This previous March, poet and critic Yanyi was very busy. Between educating at Dartmouth, modifying a literary journal, getting ready a forthcoming guide, and working a inventive recommendation e-newsletter known as “The Reading,” his schedule was stuffed. Still, he determined to add another job: pull “The Reading” off of Substack by the tip of the month. “It was right before the Trans Day of Visibility,” he says, “and I thought it was important for me to make the switch that day.”
Yanyi had agonized over the choice to go away the e-newsletter publishing startup. Substack’s platform was straightforward to use, and he’d been granted an advance as a part of the corporate’s fellowship program, permitting him to develop a wholesome, engaged viewers. But he was too sad with Substack’s moderation to keep. The platform had permitted content material from author Graham Linehan that Yanyi noticed as anti-trans and in violation of Substack’s coverage. He wasn’t the one sad one; different high-profile Substackers introduced their choices to go away for this purpose across the identical time. Many within the exodus had the same vacation spot: Ghost, a nonprofit publishing platform that payments itself as “the independent Substack alternative.”
Frankly, this designation is a bit odd. Even although Ghost has been overtly courting defectors—the corporate has a concierge service to entice writers wanting to swap—it’s not precisely a one-to-one Substack substitute. Newsletters are Substack’s core product. Not so for Ghost, which was initially envisioned as a snazzier model of WordPress when it was funded via a Kickstarter marketing campaign in 2013. Unlike the VC-fueled Substack, Ghost is a bootstrapped affair, with a lean employees of two dozen scattered across the globe.
The enterprise fashions of Substack and Ghost are additionally utterly totally different. Rather than take a minimize of subscriber income like Substack, Ghost’s paid internet hosting service, Ghost Pro, takes a payment, beginning at $9 a month. (The determine varies relying on what number of readers a publication has.) Its free-spirited CEO and cofounder John O’Nolan, who uploaded movies of his nomadic way of life to YouTube for a few years, is at present camped out in Florida. With no traders, he feels no strain to scale up rapidly. Ghost has undoubtedly grown since 2013—its paying clients embody Tinder and OkCupid, so there’s an opportunity you would get ghosted on a relationship app that makes use of Ghost, and its software program has been put in greater than 2.5 million instances—however the nonprofit merely isn’t making an attempt to function with the identical never-stop-scaling! mindset that guides so many digital-media startups flush with Silicon Valley money.
Also, Ghost is open supply, which suggests anybody, wherever can use it how they see match, offered they know the way to host their very own web site. While Ghost Pro does have a content-moderation coverage (primary stuff—no porn or phishing schemes allowed), the overwhelming majority of Ghost customers go the free route, leaving them totally unmoderated. Basically, Ghost may very well be residence to the very same content material driving folks off Substack. Or worse. “We have absolutely no ability to control how Ghost is used,” O’Nolan says.
Why, then, did Ghost grow to be the go-to for folks wanting to abandon Substack? When requested, writers who made the swap had a couple of solutions for why no-moderation Ghost is seen as extra virtuous than light-moderation Substack. For starters, Ghost’s nonprofit standing provides its fame a squeaky-clean shine. But extra necessary, Ghost is aware of what it’s and what it’s not—and it’s not a publication.
One of the primary causes Substack has obtained a lot blowback is due to Substack Pro, its program that pays well-known writers eye-popping sums to create newsletters. To be clear, Linehan shouldn’t be considered one of these writers. Still, the existence of this program suggests to many critics that Substack, whether or not it should admit it or not, is a writer in addition to a platform. Paying writers is, in spite of everything, an editorial alternative. “Substack has staked out a stance on moderation,” says progressive political marketing consultant Aaron Huertas, who lately moved his writing from Medium to Ghost. “If you’re going to have a policy, you should actually enforce it.” (Asked to remark, a Substack spokesperson mentioned, “Advances have nothing to do with particular viewpoints or moderation decisions. We’re strong supporters of a free press and the open exchange of ideas, so we don’t influence anyone’s writing and we take a light touch with moderation.”)