What Does Outpost Do?

What Does Outpost Do?


Outpost helps power subscription-driven publishing businesses for individual writers and artists, for collectives, media organizations, local news sites, and more.

Outpost is a publishing system, not a CMS.

Outpost makes production, distribution and the business of running a membership-driven site as simple as possible, so sites can spend as much time as possible writing, drawing, podcasting, etc., and less time on administration.

To make that possible, Outpost provides power tools for member communication, customer retention, subscriber growth, promotions, analytics, and connections to outside tools.

Outpost is not a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, SquareSpace, or Wix.

Outpost works exclusively with Ghost as the underlying CMS.

Ghost is an open-source CMS that has powerful tools for posting content, sending newsletters, signing up free and/or paid members, and more. It's wickedly fast, built on modern technology, and has a great editor for writing.

Ghost the company offers a top-tier hosting service called Ghost(Pro) that includes the price of sending out newsletters, and we strongly recommend it for all Outpost customers not already using it.

Outpost builds on Ghost's powerful system to help member-driven publishers run as smoothly as possible, growing their business while spending less time on the business-y tasks.

Outpost is a publishing system and a publisher cooperative.

That's because when you start a paid website/newsletter, you are actually launching a publishing business, where writing or drawing is only part of the job.

To help you run the business, Outpost's publishing system includes:

  • A modern, fast website that is membership-centered with flexible publishing tools (powered by Ghost, typically hosted on Ghost(Pro))
  • An enhanced membership management system
  • A system for sending out different newsletters to different tiers of users (without having duplicative posts show up on your homepage)
  • A system for collecting, creating and handling payments, discount offers, gift subscriptions, and tips, on your site and off (Ghost has monthly/annual plans built in via Stripe)
  • A way to write members and select groups of members directly without sending a newsletter or writing a post
  • Smart recommendations to more of your own content on your posts
  • A default comment system tied to membership levels
  • Automated connections to other services for community building
  • Automated communications (aka Auto-responders) to convert free users to paid ones and keep paid ones paying (MBA-types call this customer retention and customer conversion,)
  • Analytics that tell you what you need to know with both a dashboard and smart email reports
  • Support for your site and business (Access to both Ghost(Pro) and Outpost support)

Outpost's publisher cooperative model means every client is a member:

  • Outpost's mission is to help its members build their businesses
  • Outpost can't be sold without members' permission (which basically means never)
  • Outpost uses its collective size to get group and volume discounts on third-party services, including email services to write subscribers directly and analytics
  • Outpost members get a say in what we build
  • Outpost members get to support each other and share tips and tricks
  • When Outpost makes more money than it costs to run the business and pay fair wages, the excess gets returned to members as a rebate

Who should use Outpost?

Outpost is built for individuals and media organizations that have hundreds to tens of thousands of paying subscribers.

Once a media business hits hundreds of subscribers, you’ll start to run into the day-to-day complications of a membership-driven business, such as:

  • giving one-off discounts, creating one-day promotions or offering custom group plans
  • managing subscriber requests and complaints
  • figuring out how to turn more free subscribers to paid ones
  • understanding your growth and churn
  • wondering how to set up a live chat event that’s hosted on your site
  • figuring out how notify subscribers ahead of time of that live chat without making a blog post about it
  • marketing your posts
  • finagling how to add a member who wants to pay you by Venmo or even send you a check
  • working out how to get more people subscribing, and more

Outpost makes this easy to manage, by automating as much as possible and making simple-to-use tools to handle the rest, so you don’t have to spend hours trying to figure out how to handle one subscriber’s help request.

Migration:

If you are on a different publishing system, the folks at Ghost(Pro) are masters at migrations and do it for free for some levels of hosting, when pre-paid annually.

For sites that want additional help in the migration, including theme modifications, third-party app integration, and/or guidance on how to make the most of Ghost, we offer transition help and consulting.

Production and Distribution

Outpost relies on Ghost to make newsletter production and distribution simple.

Ghost's post and newsletter creation system is unified, so you can write a simple post, or write a post that is also sent out to just paid members. Outpost augments this by making it simple to send different versions to paid and free members, without having two posts show up on your site’s front page .

Ghost is modern, fast and open-source. Crucially, the concept of membership is built into it, so member-only or paid-member only content is simple to make and is never shown to non-members. Users can't get around this using an adblocker, an incognito browser, or any of the many other tricks that get past paywalls.

Analytics

Outpost adds two separate analytics systems on top of what Ghost provides in its native dashboard.

One is similar to Google Analytics (without the tracking cookies), that gives feedback in real time.

