We released the first prototype of Ghost on April 29th in 2013. Today, almost exactly 9 years later, we're releasing Ghost 5.0.
So what's new? Well. There's a short version and a long version, and we wrote down both so you can either save time, or go deep. Choose your own adventure.
The short version
If you just want the highlights of what the deal with 5.0 is, here's the lowdown:
- In the last 2 major versions of Ghost we introduced (first beta, then public) memberships, premium subscriptions, and email newsletters. In Ghost 5.0 we've significantly expanded those capabilities with support for custom premium tiers, multiple newsletters, special offers, detailed audience segmenting, and expanded analytics.
- In the last year we added (lots) more custom cards to the editor, now with native support for videos, podcasts, gifs, products, callouts, headers, and even NFTs (though that last one turned out to be pretty marmite). It's the same clean, signature Ghost editor — but now it can support much more diverse types of content.
- We've upgraded existing themes and introduced some powerful new themes, including one particularly nice one for news sites called Headline.
- As well as design improvements throughout admin, we also added design settings for themes as well as email newsletters right inside Ghost - so it's even easier to make quick changes without needing to touch any code.
- Speed. Overall performance under load is up 20%+ while resource use is down 22%. Ghost was already really fast, but we've made quite a few optimisations that have continued to make things faster.
- For developers: Ghost's production stack is now Ubuntu 20, Node 16, MySQL8.
If you want to try any of these things (and the many more smaller improvements) go ahead and sign up for a free trial on Ghost.org and see for yourself. It's live now.
Or, if you want the long version and some of the story behind Ghost, keep reading.
The long version
Last month Ghost turned 9, and now feels like a good time for a little reflection on the journey so far. We've learned so much after building this thing for almost a decade, and have never been more proud of the product or the team behind it than today.
Ghost's mission from the start has been to create a focused platform for professional publishers, and that mission remains as strong as it ever has been, though the product has evolved significantly from humble beginnings.
Back in 2015, a full 7 years ago, we tried to imagine what the future might mean for "professional publishers" on the internet. Medium was as popular as it had ever been, had recently launched an iOS app, and was constantly touting big name authors who they were paying large sums of money to write on their site. We got compared to them a lot, but never shared their vision of a future where all the best writing on the internet lives under a single ubiquitous Silicon Valley brand.
So we ignored the blogging-social-network holy war, and instead focused on making a better product.
In the end, we mapped out where we thought things were headed, summarised here in the form of a (very bad) 7 year old keynote slide.
We'd solved the top of the diagram with a modern CMS and a great editor, but so had about 10 other products with increasing popularity. We needed a bigger purpose for Ghost, and this diagram has been the map we've used to find that purpose ever since.
The "find and drive profitable action" language grates a little, in hindsight. We were looking closely at early movers in subscription publishing like Ben Thompson and Stratechery, but we also imagined that there could be companies whose publishing motivation is content marketing, or free publications like Wirecutter who might care more about affiliate revenue. "Profitable action" was the rather ugly catch-all term.
So, with our new plan in place, we started building. Sort of.
In 2015 Ghost had 3 product engineers, $36k MRR, and no other funding. There was no way to "take a big swing" or throw lots of people at the idea. We had to be content with quiet, slow, incremental, unglamorous progress.
It took us 3 years of work improving the existing product before we could afford to hire more product engineers to take on new ideas, and a further 2 years to build and launch a first beta version of memberships inside Ghost — by which point the creator economy was just starting to take off, and funded startups were starting to appear in the space.
Then, last year, after an incredible amount of work, we finally launched the first public version of the Ghost we had imagined all those years ago, designed for the full lifecycle of professional publishing. We launched and then waited to see if we'd been right about where the future of publishing was headed.
Our measure of success to decide whether or not it was worth continuing down this path was whether we could turn Ghost into a "platform" according to the Bill Gates definition:
A platform is when the economic value of everybody that uses it, exceeds the value of the company that creates it. Then it’s a platform.
We didn't have to wait long.
As of today, that number is now somewhere North of $12M ARR — and the rate at which new creators and publishers are growing on Ghost is accelerating. Fast.
Which leads us to...
Almost all of our work since the last major release has been a sprint to keep up with overwhelming demand. Now, we don't just have new creators on Ghost, but established brands and publishers with multi-million dollar revenue streams looking to grow their businesses.
So, the focus of Ghost 5.0 has been on expanding the foundations of memberships and subscriptions to meet the needs of those publishers, and helping them build healthy, sustainable businesses around their audience. From world-famous publishers like David Sirota, to YouTubers with millions of subscribers like Ali Abdaal, to forward thinking startups like Buffer who specialise in incredible brand journalism.
