In recent years, Substack’s newsletter platform has become a lodestar for creators and entrepreneurs looking to keep their audience updated on their content. In early 2023, the platform crossed the 2 million subscribers mark.
For a creator, Substack has some interesting benefits, but also some serious challenges to creating a sustainable digital business. In this article, we'll show you the logic behind Substack, compare the pros and cons of building on Substack, and introduce you to some other alternatives.
If you want more support in building your online community, come join OUR Mighty Community for free and meet other new and established community owners! We’d love to meet you. Join for free!
What is Substack?
Substack is a paid newsletter and subscription software that gives writers of all kinds the tools to control their publishing and monetize their work. It was launched in 2018 as an alternative to both social media apps and traditional blogs.
What sets Substack apart from many other platforms was its emphasis on allowing creators to build a brand around their newsletters and, more importantly, charge people to access their work.
Substack lets you build a paid email list, but it also has tools to build landing pages, host a podcast, charge for subscriptions, plus some basic community tools.
Pros of Substack for readers
Fresh takes: It's an age of canned Internet and Chat GPT garbage, which ironically makes real takes and stories that much more valuable. Many people are hungry for real content.
Access to experts: Substack lets you get close to experts in anything, from journalists to digital marketers to creative writers.
Support work you care about: People are willing to pay to support work they care about. Substack can almost become a cause, that readers are paying to make sure a journalist or creator's work is continuing.
In your inbox: Finally, readers get prompts and new content in their inbox, which is super convenient.
Pros of Substack for writers
- Monetize your work: This is the obvious, but you can earn from your creative efforts.
- Predictable revenue: Working on a membership basis lets you develop a recurring revenue business , which can be sustainable and predictable.
- Do work you care about: Self-publishing--including Substack--lets you control the work you choose. You're not at the whim of a publisher.
- Easy and intuitive: Substack is really simple to use. There's no tech knowledge required.
- Control: You control when the work goes out and who sees it. For writers who are used to being at the whim of others, this can be really powerful.
- Find new readers: Substack has discovery tools that lets potential new subscribers find you.
Disadvantages to Substack
There are definitely some pros to building on Substack, but there are some serious disadvantages too--and that's why we need to talk about the Substack cons. Identifying these helps us choose appropriate Substack alternatives too:
- You're stuck on a content treadmill: Writing for a month and earning from subs is exhilerating. Over the long term, it can be exhausting. You need to pump out content month after month, and if you stop, you'll lose your subscribers.
- It's really hard to scale: Scaling a Substack business is almost impossible. It's a one-person show--you can't really scale with a team or productization.
- You're selling a low-ticket product: Of all the ways to monetize writing and creative work, straight subscriptions are the worst for value. The average Substack subscription is just $7/mo. You'd need 100s and probably 1000s of subscribers to earn a decent living at this. (This has limited the overall value of the platform too, with investors dropping Substack's funding in 2022).
- Revenue share KILLS your profits: Substack says it's free to use, but it takes a whopping 10% of revenue from subscriptions! Let's say you got to 1,000 subscribers paying $7/each. $7,000 in monthly revenue, right? Cool. Okay, now consider you're paying $700/mo to Substack in user fees! Got 10,000 subscribers? Your fees just went up to $7,000/mo! "Free" platforms sound great, but they often leave you worse than paying a flat rate and keeping all of your revenue above that.
How to choose a Substack alternative
There are different ways to think about a Substack alternative. You might just want a different newsletter platform--basically a 1-to-1 alternative to Substack. Maybe you want to earn more from your writing and ideas; this means thinking about your business model differently. We'll cover this in the options.
Here's what to look for in a Substack alternative.
- All in one features: There's no point in building on an alternative that doesn't let you do everything you want to in one place. There are lots of good options for an all-in-one.
- Scalable business models: Platforms that let you earn from your writing but also build a scalable business give you way more options.
- Better revenue structure: Look for ways to keep more of the money you earn. In general, a flat fee model means you don't get penalized for growing--platforms that take a percentage cost you more as you grow.
- Brand ownership: Look for ways to both create your brand visually (branding tools) but also to build your brand. You should own what you create, and not be at the whim of a platform like Substack.
Not every platform below checks all of these boxes. But we'll talk about what each Substack alternative does and doesn't do for you.
11 Substack alternatives
We believe that the best alternatives to Substack will allow you to continue the great things you started on their platform while also providing you more options to grow.
