Medium vs Ghost

Ghost is a powerful, independent alternative to Medium where you control your content.

Hello! Thinking about moving over to Ghost? Or trying to decide which platform to use for the first time?

You're probably wondering what the differences might be between a Ghost publication and a Medium blog, so we thought we'd put together an overview.

Below, you'll find the key highlights which we think are the most significant differences between Ghost vs Medium. We’ll also give you a straight-up comparison of features, customer experiences and control.

You can also swing by our community forum some time if you'd like to chat to some other Ghost users or ask any questions!

What's the overall summary?

On Medium, it's their publication and you're just writing on it along with everyone else. Using Medium, you don't own any of the experience and your content will ultimately be promoting Medium itself - not just your own work. It's much like any other social network.

You can't use your own domain name, you don't control the design, and your site will be plastered with promotion and advertising to try and lure people into signing up for Medium.

Every site visitor will see this when they click on a link to your site:

Medium popup

Once they're past the popups, the available space for your content is very limited. Highlighted below in red are all the areas which Medium use to promote Medium on your content. The non-red parts are controlled by you. On mobile it's even worse, the space for your content is practically reduced to a postage stamp.

Medium branding

Clicking links to your content from mobile devices ends in a frustrating loop of inconsistent redirects and calls to action between browsers and native apps, with disorienting views and screens flying from side to side. But ultimately, your readers end up inside... you guessed it: The Medium app!

Look, let's be real here, it's not all bad. Medium have a nice editor and a solid social network, but their product has also changed a lot in the last few years. Medium are a VC funded company with no sustainable business model, so their tactics for self-promotion get more and more aggressive every single year. That's the price you pay for a free product.

If you only plan on writing 1 or 2 posts a year, then it's fine - but if you're planning to do any serious writing, you can probably do better.

So what does Ghost do better?

Well, let's start by talking about what Ghost does the same. The most loved feature of Medium is the editor, and Ghost has the exact same editor. The main difference is that Ghost's is open source, extensible, and based on a JSON document storage format - so it has quite a lot more power.

The main benefit of using the Ghost editor is that it also supports dynamic 'Cards' within content. What's that mean? Well rather than just being limited to whatever content blocks Medium allows you to use, Ghost's editor can do a lot more. Think of it sort of like having Slack integrations right inside your editor.

Beyond that, we can talk about what Ghost does better. Ghost is a professional publishing platform, so it's laid out as such. Using Ghost feels more like using an app, and less like navigating a social network. There's a lot more fine-grained control over managing your content, your users, and your site.

Professional Ghost content management
Joel Gascoigne

"I wrote my first post on Ghost this weekend and it was a real joy. I love the editor, it's exactly what I need and perfect for how I write my posts. Excited about where this will lead, Ghost feels like a great platform."

Joel Gascoigne, Buffer
Switched from Tumblr to Ghost

Build your own brand + your own publication

Ghost is all about giving you the tools to publish great content, but never locking you into one particular way of doing it. The platform comes with a clean, minimal default theme included, but you can also completely change and customise the front-end of your site to suit your specific needs.

On Medium you're locked into one design with some basic settings, with no ability to use a custom domain name! If Medium decide to change how your site looks and works (which they regularly do), then you have no say in the matter. Your Medium blog looks like every other Medium blog, and has Medium links and logos all over it.

With Ghost: You choose your domain, you choose your design, you choose your branding, and you choose your links. Each Ghost site is unique, and reflects the personality of its creator. Some examples:

Example customers

When you blog on Medium, you give up control of your content and ownership of your traffic. Medium used to be well known for its network effect which would automatically expose your posts to a wide userbase. Like all social networks, that benefit has all but disappeared in recent years. Just like Facebook and Instagram, Medium now employs an arbitrary engagement algorithm to organise its content feed, so the days of easy traffic are long gone.

"I am one of the most-followed authors on Medium, with 158,000 followers. And yet Medium barely shows my articles to anyone anymore. As of 2019, Medium won’t give you much “distribution” within their platform unless you’re willing to put your articles to be behind their paywall."

FreeCodeCamp, on moving their 5,000+ posts to Ghost

Getting traffic to an independent website can also be challenging, of course. But the rewards are that you physically own the content and you're benefitting your own brand and domain. Meanwhile, Medium lock your content into their platform by offering no sensible export formats of any kind (just garbled HTML files) - making it difficult to move elsewhere.

