Newsletter Crew May 30, 2020

Substack features but on WordPress?

Lesley Sim @lesleypizza

Update! I actually built it! Check out Newsletter Glue here.


Hey guys,

I've been thinking about building a WordPress plugin that gives you substack-like features using WordPress + Mailchimp.

And was wondering if anyone here would be interested in something like that?

Essentially, publishing a blog and send it as an email newsletter at the same time. You can set this up in WordPress and don't have to go into Mailchimp at all, so it really does feel like substack.

This gives you:

  • An awesome archive because it's actually blog posts (rather than the not-so-great mailchimp one)
  • A newsletter with SEO juice
  • A much better web presence with an easy to share URL link for each newsletter
  • It also makes the whole publishing process much more streamlined

In comparison to substack, you get:

  • Significantly more control over the design and features of your newsletter.
  • To use your own domain name.
  • Ownership over your platform and list.

Anyone here interested in something like that?

It would take at least 2-3 months to be ready, but thought it'd be good to find out if this is something people actually want.

And if so, would love to hear what kind of features you'd like! 🙏

  1. 6

    I think the service will explode if introduced in the WordPress ecosystem. I would surely use it;

    1. 1

      Awesome @techPackets!! It's still early days, and it'll take 1-2 months to be ready. But would you like to be put on the waitlist to be notified when the beta is ready?

      Btw, do you currently have a newsletter? Would love to check it out! :D

      1. 1

        Besides, monthly & annual membership, if you can also include a subscription model where the reader can pay per article published that will enable the writers to dodge that content production treadmill thing.

        That's what I would want for my blog. This way I am not liable to keep producing content regularly & would focus on the quality as opposed to "Hell, I have to publish something this week. What do I write? I have nothing interesting ...".

        "Btw, do you currently have a newsletter? Would love to check it out! :D"

        No, right now I don't have a newsletter but I will be starting soon & yes I would love to be on the waiting list. If you want I can direct message you my email id.

        1. 1

          Ohh that's a fantastic idea! Will definitely keep that in mind! So it won't be a subscription, more like pay-per-view. 🤔

          If it's okay with you, I'll add the email id in your profile to the waitlist? :)

  2. 4

    This sounds like a great idea @lesleypizza. It would certainly take the hassle out of trying to manage both Wordpress and Mailchimp. It would also be excellent for SEO and for having ones own native domain. I'd be very interested to see what it would look like!

    1. 2

      Awesome @gordon. Thanks, I really hope so.

      And thanks for your interest! Can I put you down on the waitlist? I can get in touch here when it's launched, twitter, email, you name it! 😅

      1. 1

        Sounds great @lesleypizza. Sending you an email now!

  3. 3

    Hi @lesleypizza! It's really interesting you have brought this up. I'm really into newsletters and the tech behind them, and it's fun to see how Substack is influencing the newsletter/blogging ecosystem.

    I'm building a newsletter theme to mimic this set up on Ghost. The same benefits you mention apply also on Ghost, but it has the newsletter engine and paid access built-in, making my task a bit easier than yours 😅 You have a much bigger market though.

    I reckon you'll see some decent success with this.

    Can't wait to see the final product!

    1. 3

      Funny, Ghost actually launched some campaign to reflect that it has the same capabilities of building a community around newsletters but I still haven't seen it. Substack has some good features, but I feel like for people who are using Ghost, then can code these themselves on top of Ghost themes. Also, another alternative is Webflow + Memberstack (which offers paywalled content => raised some money as well).

      1. 1

        Mmm I’d like to know more about the community part, where have you seen it?

        1. 1

          It's here: https://ghost.org/members/

          It's still in beta, and quite a few features are still lacking. And as @dr correctly noticed, there's a big lack of themes to support this feature. I think ghost launched their members feature with only 1 theme.

          Anyway, it's not like I've even launched, so not like I'm in any position to say they have features lacking! 😅

          It's definitely worth checking out though!

          1. 1

            Thanks, I’m aware of that but it’s not what I meant 🙂. On Substack you can do AMAs and discussions. I don’t think that’s something currently possible with Ghost.

            1. 1

              You can use my comment tool, Cove, for replicating the AMAs and discussions on Ghost. It sits on top of Ghost memberships, so subscribers who log in can comment on your content.

              https://cove.chat

              (I'm writing a blog post about how to build a self-hosted Substack with Ghost + Cove)

              1. 1

                Oh cool! Will definitely consider it if I end up using Ghost!

