Exploring alternatives to Substack
Testing WordPress, Ghost, and other platforms
As I wrote three weeks ago, I am growing uncomfortable with the position that Substack founders are taking on hate speech. They have removed some content but they haven’t changed their policy on this, and their public statement sounded way too soft for my comfort.
Here are a few information sources:
But it’s unclear how far-reaching Substack’s new approach to content moderation will be if and when it reviews other newsletters for alleged incitement to violence. The company said it wasn’t changing its content guidelines as they’re currently written.
And Substack attempted to downplay the significance of their actions:
None of these publications had paid subscriptions enabled, and they account for about 100 active readers in total.
My distaste comes from several things. First, hate speech is hate speech, no matter whether it is one voice or many voices. I don’t think it is appropriate to implicitly equate the size of a threat with the volume of voices speaking it.
Second, my engagement with people of color over the past four years has convinced me that many of them have grown up and live in a world where almost every decision or action is evaluated from the perspective of risk to self, family, and friends. As a white male, I have not been as exposed to the pervasive undercurrent of fear they have felt, and continue to feel. Aligning the Random Wire blog with a company that doesn’t understand the impact of their action (or in this case, lack of significant action) is not something I can abide.
And so I am looking for an alternative to Substack, a place to which I can move my content that doesn’t offend my value set. Being very familiar with WordPress, I stood up a WordPress instance, downloaded my Substack archive, and imported it into WordPress with a plugin called Substack Importer. Unfortunately, that plugin failed every time I tried this method. The fallback is to manually transfer (translation: copy and paste) each post from Substack to Wordpress, download images from Substack and post them up to each WordPress post, and change the meta data for each WordPress post to match that of Substack. Six articles took me nearly an hour. That is a lot of work ahead if I go this route.
Last night, I tried Ghost. Unlike my test with WordPress, Ghost imported most of my Substack content pretty well. There were some missing images here and there, and I had to go through my list of posts and add featured images to many, but by and large, it was a relatively seamless experience. The problem with Ghost is I have to pay for the service. With the size of my subscriber list, that’s a $300/year out-of-pocket hit. This, in turn, would probably push me to monetize the blog and that is something I have resisted doing from day one. Substack’s minimum price to subscribe to a blog is $5/month; Ghost would let me set that much, much lower, making very light monetization a possibility for covering my hosting cost at Ghost. But I still don’t want to do it.
I’ve tried some other systems over the past few weeks, too, but WordPress and Ghost appear to be the front runners at this time.
And then there are subscribers: you. I know I’ll lose a good chunk of my 627 subscribers if I move. I’m guessing that at most, I’d lose about 50% of subscribers. I don’t want to lose any subscribers — not because of monetization, but because of the sense of community we have in this space on Substack.
As I ponder this situation, I have to look in the mirror and decide what is most important: staying true to my own values, or supporting a community of readers who seem comfortable with Substack’s system. A few subscribers have said they will leave if I keep the Random Wire on Substack, but surprisingly few expressed this view. I conclude that perhaps I am not quite in step with the Random Wire community…and I need to think more on this.
For now, I am keeping this blog on Substack. That could change overnight or might never change. At minimum, I will be crafting a statement about civil conversations and the lack of tolerance for anything resembling hate speech. Whether that will be enough for us to live with, I don’t yet know.
Whether you agree or not, I will appreciate your point of view. You can share it in many ways:
Share it publicly with this community by posting a comment here.
Email me directly at email@example.com.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts. I’m listening.