Interview with Ghost Founder John O’Nolan

I have a great deal of interest in and respect for Ben Thompson, the proprietor of Statechery, one of the most interesting “tech industry analyst” publications I’ve come across. So this interview he did with John O’Nolan, the founder of Ghost, was quite interesting.

For those who don’t know here’s my brief (and likely inaccurate) summary of John and Ghost. John O’Nolan started Ghost with the intent of making a better UI for the core “WordPress blog” experience. A series of decisions later, and Ghost is an open-source Node (JavaScript) server (not PHP, like WordPress) which is beautiful and modern, and either self-hosted or hosted at Ghost(Pro) (very similar to WordPress.com hosting).

One of the most interesting parts of their conversation, to me, is below (Ben, questioner, is in bold. John, answering, is non-bolded.):

What we’re launching now [in late October 2019] is native membership and subscription functionality directly inside the platform itself, so you can have people sign up to your site, log into it, and then you can connect your Stripe account and take recurring monthly or yearly revenue from them.

So to be super clear: this is a Ghost-the-open-source-project offering, not a Ghost-the-managed-hosting-company offering — is that right?

JO: That’s exactly right. Every single piece of it is completely open source and available under the MIT license.

So basically anyone can go and download Ghost like they could before today, they can run it on their own server like they could before today, and they can manage their own subscription business without having to pay you a dime.

JO: That’s exactly right.

How do you make money doing this?

JO: We already have an existing business model that works very well for us and we really aren’t looking to change that too much. The current business is doing very well, and we feel that if we can attract more people to using Ghost full-stop then that existing business model will continue to work for us. Anyone can self-host if they wish, but if they choose to pay us, then our costs only go up if we get more customers, so there is alignment there.

I can see both why this posture makes sense for Ghost, and why it’s not exactly the thing we’d want baked-in to WordPress. But it sure is interesting to think about how different this model is than the roiling WordPress ecosystem (in which I’m guessing there are at least three (paid) plugins for doing some variant of what this new feature of Ghost does, one of which might feel polished). 🤓

That said, don’t stop reading the interview there. Ben asks great questions (and John gives thoughtful answers) to the hit-by-a-bus problem, why they aren’t getting rich, and a whole lot more.


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