9 Platforms for Launching Your Personal Newsletter

What sets the biggest email newsletter services apart?
Hal Koss
March 16, 2021
Updated: May 24, 2021
Hal Koss
March 16, 2021
Updated: May 24, 2021

It’s never been easier to start a newsletter — and get paid for it.

Advancements in technology and the rise of no-code tools have lowered the barrier to entry. Now, people with zero coding skills or email marketing experience can create, distribute and monetize professional-looking newsletters.

Case in point: Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor, launched a newsletter in 2019 in which she summarizes the day’s political news. It’s free to read, but she charges $5 a month for the ability to comment on the web version of each issue. Today, her newsletter has enough paying subscribers that it earns her over a million dollars a year.

With new opportunities come new tools. Several email newsletter services have sprung up, aimed at independent writers and solo operators who want something more intuitive — and affordable — than the traditional email service providers (ESPs) used by marketing departments.

There are many to choose from. And, as is the case when adopting any new tool, there are trade-offs to consider — factors like pricing, ease of use and customization vary from service to service.

We rounded up the most popular email newsletter services and broke down what makes each unique.

Top Newsletter Services for Independent Writers

  • Substack
  • Revue
  • Ghost
  • Buttondown
  • ConvertKit
  • MailerLite
  • EmailOctopus
  • TinlyLetter
  • Mailchimp

 

substack newsletter
Image: Substack

Substack

No other newsletter service has grabbed headlines quite like Substack. Though it was founded in 2017, it made waves in 2020, when several successful journalists and writers defected from traditional media publications in order to launch independent newsletters on its platform.

The appeal of Substack has long been that it is free to use, simply and intuitively designed, and integrated with the payment processing service Stripe, so that newcomers can publish and monetize their newsletters quickly and with little friction.

The service is free to use, no matter how big the email list grows, but Substack takes 10 percent off the top from every paid subscriber. So if a writer has 10,000 subscribers each paying $5 a month (totaling $50,000), Substack keeps $5,000 and the writer takes home $45,000. (That’s before Stripe charges its processing fee.)

The company regularly adds new product features, such as customization options for writers who want to add different colors or font designs to their newsletters, and an analytics dashboard for segmenting and sorting email lists by criteria like engagement and subscription status.

It also allows comments on posts for the web version of each newsletter, offers podcast support and the ability to add a custom domain for a one-time $50 fee.

As of this writing, though, Substack doesn’t allow for custom email IDs, so email sends will always come from “[email protected]

Features

- Free to use
- Integrates directly with Stripe for payment processing
- Offers basic analytics, segmenting and sorting abilities
- Allows for comments on web version of each post
- Can use custom domain ($50 one-time fee)
- Has RSS reader for organization and discovery

Downsides to Consider

- Substack takes a 10 percent cut of every paid subscription
- Limited design customization
- Doesn’t allow for custom email ID

 

revue newsletter
Image: Revue

Revue

This Dutch newsletter service offers a clean and intuitive interface that allows writers to get their publications up and running right away.

Although Revue has been around since 2015, it was acquired by Twitter in 2021, which means the service is likely to see more changes made and features added in the coming year.

For now, following Twitter’s acquisition of Revue, the platform has ungated several features previously reserved for paid users, including the ability to change newsletter colors and use a custom email address and custom domain.

Revue also allows for integrations with content sources like Twitter (duh), Pocket and Medium, which makes it easy to import links without looking them up elsewhere. This is a time saver if your newsletter focuses on curating lots of links.

The service is free to use and writers can start setting up paid subscriptions quickly. Revue takes a 5 percent cut of each paid subscription, in addition to credit card processing fees from Stripe.

Features

- Free to use (takes a 5 percent cut of each subscription)
- Integrates directly with Stripe for payment processing
- Offers basic analytics
- Allows for third-party integrations
- Enables easier link curation
- Lets you set up custom domain and custom email ID

Downsides to Consider

- Limited design customization
- No ability to segment or automate email lists
- Part of the Twitter ecosystem (not necessarily a downside)

 

ghost newsletter
Image: Ghost

Ghost

Ghost, which bills itself as a “full-stack, modern publishing platform,” allows solo operators to create customizable publications and set up free or paid newsletters for their subscribers.

Ghost lets you gate specific members-only content and send newsletters to different segments of your audience, based on whether or not they are paying. It also allows you to control your pricing model, determining how much and how often subscribers pay for your content.

The service uses a markdown text editor and offers the ability to integrate with third-party apps like Zapier. It also makes it possible to import an existing subscriber list from anywhere, and it’s open source, allowing writers to own their audiences and content and easily switch to other platforms if they wish.

For many writers, the biggest hurdle for launching a newsletter with Ghost is that it isn’t free to use. Pricing starts at $9 a month, but gets higher if you want to access additional features, such as custom integrations and themes, or if your publication grows to a certain size.

However, Ghost doesn’t take a cut of transactions, as some other services do, so the math works in the favor of writers who already have — or plan to have — many paid subscribers.

Features

- Takes 0 percent transaction fees
- Integrates directly with Stripe for payment processing
- Offers advanced member management and content gating
- Open source makes it easy to switch services

Downsides to Consider

- Pricing starts at $9/mo for stripped-down version

ReadHow to Use Email Courses to Ramp Up Engagement

 

buttondown newsletter
Image: Buttondown

Buttondown

This email newsletter service was started and is still run by one person, Justin Duke. He differentiates Buttondown from other other services by calling it a “tool, rather than an ecosystem,” built for people who, like him, want a newsletter editor that’s extremely easy to use and that prioritizes reader privacy.

