Ghost CMS adds open-source subscription and membership options

Paid memberships and subscriptions have become the popular business model these days in the media industry, with publishers believing quite rightly that a closer connection to readers leads to a deeper customer relationship and ultimately more sustainable revenue.

That’s certainly true at big media companies (hello Extra Crunch) and there are also a spate of startups like Substack and Pico building out models for smaller publishers. But what if you want to build your own stack with an open-source foundation?

That’s where Ghost comes in. The open-source CMS, which has been around for a couple of years now following a successful Kickstarter, announced this week that it is launching subscription features as part of Ghost 3.0. The features will be included in both the open-source, self-hosted version as well as the organization’s paid, hosted SaaS product.

Ghost 3.0 allows publishers to connect the CMS directly to Stripe, which processes credit card transactions as well as Apple Pay out of the box. Interestingly — and something CEO John O’Nolan empathized with me — Ghost will not take an additional transaction fee (I believe Stripe’s standard fees still apply). That’s a serious difference with some of its competitors, which take 10% or more of a publisher’s revenue as part of their business model.

From Ghost’s own website, “Unlike VC funded startups which pop up and shut down every few years, with Ghost you own the platform you depend on.”

In addition to handling payments, the CMS connects that payments data to a more robust set of user registration flows, allowing a publisher to know who its customers are and who is paying. Ghost content can be designated for different audiences — free content for everyone, and paid content only for active paying members. Ghost also has integrations with a number of other services.

Ghost itself has continued to expand from its April 2013 Kickstarter, which netted the organization $300,000 in pre-sales. O’Nolan shared that the organization has had net revenue of more than $5 million since launch, and has a current ARR of $1.73 million through its hosted product. That revenue funds 15 team members, who are fully distributed and remote.