      2. 1

        The large proportion of writers on Ghost are not developers. There is not much support in the theme ecosystem for the new Ghost Memberships feature (newsletters, paid subscriptions) even 6 months after the beta launch.

        There is a big gap between the new product features and how easily writers can use them. Hopefully my theme will help fill that gap a bit. (Similarly to what @lesleypizza will soon offer on WP)

        I love that Ghost are natively attacking the market move to paid newsletters. It's just a case of making it super easy for writers to use the tech.

        (I also just launched installghostforme.com for this same reason.)

        1. 2

          I'm also surprised that you said a large proportion of writers on ghost are not developers!

          I've tried using it before (I didn't try very hard though) and found it confusing and difficult to set up. And I tried with significant experience with WordPress already. So I assumed it would be easy for me, but it wasn't.

          The paid hosting version is easy though. haha 😛

          Really dig your theme idea, I think it's going to be awesome.

          Installghostforme also sounds awesome. :) If you're feeling particularly bad ass, you can do a ghost-focused hosting service. Like WP engine but for ghost. I imagine that's the next step up from just installations.

          1. 1

            Installing it can be daunting, but once the software is online, it's super easy to get Ghost going.

            As for hosting, I have thought about it :) But there are some other players in the market (eg Midnight) and I want to stick to more front-end stuff which I'm more used/suited to.

            1. 1

              I don't know man, as @lesleypizza pointed out, even if you google Ghost the headline is:

              Ghost: The #1 open source headless Node.js CMS

              If that's not developer-focused then I am not sure what is :) Majority of users don't even know what open source is and frankly even WP can get super complicated thus people usually go with platforms like Squarespace / Wix.

              1. 1

                Haha for sure, that doesn't look very friendly, even to me! (I'm not a Node.js developer).

                Maybe they should change their main message, because as a writing tool, it's probably even better than Medium, combined with the self-hosted ethos of WordPress. Pretty perfect for all bloggers.

                If you go with a managed host (or an install service like mine), it takes you less than a minute to set up up your blog.

            2. 1

              Oh I see cool! Good luck with your theme. It seems like an awesome market to be in.

            3. 1

              This comment was deleted 6 months ago.

        2. 1

          Somehow I always perceived Ghost as a platform for devs but maybe its my own misconception. Frankly, maybe that's why I don't know much about it but I know they have recently been aiming at Substack which made so much sense and is super simple. The questions is I guess then why go with the theme and not just Substack?

          1. 1

            I personally haven't seen anything from them about Substack (though they did write about Ghost vs Patreon).

            The reason for going with Ghost over Substack is the same as what Lesley wrote about above: you own the site and aren't susceptible to changes made on the platform, you can use your own domain etc. Ghost also has zero fees compared to Substack's 10%.

            There will always be people who are happy on a platform like Medium and Substack, and there will always be people who'd rather run their own version. Both sides need the same toolset.

    2. 2

      I was about to tag you @dr...

      @lesleypizza as a blogger about to move from substack -> ghost, I feel there could be a huge need for this, and it'd go down a treat. I feel like this stuff is 'ahead of the curve' currently, but that the curve is fast-approaching (1-2 yrs).

      1. 3

        wonder if it's ahead of the curve... or maybe the wave never actually comes (That's my big fear haha!)

        Excited for you, and hope you use @dr 's theme! that would be epic!!!

        1. 1

          haha, this is true! but, for what it's worth, that's my instinct =]]

  4. 2

    This is really interesting, thanks for sharing! I'd be interested in it. I'm currently looking at Substack but would prefer to stay in Wordpress.

    1. 2

      Thanks @onemanparty. Also, love how your profile name rhymes with your name. :)

      We've actually already launched! You can try it out here: https://wordpress.org/plugins/newsletter-glue/

      1. 1

        Awesome, will check it out! Also, love the user name too :)

    1. 1

      Hey @mindset_man we've just launched! You can read more about it here.

      Please feel free to email me at lesley at memberhero.pro if you'd like to give it a whirl. :)

  5. 2

    It's definitely interesting. I am actually evaluating both Mailpoet and Newsletter Plugin right now. Both have their pros and cons. I absolutely would love to have more ownership of my newsletter archive.
    Right now I publish newsletters as blogpost when I send them. I do this through Integromat. It's far from perfect but at least it's something.
    Since my subscription with Revue ends in 10 days I will switch in the coming week already. But I'm always willing to help out with testing etc.

