetization features, but they all failed on one aspect: integrations with Stripe for countries like India.

No other blogging platform gives the functionality for writers in India to setup paid memberships via Stripe. This is a bigger plus than any other. It solves a fundamental problem for writers in India. The technical aspect of this might be tricky (since Stripe integration allows you to pick only one currency even now), but atleast it is a step in the right direction.

Growing a Subscriber Base

To be honest, I was a tad skeptical about this. I was not  sure people would go back to basics and subscribe to the blog, even though I wanted it to turn out that way. This was a learning experience for me. I discovered that habitual readers do care about good writing, and do not want to miss new articles in the cacophony of social media. Especially, if these are readers who have liked your work before, they want to read what you write and do not mind getting emails for it. This goes back to the demand/supply gap I mentioned in the beginning.

Wordpress & Medium do have the option for "email alerts" but very few people take that route. That is because the alerts go as alerts, not nicely rendered emails, which sound like a personalized message. Occasionally, the emails do land up in spam (not sure of the reason for it), but apart from that glitch, the process is seamless, pain-free and non-disruptive. No annoying pop ups on the site, to get people to subscribe. No additional labour of setting up an email marketing platform. No additional effort of formatting emails. It is automated and nicely done within Ghost.

Keeping Up the Pace

One of the aspects of Ghost that differentiate it from all other platforms is that there is no free tier. So, only serious writers will sign up on the platform. It will not have thousands of half-baked blogs abandoned mid way.

The pricing also makes sure that the site is regularly updated—to do justice to the subscriber base and the monthly fees :)

The ability to use not just custom domains, but be completely independent is priceless in a time when any voice which is disliked by someone can be easily throttled. Ghost is just that—ghost. It does the work in the background, with minimal interference in your work.

The Possibility of Chucking Social Media

Work and life are not always conducive to being active on social media. But until now, writing and social media have been inseparable. Writing on a publication without promoting it on social media or having a social media manager to do that for you, is almost equivalent to writing your own journal. Nobody would read it.

But with memberships on the site, it is possible to write and have people read it without the heavy dependency on social media. Plus, if you get booted out of some social media platform, you still get to keep your work and your members. Not all is lost.

Ghost is one of the better solutions for continuing with your work, getting paid for it, and growing a member base all on your own, without dependency, censorship, (and membership fee charges) from the platform.

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Arti Agarwal

Founder - Quiller. Economist, data science, marketer, ex-SLB. Alum IIT Roorkee, MIT.

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