Building a business around publishing

With Ghost there are no limitations on what you can and can't put on your site. If you want to use display advertising, that's fine. If you want to collect email addresses as leads to grow your business, that's fine too. If you want to create a platform around your site to start selling your book, that's A-OK. Writing about Cryptocurrency? No problem.

All of these things are forbidden by Medium's terms of service and/or functionality. Accounts which infringe upon what's "allowed" on Medium are regularly banned or deleted.

If you're building a publishing business, or a business around publishing, then you need stability and control. Ghost as a business has been profitable and sustainable since its first year of operation, and because the technology is open source you have full control over it. Even if Ghost went out of business as a company: You would still be able to keep your business running and your site online in perpetuity.

Conversely, Medium is a social network which has never made a profit, never found a business model, and maintains all control and all rights to its technology. So when it shuts down, your site will eventually go down with it. Just like Vine, MySpace and Google Plus.

Build your subscribers

The most important aspect of any publication is understanding and growing a core readership base.

Ghost has email subscriptions built in at its core. Once you've done all the hard work of attracting a new reader, it's important to keep them coming back again and again. Rather than relying on complex external systems to manage your subscriber database, Ghost has all of that built in.

Collect, view, manage and export subscribers to your publication and start growing a real audience!

Some of the world's largest brand publications are built on top Ghost.
Lee Munroe

"We’re using Ghost’s Pro service to host the blog for us. Works really well. Great writing experience compared to WordPress. WordPress is an incredibly powerful framework but because it supports the needs of so many websites and demands, it has grown into a sizable and cluttered tool."

Lee Munroe, Mailgun
Switched from WordPress to Ghost

Doing more than the basics

If you're a developer or a business trying to build more than just a basic blog, and integrate your content and publication with other tools and workflows - Ghost is the only option which gives you enough power.

Medium is undoubtedly the simpler of the two platforms to set up, but it's also the most limited. What you see is what you get, and what you get isn't all that much.

At it's core, Ghost is a fully baked RESTful JSON API with a flexible architecture, with carefully considered client applications and services to go along with it. This means it can be extended, modified and customised for your needs in an unlimited number of ways.

Ghost integrations

Compared to Medium Ghost has more features out of the box and even more that can be built on top of the default platform. It's worth having a look at Ghost's core concepts, detailed tutorials, extensive directory of integrations as well as beautiful themes to get you started. There's so much that's possible.

TLDR: The short version

Cut to the chase? Ghost is better for serious publishing. Medium is better for when you just want to write and don't care about the rest.

Ghost is best if…

  • You care about ownership and control over your content
  • Building a publication is something you do professionally, for work
  • It's important that you can make your site work the way you want it to
  • You want to guarantee that your site won't randomly be deleted or sold
  • You're a developer who needs a real API to work with

Medium may be a better choice when…

  • You don't care about popups and banners and branding, you just want easy
  • You write a couple of times a year, so it's not worth paying for professional software rather than a free service
  • You have no plans to build a business, it's just for fun!

Don't forget: You can also publish content to your Ghost site and then syndicate it to Medium as a distribution channel.

One last thing you should know

Ghost is an independent non-profit organisation. We build publishing tools for modern journalism & publishing because we believe freedom of speech is important. Our software is released under a free open source license, our business model is completely transparent, and our legal structure means that 100% of the money we make is reinvested into making Ghost better.

We’re building a socially responsible, sustainable business which empowers people to share important stories and ideas. We’re in this for the long haul.

Jeff Atwood

"I’ve been a blog minimalist from the start, and finding a truly open source platform which reflects that minimalism and focus is incredibly refreshing."

Jeff Atwood, Coding Horror
Switched from TypePad to Ghost

You’re now armed with knowledge! Hopefully this guide was useful to give you a general overview of Medium compared to Ghost.

Switching to Ghost gives you the flexibility of a fully customisable publication, and we have a support team on hand if you need help migrating your data. If you still have questions, you can reach us any time on [email protected].

Ready to give Ghost a try? Hit the button below! It’s completely free and unlimited for 14 days, no obligation.

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