As we embark on a new round of hiatus to upgrading the empori library, we thought we'd also look back at a big move we made, migrating both our website and newsletter onto Ghost.
Why did we do it?
Do we regret it?
What do we plan to do with it moving forward?
What is Ghost?
Ghost is a "proud non-profit organisation building open source technology for journalism". But in an age of comparisons, it's probably easier for us to say that Ghost is kind of like an open-source version of Substack.
Except Ghost isn't really free, at least not the version we are using (which is Ghost(Pro), and by definition open-source things should be free right?
So perhaps a better way to explain what Ghost is from our perspective is that it's like a highly customizable publishing platform that allows you to own your content.
Or maybe an even easier comparison is to say: Ghost(Pro) is like the Wordpress equivalent for publishing platforms.
What drove us to Ghost
There is a long grandmother story about how we finally found Ghost. But the short version of it is: A friend recommended it upon seeing how frustrated we were with the Substack editor.
So why did we end up going with Ghost instead of Substack?
We were recommended Ghost on the basis of it not using a revenue-share model. Unlike Substack which takes a 10% cut of your revenue, you just pay Ghost a flat fee for using its platform/software.
As our friend rightly pointed out, a 10% cut may seem like nothing at first, but if you do eventually grow to a sizeable following, that's a big chunk of your revenue going to someone else.
While our friend's faith in our ability to grow our subscribers to something sizeable is flattering, if we are being truthful (which we are), that seems like such a faraway concern that it this feature of Ghost didn't really factor into our considerations.
Instead, what sold us Ghost were...
If you know us, you know that we live and breathe Notion.
Our entire life is on that app.
Having become so used to the Notion editor, it was almost inevitable that we would struggle with the Substack editor. Its minimalism frustrated us, we had even less ability to format our content than we did on Mailerlite.
On the flipside there was the Ghost editor.
We will never forget the moment of utter awe, when we copied and pasted our February newsletter from Notion to Ghost, and have it show up exactly the same. Bookmarks and all.
And then we found the HTML blocks and snippet function on Ghost and things quickly shifted to 'shut up and take my money💰'-mode.
But we're actually the kind of people who will pay for things that aren't the most functional simply because we like the values behind it.
And we really liked the values behind Ghost.
We love how empowered they are in their presentation of the value they offer. How transparent and open they are when comparing themselves to competitors. There's no hard sell,
We also really appreciate their dedication to sustainability, to themselves and their users.
The world is built on capitalism, and so nothing can truly be free. And instead of trying to pretend that things are free, Ghost took the more difficult route of being open about the need to sustain the team and the platform, while not exploiting publishers infinitely by charging transaction fees and taking a percentage from user's revenue.
This kind of radical openness and healthy boundaries is something we respect and aspire towards. And therefore also feel comfortable becoming a customer of.
(yay for conscious consumption!)
And because we are every bit the hipster we like to deny being, the fact that Ghost isn't super easy to use because you can get incredibly granular with it is also what drove us to go with it.
As long as you have the coding chops (which we don't, but we figured we needed some serious kick in our butt to get us started), you could customize Ghost to become a truly unique site.
This was perfect for us because we didn't want to run our newsletter, studio blog, digital experiences, and website on separate platforms/sites. If all it took was a little tinkering/finagling for us to be able to combine all these things into the digital library of our dreams...well, we were never one to shy away from hard work.
Our experience 4 months in...
Do we still love the Ghost editor?
Is Ghost everything we ever wanted.
As the creators themselves said:
Ghost is focused on professional publishing, and we cater specifically to that use case. If you’re trying to build custom features, data structures, job boards, ecommerce stores, digital downloads or other types of website which are not related specifically to publishing — Ghost probably won’t be the best fit for you! Check out WordPress which, with enough plugins, can do just about anything.
To build the kind of digital library we wanted, we were probably better off using Wordpress. After all, the 'blog' part of empori really isn't the key experience. Our experiences aren't really centered about publishing.
We have definitely gotten feedback about how navigating our site wasn't intuitive and that things were a bit of a mess. You can definitely feel it as you are browsing our little library, that we are forcing the Ghost platform into a shape that it is not.
But are we really overstretching Ghost?
We feel like the jury is still out on that.
Because to be honest, we have not in fact committed ourselves to learn coding and website building. So how we have built our existing library is using clumsy, rudimentary adjustments.
Perhaps once we actually achieve some coding mastery, we'd be able to have Ghost do exactly what we want.
We assume, much like how setting up many of the integrations for Ghost, that while you can definitely make it work, it will not be the easiest of process.
So you just like making life difficult for yourself?
Yea. That basically sums up our Ghost experience
It is us making life difficult for ourselves because we love the editor and values behind this platform.
What we want to build isn't what Ghost was designed for building, but we can see how all of its features might afford the creation of what we want to make. And as an experience artist, that kind of affordance excites us.
In short, any difficulty we have with Ghost is completely of our own doing, but it is also something we knowingly and willingly signed up for.
What has been beautiful about this journey however, is the support we've had from the community and team.
The Ghost forum is full of experimental folks (who are much more tech-savvy than us), and they have been more than happy to teach us how to hack and tinker with the codes behind our chosen themes.
The Ghost team themselves also seem to always be experimenting with creative app integrations. We remember writing in to seek help on setting a gift-subscription function using Typeform integrations and receiving step-by-step instructions within 24 hours of sending that email.
There's just a lot of can-do attitude in the space. And thist kind of common curiosity and excitement is hard to come by. It really makes all the challenges of getting Ghost to work for us worth it.
Of course, while it's fun for us, we fully acknowledge that it might not be the best experience for our readers/users for the time being.
What's next for us
Which leads neatly into our upcoming plans.
We've been holding back on really actively publicizing empori and the library membership because we recognize that the user experience of our site still leaves much to be desired.
And now that we have gained clarity on the capabilities of Ghost as well as the direction we want empori to go, we thought it's finally time to sit down and do the work.
e.g. To set up the slightly annoying integrations we've been putting off. To properly learn the skills needed to fix the kinks on our site so it can finally be something we are comfortable launching fully.
But the details of that are for another post.
Thanks for taking a trip down memory lane with us and we hope this gives you a little more insight as to how empori library is set up the way it is!
Until next time,