    1. 1

      Ahh cool! Both Mailpoet and Newsletter plugin are excellent options. I've heard great things about both of them, and am actually planning to integrate with them in the future after Mailchimp.

      Would love to find out which one you eventually choose.

      On my end, I'm planning to build out into paid subscriptions and content restriction. Neither of which Mailpoet and Newsletter currently do, which is why I think they would integrate well with my plugin idea.

      But... Gotta start somewhere for now. And I think a Mailchimp integration would be simplest to get the ball rolling.

      Thanks for volunteering to help out for testing. 🙏 It'll take 1-2 months to build the beta, but I'd love to put you down on our waitlist and give you first access when it's ready.

      What's the best way to get in touch?

      1. 1

        You can email me on [email protected] or send me message here.

        1. 1

          Perfect @frankmeeuwsen ! Will get in touch! :D

  6. 1

    Hi Lesley, I think there's definitely some utility in this space, and I'm keen to follow your progress. It might not be quite the right fit for me, because I'm trying to (programmatically) generate a data analysis-type newsletter, and push it simultaneously to a Wordpress site, and to a mailing list, but it's definitely close enough that I'll keep up with how you're going. Best of luck!

    1. 1

      Very interesting @nosecroquet.

      Good luck with that, and let me know how it goes!

  7. 1

    sounds great, i'd buy

    1. 1

      awesome to hear that, Liam! we actually just launched the closed beta of our very first feature which is free. You can read about it here. Lemme know if you'd like to give it a whirl? We'll be launching paid features later this year :)

  8. 1

    Lesley - great idea and yes, I would be interested. My newsletter is dealsflow.com. One thing you are missing is a good referral system in your feature list. Simple, but good. LEt me know when you launch either here or at hi at dealsflow.com

    1. 1

      Hey Alex, that is one slick looking site! Lemme email you to get in touch. :)

      Referral system is a great idea. I haven't begun thinking about it at all, but it's in the backlog for sure as some other people have suggested it too.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the feedback. Sounds great!

  9. 1

    Lesley, this is EXACTLY what's been looking for. I've used Medium and Stubstack and while they have some great benefits, I don't want to write all my content only to drive traffic to these sites.
    The key features I'm looking for:

    • Custom domain
    • Content hosted on my own site (not on Medium/Substack/etc)
    • Ability to paywall a portion of my content
    • Paid/freemium newsletter, that allows to send out any post as an email to the right audience segment

    How soon do you think you will have something like this?

    1. 1

      Hey @nomwrites!

      Super happy to hear that! :D

      We'll be launching the send out any post as email feature within the month.

      You can check out a small demo I shared on Twitter, which gives you a taste of what to expect. We wanted to make it as seamless to cross-publish as possible.

      Paywall + subscriptions is still some ways down the road... Realistically next year. For now, we're focusing on refining the send posts as emails features and integrating to more email services so that more people can use it.

      If sending posts as emails is enough for you right now, I'd love to add you to the beta list. You can email me at lesley at memberhero.pro.

      1. 1

        Thanks Lesley! I appreciate your prompt reply. The demo looks great and it's exactly the type of newsletter functionality integration I had in mind. Timewise, however, this is not going to work for me at the moment, since I want to launch the site in a matter of days. So I'll look for a combo that can give me similar capabilities now, but certainly will keep an eye on your plug-in's progress.
        In your model, do you manage the mailing list part on your end or integrate with mail providers (e.g. Mailchimp)?

        1. 1

          We integrate with email providers. My thought is that many newsletter writers already have automated email flows and tags/segments/mailing lists inside email providers already.

          Here's another Twitter post showing you how to integrate with Mailchimp with us. Again, we've tried to make it stupid easy.

          And I don't think it's necessarily better or easier to do that inside WordPress. I also don't want to be responsible for email deliverability (or lack thereof 😅). At least not right now when we haven't even launched our beta!!

          I do think it's easier to write and publish posts in WordPress than it is to write a newsletter in Mailchimp (or any other email providers).

          I also think standard newsletter archives on email providers suck (weird URLs, feels orphaned and no SEO).

          So those are the 2 things this plugin solves for.

          Some other options you can explore:

          1. Mailpoet - this is great! And they do send and manage everything from inside WordPress.
          2. Mailoptin - this is great too. Although they also go down the integration route. Meaning, you have to integrate with an email provider.

          And then for paid content restriction, you can pair with

          1. Memberful - younger, not very many features, but very popular
          2. Restrict Content Pro - super robust, maybe a little old? will not break in a hail storm!

