12 min read

Buttondown review - Prices and features for individual creators

For the lovers of minimalism, this is what you want to use for sending newsletters.
Buttondown review - Prices and features for individual creators

In this review, I'll show you how Buttondown is made for individual creators to send newsletters.

Plus, Buttondown is one of the cheapest newsletter platforms. This way, you don't have to break the bank before growing your email list or after.

This makes Buttondown a solid alternative to Convertkit, Substack, and Mailchimp.

Let's explore it and see why they are friendly to creators.


Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links are affiliates. This means that if you buy after clicking on one of those, I get a commission at no additional cost for you.


TL;DR

These are the main points of this review:

  • Buttondown has generous prices in comparison to popular alternatives;
  • The interface is clean and minimalist;
  • There are no membership fees;
  • Customize your public archive with code;
  • Export your data at any moment;
  • Run multiple newsletters under the same account:
  • Upgrade to unlock a custom domain and Zapier integration;
  • Not suited for beginners ;
  • There are no automated email sequences;
  • SEO could be improved.

Summary

Buttondown is a minimalist platform where you can run a newsletter.

Buttondown was created in 2017 by Justin M. Duke, a software developer currently working at Stripe.

Buttondown is an indie newsletter platform run solo by Justin.

He takes care of customer support, development, and marketing. So, if you have a bug or feature suggestion, you'll have to get in touch with Justin directly.

In addition to the minimalist interface, Buttondown is a price-conscious way to run a newsletter. Yes, they are a much cheap alternative to big names like Ghost, Convertkit, or Mailchimp.

Also, Buttondown is great for creators by not charging a commission for each membership.

Now, let's explore what makes this a viable platform to run a newsletter as a solo creator.

Strong points

Let's start Buttondown's exploration with their strong aspects.

Generous prices

Buttondown prices are pretty fair.

They are free to use up to 1000 subscribers. After that, prices increase by $5 per 1000 subscribers.

Upgrading to Buttondown for Professionals gives access to a custom domain, Zapier integration, API access, White labeling, and running multiple newsletters.

Buttondown pricing page with the features for the free and Professional plan.
Buttondown has free and Professional plans.

No membership fees

Buttondown doesn't have membership fees. This is awesome!

Membership fees are a tax for the success of individuals.

Justin has an interesting take on this that you can read on their documentation. I'll show you a snippet of it:

Buttondown makes money by charging for features and infrastructure. Paid newsletters is a feature, not a business model: it is a capability you get.

I love when companies do this! Charging memberships fess is egregious. And Buttondown does an excellent service by not charging fees to its clients.

When companies go for this route, their services stop making sense in the long run. But I'll save this explanation for a video or post in the future.

Minimalist interface

Buttondown has minimalism at its core.

After you sign up, you'll be shown the settings page. And this gives you a good idea of what you'll face: fields to input data and checkboxes to turn things on or off.

The image shows the some fields available inside Buttondown dashboard.
This is what you will see on Buttondown after you sign up.

If you're into a simple dashboard, you'll love it. However, if you want more standard settings, it can take time to adjust, mainly because of the lack of images and instructions even on the documentation.

So, if you want a simple interface like in Substack with more controls, Buttondown is a good call for you.

Monetization options

With Buttondown, you can run a newsletter on a pay what you want model. That's right can make the newsletter premium, but it's up to the reader to decide how much they pay.

Apparently, people cannot subscribe for free under this model. I've tried to put zero and my card, but it didn't work.

This opens up the possibility of your biggest fans contributing a lot of money for your work without feeling obligated to pay top dollar for the newsletter.

Public archive

When using Buttondown, you'll have a public archive. This way, people can subscribe or read previous issues.

When you have a paid newsletter, people will have to pay before they can start reading.

However, you can set some issues as free so new users can get a look into your writing before swiping the credit card.

Also, new members can subscribe through an RSS feed unless you disable it.

Screenshot of my Buttondown public archive.
The public archive I created for my Buttondown account.

Custom domain available

Upgrade into a Buttondown professional account to unlock a custom domain for your public archive.

This is useful to build your brand over time and gather links. As you can read here, using a custom domain is a wise decision.

Even if you change platforms, you keep the links and reputation in the eyes of search engines.

