When researching paid newsletter platforms, you’re rich with options. Maybe too rich. Creator-focused platforms have sprung up by the dozen in the last few years, each with their own perspective and promise to burgeoning writers. Some are great for established creators looking to expand their business, while others prioritize simplicity.
Breaking down what a creator needs out of a platform — and how much they should be investing in said platform as a newbie or an established creator — that’s where things get tricky. And potentially expensive.
To help navigate these options, we’ve put together a list of pros and cons for some of our favorite paid newsletter platforms.
What is it
Substack is a platform that helps writers start a free or subscription-based paid newsletter. Substack users own all their content, all their subscribers, and keep 90% of any revenue they generate. Rather than be reliant on an algorithm or ad revenue, Substack users can connect directly to their paying audience.
- Fees are based on a fixed percentage of a user’s profit. This makes getting up and running super inexpensive, which is great for people looking to start casually and those who have zero investment capital. Fees scale in relation to your success, which in theory means you can always afford to use the platform.
- Substack is also super streamlined. With a simple and intuitive publisher, as well as easy audience and subscription management, everything you need to publish and alert your audience is within a few clicks.
- Substack’s actual feature set is pretty spartan. Your paid newsletter will be largely text-based with pictures (and, if you like, can feature audio clips or a podcast). It won’t be a stunningly-designed email.
- Like many of the newsletter-first tools, there are very few in-platform tools to build a community for your newsletter. Writers need to get canny about leveraging other online audiences — like Twitter or Instagram — to grow their following.
It’s totally free to start and send a newsletter with Substack. Substack will only start charging for their service once the user turns on paid subscriptions.
When that time comes, Substack charges a 10% fixed fee, while their payments processor Stripe takes an additional 2.9% + $0.30 per charge.
What is it
Patreon is a content platform that helps creators establish recurring monthly revenue from fans of their work. Similar to Substack, Patreon users bypass finicky algorithms and connect creators directly to their paying audience. Patreon users own their content and subscriber lists as well.
- Established in 2013, Patreon is one of the original creator-first content platforms. It’s familiar to many, has years of iteration and expansion under its belt, and supports a wide variety of content publishing within the platform — think videos, music, podcasts, writing… you-name-it.
- Patreon’s pricing structure is quite unique compared to others in the field. Creators have the opportunity to set incentive-based subscription tiers that combine a monthly fee with perks or bonuses. While the lowest tier may enjoy the lowest fees, they also miss out on extra content or other perks that higher-paying tiers have access to.
- Patreon’s fee structure can feel a bit cloak-and-dagger (see a full breakdown under “Pricing”). Hidden fees are a common complaint that creators have of the platform.
- Beyond publishing new content, there are limited ways to engage with your community on the platform. As with Substack, there’s no way to build an audience from within the interface. (This actually proved to be one of the most evasive tools.)
Patreon is free to use until you start charging a subscription fee. Once paid subscriptions are enabled, Patreon charges between 5%-12% based on which subscription plan you choose.
But that’s only the beginning. There’s also a payment processing fee of 2.9% + $0.30 for donations over $3, and 5% + $0.10 for donations of $3 or less. There’s a payout fee applied when funds are transferred into a creator’s bank account. These fees are not listed in Patreon’s account dashboard, and will change according to where you live and how you receive your funds. Finally, there is a conversion fee. Patrons have the option to pay for their membership in the currency they prefer. Patreon charges creators a 2.5% currency conversion fee on all patron payments made in a currency other than the creator’s payout currency.
What is it
A more traditional email marketing tool, MailerLite is similar in form to MailChimp or other marketing-oriented platforms. MailerLite allows you to create, market, and track conversion from your emails — theoretically empowering users to grow an audience faster and to better understand their readers.
- This is a tool for the branding-oriented. Stylish email and landing page templates make for a slick marketing effort from the jump.
- Solid marketing and sales tools within the platform (such as a blog option, webpage builder, automation, audience-segmentations, and a newly-added paid newsletter subscription service) make MailerLite a super scalable platform for an established creator with business aspirations.
- A bit like buying the motorcycle before you’ve had a lesson, this platform is not exactly beginner-friendly.
MailerLite is free for your first 1000 subscriptions, but offers significantly reduced features at that tier. While you can pay more per-month to access more features, the subscriber count stays capped at 1000 until you start exploring custom Enterprise pricing options.
What is it
Memberful takes a slightly different approach to the subscription game in that it is primarily a platform for membership management rather than content. While practically-speaking it is similar to a Substack or Patreon — your content can live within and is published from the Memberful site — plugin options give creators a lot more freedom about how they host and distribute their work.
- If you like the platform you’re currently using to host and produce content but want a centralized place to manage subscriptions, Memberful threads that needle. They integrate with a multitude of content platforms.
- While Memberful does have the capability to publish and manage content, it wasn’t designed for that purpose. As mentioned above, it’s best used as a subscriber management solution for creators who already like their platform.
Uniquely, Memberful does have a baseline free option that allows users to take payments. A 10% transaction fee is applied, and this tier has a significantly reduced suite of tools. From there, Memberful offers monthly fees starting at $25 or $100, both with an additional 4.9% transaction fee. Commensurate with each tier is an expanded list of features available to creators.
What is it
Ghost is a simple-to-use and singularly-focused paid newsletter platform. Its most defining departure is that it is open source, so if you have coding know-how in addition to your writing chops, you can make the platform work perfectly for your needs.
- A clean, easy-to-use interface
- It’s open-source and therefore very customizable
- There’s a simple, recurring subscription fee
- The monthly-plan tiered pricing feels inflexible and harder to justify for small audiences or new creators.
- Bafflingly, there is no mobile app.
- As with most of the platforms mentioned here, there are very limited ways to engage with your community beyond publishing new content. You’ll have to turn to other channels like social media to attract new memberships.
Ghost leans hard on the fact that they don’t take a cut of your revenue. Rather, they charge a flat monthly fee across four tiers of membership, with each tier allowing the writer more subscribers, staff members, and greater access tools within the platform. Monthly memberships are reasonable, starting at $9/month and going up to $199/month.
Ready to get paid?
While your writing is still the single most important factor in building a successful paid newsletter, the right platform can heighten the experience for both you and your audience. Being confident that you have the tools you need to produce interesting, beautiful work and manage a growing list of subscribers is a game-changer for creators looking to go full-time.