For people passionate about privacy and transparency: Buttondown is GDPR compliant and gives users the ability to opt out of tracking. Plus, Duke makes Buttondown’s running costs publicly available each month, so you know exactly how he’s spending the business’ money.

The tool itself allows for third-party integrations and lets writers use a markdown editor. And, if you want to launch multiple newsletters from one account, Buttondown lets you do just that.

Buttondown is free to use — up to a point. After your first thousand subscribers, the service charges $5 a month, and adds another $5 for every thousand more. And the pro features, which include custom hosting domains and API and Zapier support, costs $29/mo to access.

Features

- Free to get started
- Offers basic analytics
- Has a markdown editor
- Allows for third-party integrations
- Lets users to run multiple newsletters from one account

Downsides to Consider

- Costs $29/mo to unlock pro features
- Charges $5 for every thousand subscribers
- Run by a one-person team (not necessarily a downside)

 

convertkit newsletter
Image: ConvertKit

ConvertKit

ConvertKit is mainly for individual creators who want to take their newsletter game beyond simple newsletter writing and delivery and build targeted email campaigns.

The service offers the ability to set up automated email funnels, create customizable segments and even perform A/B tests with different subject lines.

Its editor prioritizes basic, clean formatting for simple text emails, which you can templatize and save for later use. You can also create a customizable landing page for email capture.

Anyone can get started with ConvertKit for free, but a growing email list and access to additional features kicks in a sliding pay scale that can get pricey.

Features

- Free to get started
- Offers basic analytics
- Can integrate with Stripe to allow monetization
- Lets you segment subscribers, automate emails, perform A/B tests

Downsides to Consider

- Sliding price scale kicks in after a thousand subscribers or right away to unlock additional features (starts at $29/mo)
- Limited design customization

 

mailerlite newsletter
Image: MailerLite

MailerLite

MailerLite is an email marketing service that can be used to create and publish a personal newsletter for which you can charge a subscription fee.

Since it’s designed first and foremost for email marketers, MailerLite comes with automation capabilities. You can tag subscribers, assigning them to segments based on their interests or behaviors, as well as set up email sequences and conduct A/B tests for newsletters.

As for the email compose interface, it offers a rich-text editor with drag and drop capabilities.

With MailerLite’s premium plan (starts at $10/mo and goes up based on email list size), you can use a custom domain, HTML editor, remove the MailerLite logo and access advanced analytics.

 Features

- Free to get started
- Offers advanced analytics
- Allows for custom domain
- Can integrate with Stripe to allow monetization

Downsides to Consider

- Sliding price scale kicks in after a thousand subscribers and/or 12,000 monthly emails
- Bells and whistles may feel extra if all you want to do is publish a newsletter

Read9 Projects Trying to Improve Social Media Platforms

 

emailoctopus newsletter
Image: EmailOctopus

EmailOctopus

EmailOctopus is a quick, simple solution for anyone looking to start a newsletter, either for personal use or to engage customers of their small business.

It offers a streamlined way to design and send basic emails, as well as create automated email sequences that can onboard new subscribers.

EmailOctopus has a reputation for being easy to use and for having a responsive support team, as well as for its interest in rolling out new product features.

For now, though, writers have to find a workaround if they want to monetize their EmailOctopus newsletters through subscriptions. Unlike a few other services on this list, it does not offer direct payment processing integration.

Features

- Free to get started
- Offers basic analytics
- Can use a custom domain
- Integrates with third-party apps
- Lets you set up simple drip campaigns

Downsides to Consider

- Lacks ability to let you monetize directly through subscriptions
- Sliding price scale kicks in after 2,500 subscribers and 10,000 emails per month (starts at $20/mo)

 

tinyletter newsletter
Image: TinyLetter

TinyLetter

TinyLetter arrived on the scene in 2010, and was perhaps the first service that made it easy for independent writers to launch their own newsletters without much effort.

The service is still around today (though it has since been acquired by Mailchimp) and continues to offer a clean, non-fussy editor and, of course, the ability to send emails to subscribers for free.

TinyLetter lacks an in-depth analytics dashboard — you can still see how many subscribers you have, as well as how many subscribers are opening and clicking on each email — which positions it as more of a tool for writing and sending emails than a service for developing an audience.

If you want to grow your email list to more than 5,000 subscribers or charge for subscriptions, TinyLetter will prompt you to switch over to its parent company, Mailchimp, which allows you to do those things.

Features

- Free to use
- Offers simplicity
- Tracks subscriber opens and clicks

Downsides to Consider

- Lacks advanced features and frequent product updates
- Doesn’t let users charge for subscriptions
- Tops out at 5,000 subscribers

 

mailchimp newsletter
Image: Mailchimp

Mailchimp

Debuting in 2001, this monkey-themed email service provider is the longest-tenured member on this list. It’s mostly used by small businesses and intended for a broad array of use cases. But plenty of independent writers use it for personal newsletters too.

With Mailchimp you can build and send email newsletters using its pre-made and customizable templates. And, depending on how much you pay, you can access sophisticated marketing CRM tools and set up pre-built automations.

Writers looking to make money through selling newsletter subscriptions will have to create accounts on a third-party app (like Campaignzee) and Stripe and sync them together with Mailchimp.

Features

- Free to get started
- Offers advanced analytics
- Has marketing automation tools and subscriber segmentation
- Allows third-party integrations

Downsides to Consider

- Costs money to use after 2,000 subscribers and to access additional features (starts at $9.99/mo)
- Lots of tools might not be necessary for independent writers
- Lacks a directly integrated payment processing system

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