The other is report-based, sending you daily, weekly, and monthly reports that give you the info you need to make smarter editorial decisions - like what older stories continue to perform very well and what stories are getting the most traffic from social channels and which are best in search.

We provide analytics that are useful, not just ones that make you feel good.

Privacy

As for privacy, our entire publishing system respects reader privacy and is GDPR- and CCPA-compliant.  

Ghost is cookie-less for readers that are not logged in subscribers. Outpost's tech and the default services we integrate also respect user privacy and operate without tracking cookies.

Data Portability

Your data is yours, including your website content, your communications with readers, your email lists, and your payment relationships.

You take these out of Outpost and Ghost at anytime if you want to use another system.

You can also stop using Outpost at any time and still be running your site on Ghost.

How is Outpost different from Substack/Patreon/Memberful/Pico?

The three big areas of difference: business model/financing, cost, and features.

Business Model/Financing

Unlike those services, Outpost is a cooperative, where each site is a member with voting rights and a financial interest in Outpost’s success.

Outpost has no traditional Venture Capital investment and never will. If you aren't familiar with how that kind of financing works, by not taking venture capital Outpost does not have to grow extremely fast and does not have to have a business model that requires making billions of dollars.

In simple terms, we can charge less and care more.

Since Outpost is a cooperative, Outpost member sites get a vote and a say in how the business is run, and in the future, will get rebates at the end of the year like you do at a food co-op or at REI (also a co-operative).

Outpost’s bylaws also have strict rules on the business being sold, so flipping it to Google for a quick payout won’t happen. It also means that Outpost doesn’t have to make decisions to please investors,  it has to make ones that benefit co-op members.

Ghost, the CMS underneath, is fully open-source and run by a non-profit that's financially healthy and employs more than 30 people now. It's not going away or flipping to Google, either.

Cost:

Also unlike any of those companies, neither Ghost(Pro) nor Outpost takes a set percentage of  a site’s revenue.

Outpost's fees are tied to the services we provide, such as the number of emails sent per month and the number of subscribers.

Ghost(Pro)'s very reasonable hosting fees are tied to the number of subscribers, staff members, support level, and other variables.

Sites still have to pay credit card & payment fees directly to the processors. (Figuring out a better alternative to credit card networks is beyond the scope of what we do, but we fully support the idea).

In practice, that means that large subscription-based businesses using Outpost and Ghost(Pro) can pay up to 75% less for more features compared Substack.

By Comparison:

  • Substack takes 10% + credit card processing fees, and does not allow you to get paid outside its system.
  • Patreon takes 5% to 12% + credit card processing fees.
  • Memberful and Pico each take 5% on top of credit card fees, and you also pay for the emails you send, and your website hosting and maintenance.

On the practical side, we think all of their rents too damn high.

On the philosophical side, we don’t think indie writers and artists should be making billionaires richer.

That makes an Outpost-enhanced Ghost site far more affordable than running a site with services that take a set percent of revenue. Since our pricing and Ghost(Pros) are based on tiers, sites also know how much it will cost month to month or annually.

Or as we like to say: Better, smarter, faster, cheaper. Choose 4.

Feature and Tech Differences:

Outpost vs Substack: Substack is an all-in-one solution with very limited tools for publishing, building a community or communicating with members. It’s nicely simple, which is nice, until you run into its limitations.

An Outpost-enhanced Ghost site is great for those who outgrow Substack and want to accept tips/other payments, design their own site, host online seminars or livestreams on their website, group content by tags or kinds of content, have content recommendations on their website, have multiple authors, control their communications with their members, and have multiple tiers of benefits, etc.

Outpost vs Patreon: Patreon’s creation tools aren’t very good, its member management system is lacking,  and the percent cut it takes keeps going up.
Also all payments go through Patreon, so you can’t take your payment relationships elsewhere.

Outpost vs Pico/Memberful: Pico typically runs as a Javascript add-on on top of CMSes like Wordpress that have no concept of paid members.

That’s no way to run a membership site.

So visually that’s something like this:

To see what that means in the real world, watch this short video of loading a “paywalled” post on a Pico-powered website.

Outpost-sites run on Ghost, which has membership fully baked in. If you set up protected content, readers are either in or they are out.

Memberful, owned by Patreon, is a complicated WordPress plugin. When someone comes to your site, your site has to call up Memberful  ask "is this person a member?" every time a user shows up.

That's slow and inelegant.  It's also too expensive given it takes a 5% revenue cut and you still have to pay for your website hosting, tech help, and any emails or newsletters you send.