I have been trying out the blogging platform Ghost on and off for a couple of years now. It’s a powerful tool, and one that many people make good use of.
- The ability to treat blog posts and newsletters the same (and post them by either delivery method).
- Granular management of social posts, with the ability to specify individual images and text for different social networks.
- A brilliant web editor that stays out of your way and lets you call content blocks as you need them.
- A good API for posting through tools such as Ulysses and iA Writer.
- The choice between self-hosting and using the Ghost Pro service.
- Solid embedding support for major platforms as well as raw HTML.
- RSS feeds for each different tag.
- Ease of editing CSS using post-specific and site-wide code injection.
- Ability to limit post to site subscribers.
Those are just a few of the features of Ghost that stood out to me. It really is a pleasure to use such a thoughtful and well-polished blogging tool.
However, Ghost ultimately just wasn’t the right fit for my blogging. The main reason is that the service is geared towards making your blogging into a profit-driven enterprise. Their slogan, “Turn your audience into a business” says it all. Does that preclude use of the tool, if remuneration for writing isn’t your aim? Certainly not. It does mean, though, that many of the features that are released for the platform won’t fit your use case. It also means, when you open up the app, you’ll be presented with a dashboard of your subscriber metrics, prodding you into getting more subscribers. “Follower growth” is the name of the game.
As I mentioned in the list of offerings from Ghost, you can use their hosting service or self-host. I’ve tried them both and neither option is a bad way to go. Customer support is excellent, even on the lowest Ghost Pro level, and with self-hosting you can be master of your own domain.
The problem I have with Ghost Pro is that all but the bottom tier will cost you a pretty penny. $9/month is not bad for such a robust tool, but without the ability to customize your theme, add any additional staff writers, or more than one newsletter. For those things, you have to start with the $25/month tier. If you have paying customers, as Ghost encourages, that’s not too bad, but it’s a bit much for a hobbyist.
The difficulty with self-hosting is that it can get fairly complex. Most of the new features that get rolled out require some sort of manual intervention to make them work with a self-hosted instance. Setting up the email newsletter functionality with Mailgun is pretty difficult. I tried and failed a couple of times to do it before I got it right, thanks to a good set of instructions and the JSONLint tool. Once you get it going, it’s pretty solid, though. Except that you’re dealing with Mailgun.
When I first joined Mailgun to use with Ghost, I got an email from someone saying that they were the real human at the other end of the service and could help me with any questions. I asked about the challenges I was facing setting up with Ghost, and never got a reply. Despite their plan being advertised as being essentially free for low volume transactional email delivery, I got charged $25 for sending out 36 emails in September. It appears that they had upgraded me without my knowledge or consent to a different level. I had to manually “downgrade” myself again. This is not a company I would deal with by choice. Unfortunately, they are the only officially supported newsletter integration tool for Ghost.
So, for now at least, I’ve closed up shop on my Ghost blog. Knowing my penchant for playing around with blogging platforms, email tools, read-it-later services, et cetera, I can’t say that I won’t ever go back. I am trying to scale down my web presence to make it easier to reliably follow what I’m putting out, though.