Yes, I have it figured out. But I have decided to just go with Patreon instead.
Here are my reasons, and trust me when I say I have done enough research on this:
Disclaimer: Reasons specific to my use case. Ghost might be the perfect fit for your use case. Ghost is also improving rapidly. So these problems might get solved one day. I think it is very important that Ghost exists sustainably and self-hosting remains an option.
1. Video hosting
My membership is video-first. Video streaming is a hard and expensive problem. You need something like Vimeo to do it ad-free and at high enough quality.
So far both Ghost and Patreon used the same procedure to achieve this. Embed Vimeo videos. That costs a lot of money if you are serving above 2 TB bandwidth per month. Even below that the fixed costs are pretty steep.
Vimeo, after their IPO, has seemed to abandon their initial focus on individual creators and now acts as a B2B video hosting solution. So once you cross the 2TB bandwidth, you will be charged 10x the price (not exaggerating). This has already happened. Here’s proof.
Recently Patreon added video at no extra cost for now, so now the playing field isn’t level anymore. They will perhaps take a slightly bigger cut after 2023 to compensate but I’m okay with that.
2. Email newsletters
I am not comfortable with the monopoly of Mailgun on Ghost’s newsletter service. The premise of self-hosting and decentralization is lost there. I have written a more comprehensive explanation on this here.
Mailgun randomly flags new accounts, support is bad and they are not transparent about their Flex (pay-as-you-go) plan being still available.
So even if you just want to host a paid newsletter, it is not straight forward.
Unlike for video streaming, there are better alternatives for this like SendGrid.
You can use Mailchimp or the likes instead and just use Ghost for the membership login part of it. But then you are paying for Mailchimp and also Zapier which are both pretty expensive after a point. Also you lose much of the native Ghost newsletter features which made it appealing in the first place.
3. Sales Tax/VAT
This isn’t unique to Ghost, all platforms that use Stripe directly have this blindspot.
Unless you have an accountant, even Stripe Tax won’t save you. On top of that, Ghost doesn’t even work with Stripe Tax yet.
You will have to absorb all the sales tax before you pay the payment processing fee. You won’t be left with much after currency conversion fees, specially if your customer is EU-based.
Also, don’t forget about the accountant’s own fees.
This doesn’t stop there, sales tax varies by state and by type of product you sell. Here is a helpful guide.
All this to say, using a Merchant of Record is far better. Like you mentioned, Paddle or Gumroad.
You can actually use Gumroad with Ghost already, only thing that you need to do manually would be to delete the members who cancel their plans. For some use cases that won’t be a deal breaker. Oh, and you need to pay Zapier’s $20/m if you are running a serious membership.
I tried cutting out Zapier by manually writing a python-flask script to run serverless on GCP and it works. So if you are a programmer you can try that, both Gumroad and Ghost has solid APIs. You just need to add labels to the cancelled members and remove them manually later, because Ghost won’t let you delete them via the API.
I prefer Gumroad because Paddle is for SaaS - they won’t allow you to sell access to a community for example. But Gumroad has vendor lock-in. So why not Patreon after all?
One thing unique to my country is that, if I sell directly via Stripe, all software sales need to be “regularized” and I need to submit shit ton of forms to do that, which have their own fees. Note, this needs to be done per sale, not on the bulk payout each month, which makes the profit margin even thinner.
Revin solves this to some extent, but I couldn’t bet the entire membership on a brand new company. Moreover they haven’t shipped what I wanted yet. So I had to take a decision to avoid further delays in launch.
If you are from a place where sales tax is super simple, Stripe is fully supported and you price your membership high enough, you might be able to handle this, but it doesn’t work in my case.
So I have decided to use Patreon for my paid membership. And for now I will keep my newsletter free for all, using Substack.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like Ghost. I’m comfortable using Substack or Patreon because Ghost gives me the piece of mind that I can always opt-out and switch platforms.
Substack to Ghost is super easy. Patreon not so much, but possible.
I finally want to emphasize, if you have the money and want to send free newsletters only, just use Ghost (Pro). That takes away most of the headaches.
I have plans to move my newsletter over to Ghost (Pro) in the future, once I have enough profits to justify that. I love Ghost’s philosophy in business and design, so I will continue to support the project even if I am not actively using it for my business at the moment.
And who knows, maybe they will come up with even better solutions very soon?