I've been designing websites on WordPress, picking up a bit of coding knowledge and a lot of server admin knowledge, for over a decade now.
To put it mildly, I was a WP fanatic. I truly loved that it could be hosted anywhere, it was open source, and anyone could use freely available tools to build a little corner of the web.
With the rise in popularity of the platform so to rose malicious actors in the cybersphere eager to exploit any point of compromise in the sites.
You also had crafty coders willing to build premium themes and plugins that gave your site have whatever functionality you desired... but you had to pay premium prices to get it.
Between themes, plugins, apps, email distribution, ecommerce capabilities, hosting, and everything else it takes to properly monetize a WP site, the cost can easily run into thousands of dollars per year.
For many creators, this makes having a proper, profitable, and powerful creator experience almost impossible.
I mean, I don't know about you, but I don't know a lot of creators that are just raking in mounds of cash. Most have at least two jobs – the one that pays the bills and the one they do out of passion.
Then, in most cases, you add a spouse, add a few kids, a couple of pets, a mortgage, and student loan debt to pay off. That doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room in the cash department for us average folks.
There are cheaper options, of course. You could learn to code. You could piecemeal something together. Both of those options still require money and time.
You could also try proprietary website builders, which are easy to use but give you no control over your intellectual properties. They can literally shut your voice off if they disagree with you.
You can also use popular subscription platforms like Patreon, Gumroad, or Substack, but they are also (a) proprietary platforms with a killswitch and (b) they charge you more and more money the more you succeed. Their money-making model is to take a percentage of the creators hard earned money as their own.
So, what platform can a creator use to develop a community willing to part with a bit of their hard earned cash for your talent and not take away everything you earn immediately?
Enter Ghost, an open-source, headless CMS which makes setting up an aesthetically pleasing and profitable membership site.
I'd heard of Ghost, of course, and I'd even done a bit of research on it when it was first released. I drank from the WP kool-aid fountain, though. Nothing was going to change my mind at that point.
Now, having worked with it, I wish I had switched sooner.
I decided to check out the free 14-day trial and it took me about five hours to decide I was going to switch. I'd finally found the platform I wanted to do independent publishing on.
I navigated the easy sign up and was immediately thrown into an admin panel that was very intuitive and easy to understand. I got the hang of it with no problem.
I didn't use their tutorials. If something isn't intuitive enough for me to pick it up quickly with my experience, I won't use it because the UI is poorly designed and the UX has been completely ignored.
Building out the site was a breeze. Using the basic template, I built out a nice looking site in about an hour.
Ghost presents you with easy to use, out of the box options to make a professional looking website in no time flat.
You'll find basic editing of pages to be simple and straightforward with a dynamic block system that allows you to embed pretty much anything on your site and make it look beautiful.
If you find yourself wanting to make specific customizations, you will need a bit of coding knowledge in the Markdown language arena. If that sounds intimidating to you, don't worry. It's an easy coding language to get a handle on and there are tons of great tutorials out there.
Hosting is also a cinch... and affordable!
If you want to self-host the site with any major provider, you can. It's open-source and freely distributed. You just have to install it on your server and you're off.
I decided to host with Ghost itself and their GhostPro service. $36 dollars a month was a much smaller sum to pay than the $100 a month I paid Kinsta for their WordPress hosting.
Now, yes, I know I could have gotten cheaper WP hosting, but I know how those sites work, from the server all the way to the end-user. For fast and reliable WP hosting, Kinsta is far and away the best provider I found that had the capabilities to do what I wanted.
It turns out that GhostPro gives me the same fast and reliable service, but costs 64% less.
The membership platform is built in... and it doesn't take a dime from you!
This alone made me salivate when I found the features page.
Not only was I getting a very aesthetically pleasing publishing platform, but they also won't take a dime from me other than the hosting service?
SOLD! Goodbye Gumroad and Patreon, with your 3.5%+ cut of MY profits!
Note: I still use Gumroad for a storefront/shopping cart. It's a pretty nifty platform, but once Ghost implements a solid ecommerce solution it'll become unnecessary.
Off the shelf optimizations mean blazing fast load times.
Page sizes are extremely small, even with tricked out themes. Images get optimized on the fly. On GhostPro, they handle security, CDN, and your email traffic.
My load times never seem to creep past the dreaded 3 second mark, and I don't have to pay a ton of money for extra services to do it. It's baked right in.
The newsletter feature comes built-in, too.
Newsletters seem to be the "next big thing," so it's especially nice to have an easy to use newsletter feature that lets you send your latest post to your audience.
As I said above, if you're on any of the GhostPro plans they handle all your email traffic, ensuring it reaches the proper destination.
It "feels" like a publication and the creators follow an ethos that vibes with my own.
Ghost positions itself as a platform for publications and supporters of independent publishing. This rings very true to my own mission of encouraging people to overcome their fears and let their voices be heard.
It's open source nature and DIY mentality, combined with it's minimalistic aesthetics (both internal and external) speak to sweeping away the detritus and getting things done. That definitely resonates for me.
As an indie publisher, I like making comics, zines, and things of that nature. Ghost feels like a natural extension of that. The website is a great representation of my brand and feels like a zine itself.
I know if I find something I don't like, I have a voice with the development team.
Though Ghost has been around for a few years now, it still has a small market share compared to some of the monsters of the CMS world. Being a part of a smaller community is a positive in many ways.
For example, their developer forum is very active and the devs are responsive and engaged. That's a huge positive and also means you can help actively develop the platform even without knowing how to code. Feedback can be used to develop helpful features.
All in all, I'd say this has been a positive and easy change.
If you're looking for something a bit more minimal, focused on publishing, Ghost is a CMS I would definitely suggest checking out.