1. Mighty Networks
The best alternative to Substack
Mighty Networks is powerful unified member platform that brings together content, courses, community, and commerce unlike any other software.
Like Substack, you can monetize your ideas and your written content. But instead of only selling subscriptions, you build a member-led growth business around shared passions and a thriving community.
Most Mighty Networks sell paid memberships, and the average price is $27-$33/mo. This gives you a WAY more lucrative business than Substacks' $7/mo subscription model.
And ironically, it's less work. You can still create your content and share ideas, but a community platform brings your members closer to your business and gets them more engaged.
Here are some of the ways you can do this:
- Build engaging live or pre-recorded courses and give even more value (you can charge extra for these if you want).
- Host rich conversations with forum-style content, long-form articles, questions and answers, polls, and chat & messaging.
- Build premium groups and charge for them (e.g. masterminds, focused discussion groups, expert events, etc.)
Mighty takes you out of the "subscriber" mindset, which is a different vision from Substack. But instead, you get MEMBERS, who love the work you do and want to engage.
We've learned that creating a community around your brand is the key to unlocking new growth for your business.
With Mighty, you get a beautiful design under your own brand. And, we offer a native mobile app experience on both iOS and Android, full access to member data, and the opportunity to message all members at any time.
Mighty makes monetization RIDICULOUSLY EASY too.
You can use all of these features to create bundles, memberships, or one-time fees, and you can charge in 135 different currencies or with token-gating.
Mighty is the ultimate platform for digital business.
If you're launching a community, try our AI-powered community name generator! Mighty Co-Host™ runs on Chat GPT and can create a Big Purpose, community name, brand, landing and sales pages, and more. Try it!
If you're interested in selling a newsletter and looking for the best email alternative to Substack, try ConvertKit. ConvertKit is an email marketing platform that lets you collect emails, create "tags" to organize subscribers, and manage them.
But it goes beyond this, giving you a powerhouse email software that can...
- create beautiful landing pages or in-line opt-ins, working from a template library.
- build email sequences with multiple triggers and automation flows so you can set your email and forget it.
- provide detailed analytics about who got the emails and behavior (e.g. link clicks, open rate, unsubscribe, etc.)
ConvertKit was already an awesome email management software, but they've added features for creating and selling a paid newsletter. It's really easy to set up and you can build it with the automation templates, sell the subscriptions, and use ConvertKit's library of layouts to create and deliver the newsletter.
The result is a newsletter integration with a much better email software than Substack, which is a way better value proposition. And the fees for ConvertKit are much lower.
Ghost is probably the closest you can get to a 1-to-1 alternative to Substack.
It provides creators with the tools to build a membership service for their content.
Ghost’s platform has a simple and clean aesthetic and that philosophy extends into providing creators with features to give their audience a great user experience. But similar to Substack, they really are a master of one thing and that’s publishing. Creators who use Ghost can focus on creating awesome content and building real connections with their audience while also charging a recurring subscription fee.
Ghost gives you a ton of good publishing tools: branding, gallery cards, an editor, lots of SEO features, a well as some good tools for multi-author companies.
Ghost has the same limitations as Substack, though. It's great for publishers. It's weak on real member experiences, community features, and the other kinds of tools you'd need to build a unified member experience.
One option for a Substack alternative is to choose a patronage model, like Patreon.
Patreon is a membership platform that allows creators of all sorts to run a subscription service for their content. Unlike Substack where you simply charge people for access, Patreon provides creators more business tools to experiment with offering content in the first place.
You can build subscription levels with Patreon, offering gifts and incentives for each level. A lot of people know Patreon and are comfortable using it.
However, there are a few downsides to Patreon as a Substack alternative.
- The features are limited. It's not an email platform or any other type of member-engagement platform. It's mostly a payment platform.
- You need to use other software to make it work, creating a messy tech stack.
- The revenue share can be worse than Substack-- 5%-12% fees that come out of your revenue.
Medium is a well-known free blogging platform with around 60 million monthly readers. And Medium has created ways to monetize--meaning that you could earn from your writing there.
First, the positives. Medium is a really intuitive blogging platform that looks great, hosts content easily, and even gives a few engagement tools (e.g. applause and comments).
And they let writers earn from their writing. With Medium's Parter Program, writers can earn by the amount of their posts that readers read.
But the downside? Although you can technically earn from Medium, only 9% of writers earn more than $100 USD/mo.