Based on the feedback we've had in the last year, we've heavily expanded Ghost to meet the needs of those publishers and make it work better for them.
Here's a rundown of what's new
- Last year we finally made the dashboard! This year we made it much better. Now there are detailed audience analytics and insights to help you better understand how your publication is performing (with more on the way).
- Multiple newsletters. Now you can create multiple different newsletters for a single site, and allow your members to choose which they would like to receive. You can customise the design and branding for each one, individually.
- The publishing flow has been completely redesigned, making it easier for editors to publish or schedule content, deliver newsletters, or a combination of the two. It's both simpler and more powerful than it was before.
- Custom tiers mean you can offer more ways for your audience to become paid subscribers, at different levels with monthly and yearly billing intervals.
- You can also now create offers to incentivise new paid subscribers with special promotions and discounts.
- Public preview dividers allow you to give logged-out visitors a preview of protected content, of any length you desire.
- Advanced member filtering means you can segment your audience in lots of different ways to understand them better, and deliver newsletters to exactly the right people.
- Bulk actions are new in the members dashboard, so you can apply labels, export, or unsubscribe groups of members with a few clicks.
- New design settings for email help you keep your newsletters on-brand, and swanky AF.
- Plus, you can deliver an email without publishing content on your website. Perfect for weekly roundups, special offers, surveys, or private news.
- You can also create invite-only communities by turning open member signups off, so only people you manually invite can join your site.
- Free email newsletters can now contain calls-to-action to promote premium subscriptions to free members.
- There are 12 new editor cards, including gifs, buttons, callouts, audio, video, downloadable files, products, and more.
- Grammarly is now supported natively, so you can easily copy-edit your work as you write, right inside the Ghost editor.
- Ghost theme developers can define their own custom design settings, so you can update the look and feel of your site right inside admin.
- We released several brand new themes for news publishers and newsletters, including: Journal, Digest, Bulletin, and Headline.
On top of all the user-facing changes, we also have some exciting updates and changes for developers who build-on and work-with Ghost:
- We've made a brand new space for developer tutorials, to help people who are building with Ghost get up to speed. We're adding lots of new content here, from beginner level all the way through to advanced guides.
- Members and Tiers are both out of beta, with stable APIs and expanded documentation. We'll be expanding these even further in the coming months.
- Ghost performance has been boosted in a pretty big way. Number of reqs/sec is up 20%, with 15% less memory usage at boot, 22% less at peak, and 16% faster boot time. More features with less overhead is always nice.
- Ghost's official production stack is now Ubuntu 20, Node 16, and MySQL 8. The big change here is the database layer. We used to support both SQLite and MySQL 5 in production, now we're all-in on MySQL 8 so we can double down on performance optimizations. Ghost stores a hell of a lot more data than it used to, and this change is really important to keep the architecture stable.
- Footnote about other environments: Ghost can work with other operating systems, node versions, and databases (particularly those supported by Knex) - but as a small team, we only document and support one narrow stack that we know works really well. As always in open source: Contributions welcome.
- If you're a theme developer, gscan has been updated so you can test your theme for compatibility against 5.0.
- In Ghost 5.0 there are no longer different API versions in a single install. For the most part the API is stable with only additions and changes to newer features. Breaking changes are always made in majors. More details here.
Well, for a start we're going to take a breather for a bit. It's been a pretty crazy few months here, and the whole team has earned some rest. After that we'll come back, take stock of all your feedback, and get back to work.
We're a team of 31 people now, spread all over the world, and Ghost's own revenue is now about $5M/year (up almost $2M from this time last year). We're still an independent, self-funded nonprofit organisation that can never be bought or sold. And, everything we do is still decentralised and open source.
Can't count how many people said "that will never work" - but we're still here.
Each year there seems to be a new hype-cycle competitor that pays wild sums of money to get people to use their product, tries to centralise creators under a proprietary iOS app, and convince everyone that their "network" is going to solve everything – but each year we stick to the same thing we've always stuck to:
Just quietly making a better product.
How to get Ghost 5.0
All new sites on Ghost(Pro) are running 5.0. You can spin up a new site in a few clicks and access all of the latest features with a 14-day free trial.
Already on Ghost(Pro)? Log into Ghost.org and click the "Update to 5.0" link your admin panel, any time. Get in touch with support if you have any trouble.
Self-hosting Ghost? Update to 5.0 using Ghost-CLI — here's the Ghost update guide. Keep in mind, this is a major version with breaking changes. Please allow some extra time and make backups.