If you run a blog or any sort of content-managed website, there’s a good chance you’re using WordPress, an open source CMS that powers a third of all websites. But WordPress isn’t the only game in town; hundreds of CMS platforms exist. And though they all vary in features and levels of complexity, they have one thing in common: they enable people like you and me to post content on the web for others to read and share.
As both a CMS junkie and CMS developer, I’m always looking out for CMS platforms that approach content management in new and interesting ways (e.g., introducing a block-oriented view of content management). One CMS that I’ve been following for awhile now is Ghost, another open source CMS that launched as a blog-centric alternative to WordPress (which, with the arrival of the Gutenberg editor, is pushing beyond just simple blogging).
Ghost 3.0 was released last week, and it finds the platform taking a massive leap towards encouraging and empowering independent publishers, bloggers, and journalists. Specifically, Ghost 3.0 includes support for memberships and subscriptions, which allow authors to offer paid, subscriber-only content, i.e., put articles behind a paywall.
This is an excellent thing, considering that other attempts to generate online revenue, like micropayments and advertising, have either failed or are essentially failures due to a combination of user frustration, technical complexity, and the dominance of companies like Facebook and Google.
It might seem counterintuitive, and perhaps even a bit old-fashioned, to charge for website subscriptions, but subscription models can work and be surprisingly profitable. (We’ve had good success with subscriptions on Christ and Pop Culture and *cough* I offer subscriptions here on Opus, as well.)
About three years ago we first started talking about what the next big focus for Ghost might be. We’d done a reasonable job of creating a new publishing tool which was much better to use than the alternatives, but we felt like we were missing out on solving a real, pressing need of modern publishers.
In the conversations that we had with people, one core theme kept emerging that we couldn’t ignore. Everyone seemed to be struggling with a viable business model for publishing, and an editorial strategy beyond trying to compete for as much traffic as possible.
At the same time, a handful of publishers were beginning to have success with a new approach: Selling premium subscriptions to their work, creating a direct relationship with their audience — and providing value to them as customers.
As of today, Ghost is the first totally independent product out there with publishing<>subscriptions deeply integrated at the core, allowing anyone to build a recurring revenue subscription business.
I firmly believe that if you’re a blogger, publisher, or some other content creator, and you believe that what you create has value because it informs, entertains, and/or inspires others, then by all means, charge a fair price for it.
That may be a hard pill for some to swallow considering so many web services have done an excellent job of training us to think that everything online should be free. (Of course, we still pay for apparently free services like Facebook and Gmail; we just pay with our own privacy and personal information.) But so long as publishers make it worthwhile with engaging and valuable content (and other, more exclusive perks and access), then I see nothing wrong with it. It’s no different than supporting your favorite musicians by actually buying their music rather than simply streaming it on Spotify.
Ghost 3.0 contains several other features, including more third-party integrations, updated admin and default themes, and the ability to run as a “headless” CMS for improved performance and reliability. Those are all well and good, and definitely make Ghost a tempting alternative to WordPress if you simply want to write online. But for my money, the inclusion of subscriptions as a core feature is by far the biggest aspect of Ghost 3.0, and the one that’ll likely have the biggest long-term effect.
For more on Ghost’s approach to subscriptions, as well as information about its business model and hosting services, read this extensive interview with Ghost CEO John O’Nolan.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.