You'd only need 15 Substack subscribers at that average $7 subscription to earn more. The reason people choose Medium isn't usually because of its earnings. Medium can offer exposure to the platforms huge audience and opportunities to connect to blogging communities.
You also don't really build your brand on Medium (people see Medium's branding, not yours) and it's not your mailing list either.
For all these reasons, Medium is only a Substack alternative for those who want some exposure, want a 0 hassle way of getting their writing online, and aren't worried about building a business around it.
Buttondown is an alternative to Substack that describes itself as the easiest option for building a newsletter.
On Buttondown’s platform, creators and entrepreneurs get a minimalist interface to create robust emails for your subscribers. Additionally, they have great editorial tools that will help you out with spelling, typos, missing links, poor-quality images, and more.
Another interesting feature that set up Buttondown as a good Substack alternative is the subscription widget that makes it easy for people to subscribe to your content.
When you use Buttondown to create your newsletter you’ll also be able to start off free for your first thousand subscribers. This is a great incentive for using the platform and learning what your newsletter is all about before investing in a premium subscription.
Buttondown has a lot of great features packaged in lightweight software, but one aspect that needs work is its community building support. It’s great you can deliver solid newsletters to your audience, but creating a space for them around your newsletter is important. Buttondown still has room to improve there.
You’ve probably heard of HubSpot before if you’re familiar with marketing, sales, and CMS software. HubSpot is an interesting Substack alternative if you’re already utilizing HubSpot’s full-stack software for other avenues of your business.
The HubSpot interface is beautifully designed and easy to use. Additionally, if you’re using HubSpot already for marketing and sales, it is incredibly convenient then to start your newsletter with their CMS. Not only will it keep your content all under one roof, but you’ll be able to make informed decisions based on the data from HubSpot itself.
HubSpot won’t be as approachable of an alternative to SubStack as some of the other options we’ve mentioned, but their software is incredibly powerful if you can harness its benefits.
MailerLite is another Substack alternative similar to HubSpot in that it is an incredibly powerful software platform that allows you to create, market and track conversion from your emails.
With MailerLite’s platform, you’re getting a no-code software framework that can take your emailing strategy to the next level thanks to automation, analytics, pop-ups, and much more.
Many writers have found success with MailerLite thanks to their awesome templates, stylish landing page editor, and detailed analytics that will help you make the best moves for your business.
Mailerlite is a good mix of website builder, email software, and even e-commerce store. If you're monetizing with email and ecommerce products, it might work as an alternative to Substack.
Gumroad is a different type of Substack alternative; it's made for selling pretty much anything. You could create a newsletter with it--it's one of the many products you can sell.
In fact, you can sell pretty much anything from photography to music to online courses, so if you're looking for a newsletter business that also reaches into other areas of commerce, it's got tools to work with. And it also has a marketplace component to it, so people can discover your products.
The bad thing about Gumroad is that the revenue model is identical to Substack's. You'll pay a 10% percentage fee; this eats into your profits.
10. Buy Me a Coffee
For a simple patronage model with membership and a few email options baked in, Buy Me a Coffee is another option. It lets you create subscriptions and memberships, and you can email those supporters who have "bought you a coffee."
It's a really easy way to get a basic email list you can reach and charge for. And while it doesn't have all the features of Substack, it also comes at a lower percentage share-- 5% of your revenue, which is a slightly better option than paying Substack 10%.
Finally, Mailchimp is another email software that started as email management and has recently added a newsletter function.
As an email platform, Mailchimp works like ConvertKit. it gives you tools to grow your mailing list, things like collecting and tagging emails, creating landing pages, AI email composition tools, sending broadcasts, and creating automated sequences.
Mailchimp has a good set of features, but it's important to note that the newsletter option for selling subscriptions isn't native. It requires an integration with Campaignzee--a third-party plugin that lets you collect payments and gate content.
Ready to start?
At the end of the day, Substack is a good place to start building an audience around your brand, but the platform won’t grow with you.
Moving beyond subscribers and creating members is a vital part of building a thriving business from your work-- subscribers follow, but members belong. With a unified member platform, you can serve up a ton of different experiences, but growing and scaling is also easier because your members all get involved in creating content.
And that's why the best alternative to Substack is... a community!
Mighty is ranked the #1 community management software by G2. And it's free to try for 14 days. Come see what you could create with your ideas!