          In the not-so-distant future, you can also pair us with memberful/restrict content pro to get what you're looking for. :)

          Another option is you could just use Revue. You get to use your own domain. BUT it's on their platform. It's basically Substack with a custom domain. But I do think it's better and has more features.

          Hope this helps!

          1. 1

            Thank you Lesley -- this is super helpful. I'll definitely check out these options. Good luck with your project!

  10. 1

    Hi Lesley! Yes, I'm interested in this. I followed you on Indie Hackers for updates.

    1. 1

      Hey Lon!

      Awesome! Just followed you on Twitter. I don't use it regularly, but I'm hoping to change that and post regular updates on the plugin. :)

      I'll be doing a call for closed beta testers. I hope you'll look out for it. If you'd like to get notified more directly, feel free to email me (my address is in my profile), and I'll put address on the beta list.

  11. 1

    Hi, can you look at my website https://wikipagecreation.agency/ order form not working when I converted into wordpress?

  12. 1

    Why integrate with Mailchimp? Why not use AWS SES or Mailgun, while you are at it, which is comparatively lot cheaper? Completely abstract away the need of it.

    1. 1

      Good question. I'm actually interested in expanding into memberships (paid subscribers for your newsletter). So my plan is to integrate with other email providers like Mailchimp or even MailPoet (That uses mailgun, I think?) who would handle the email delivery much better than me.

      But..... Having said that...

      It's possible I might end up deciding to do email delivery as well. But that would be a feature for the very distant future (think 1-3 years or more). It really depends on how the initial plugin goes, and what people want most. :)

      For now, I hope "substack but on wordpress using mailchimp" is a good small place to start and try to build traction.

      1. 1

        You might wanna check Mailchimp's official plugin. I think it used to offer the same functionality of auto-emailing your list about your new blog posts. That's the core idea of substack I take it?

        I have been a life long WP developer but stopped working with it eventually, cuz you are either building for the crowd that wants to assemble the parts themselves (more price sensitive, requires more support since your plugin can be running on whatever codebase and whatever server) OR you wanna build a hosted version and abstract away all the complexities enabling you to offer a streamlining experience - which is what's Substack positioning currently is.

        Good luck to you! This reminds me of my domain - grabconversions.com XD

        1. 1

          Cool! Yeah, I will check it out. Thanks for letting me know. There are a bunch of plugins out there that do similar things to what I'm trying to do.

          What do you work on now? :) Totally get what you're saying.

          1. 1

            I recently figured out the long term vision for me. My primary objective is to build products around the Bitcoin ecosystem for people to use in a non-custodian manner while protecting their privacy & data.

            While I build those, I am abstracting away the common code for running SAAS, like user management, billing, etc related functions abstracted away in a serverless manner, which I can package in its own offering once it matures up. Visuals here - https://twitter.com/ashfame/status/1266292667501043713

            I was going to start livestream coding sessions since June 1st but didn't seem like the right time to start, considering the unrest in the western world.

            1. 1

              That's an awesome vision. It takes courage to articulate and go after your vision, so it's awesome that you're going for it!

              I hope it goes well!

  13. 1

    Would it be compatible with other newsletter services? Sendinblue for instance?

    1. 2

      Yes, in the future! :)

      I haven't actually built it yet. And I think Mailchimp is a good place to start since so many people already use it.

      Over time, I plan to add more and more services, like sendinblue!

  14. 1

    I'm also interested in this, as Substack has been kind of disappointing in terms of customization.

    I recently came across Mailster, has anyone used it?

    1. 1

      Awesome @cbartlett!

      I've never heard of Mailster, but MailPoet and Newsletter do similar things.

      You could probably try them all and see which one you like the best.

      My ideal scenario would be to integrate with plugins like them... In the same way I am integrating with Mailchimp.

      If you're interested, I'd love to add you to the waitlist for the beta. It's still 1-2 months out though! 😅

      I can add your email, message you here or any other way you like.

  15. 1

    @lesleypizza Also think the idea is great! Would love for something like this to exist that plugs into Webflow's CMS. I think there is a big market to help convert whatever styling you already have on your Wordpress post into an email. I know that Ben Thompson from stratechery.com uses something similar to convert his Wordpress posts into Mailchimp campaigns, maybe check that out.

    1. 1

      Yes, I think there's definitely a market for this. I'm trying to work out if I can use a kind of common template and both post to WP and push to a mailing list at the same time. For me the newsletter is the primary product, and the WP site is mostly just an archive, but I think it would be useful whichever one was more important.

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