It's hard to pay $29 per month when starting a newsletter. Yet, if you want to turn your writing into a business, you should consider using a custom domain as soon as you can.

So, using a custom domain is an investment from a business perspective.

Rich control over the newsletter

Buttondown gives you great control over the newsletter. And you can see that right after you create an account.

In addition to the custom domain, you can change the sending domain. This way, you improve deliverability by proving you are the owner of the custom domain.

Plus, you can decide to use a double opt-in or not. Double opt-in is required to prove the email exists and the person is genuinely interested in getting your emails.

Yet, some people don't like to use a double opt-in because it decreases conversions by not activating the account. But, on the flip side, you avoid spam. That's right, with a double opt-in, you're less likely to have someone spamming you with thousands of new subscribers out of nowhere.

Also, you can change the newsletter design with CSS. This is useful if you don't like how the public archive looks. To be honest, the archive looks off by not having any margins, which isn't pretty at all.

Furthermore, you can enable a free trial for your newsletter. Giving you even more wiggle room for attracting subscribers for your premium writing.

Editor

Buttondown's editor is straightforward but powerful. Hear me out.

You can switch between rich editor (WYSIWYG) and Markdown. This is great for satisfying both writers who want a rich editor and people like me who love to write on Markdown.

Buttodown text editor supports mardown but also has a rich editor.
The text editor on Buttondown has amazing embedding capabilities.

Also, you can preview how the email will look by enabling the preview on the bottom right of the editor.

Another cool thing about Buttondown editor the embedding capabilities.
Just paste the link if you want to embed a tweet, YouTube video, or Instagram post. That's it. No need to add code to enable embeds.

Also, if you paste any link, Buttondown will automatically create a card with the page's featured image and meta description.

📌
Most email clients don't support iframe. So, avoid using them. Read more here.

Data ownership

In the same way, you can import subscribers into Buttondown. You can also export that information.

Yes, you are free to leave Buttondown at any time and take your subscriber's information with you.

Buttondown makes this process stupidly simple.

The export file will be generated in a couple of minutes, and you'll receive an email when it's ready.

The export file includes:

  • Drafts
  • Emails
  • Email events
  • Scheduled emails
  • Subscribers
  • Unsubscribers

Multiple newsletters under on the same account

Buttondown allows you to run multiple newsletters with the same account.

This is useful for you not having to log out and log in when managing those newsletters.

This is a premium feature only available on a Buttondown for Professionals account.

Also, they don't charge you twice for the same subscriber.

So, they only charge for unique subscribers. This means that every subscriber that is on several newsletters counts as only 1 subscriber for billing purposes.


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Imperfections

Now let's see some areas where there's room for improvement in Buttondown.

The onboarding process could be improved

I felt overwhelmed after creating my account.

This is the page you'll see after creating yours:

This shows all the settings on Buttondown settings page.
Buttondown settings on the dashboard.

I didn't see the little pop-up box at the top that said "enter publication name and description". And I wanted to see the dashboard before doing anything.

You cannot progress to use Buttondown until you add the publication name and description. This gave me a "meh" feeling. Didn't like it, but it wasn't groundbreaking.

Also, there are no images or guided tutorials. Instead, you need to follow text-based instructions while using Buttondown.

This leads me to the next point.

Not suited for beginners

Buttondown markets itself as "the easiest way to build and run your newsletter". And I'll push back on that.

Buttondown has a minimalist interface and allows you great control over the newsletter. However, they expect you to know what you're doing.

The standard for "most simple"/ "easiest way" to create a newsletter is Substack. I despise Substack's business model, but they are effortless to use. You create an account, set a couple of things, and go write.

In contrast, Buttondown's onboarding will most likely confuse beginners and non-technical users.

For example, it took me a couple of hours to wander around to see what features existed and understand how they work.

This is why I say Buttondown isn't suited for beginners. Buttondown isn't confusing in itself. However, the discovery and onboarding process is.

But if you push through the initial learning curve, you can have an awesome newsletter tailored to you.

No automation or email sequences

Buttondown doesn't have automation nor email sequences. Justin says on the docs this isn't an easy feature to develop. So, you shouldn't count on it being released anytime soon.

If you have experience with other email service providers, you know they make a lot of fuss about having automation or email sequences. But, unfortunately, that's not the case with Buttondown.

The only email sequence you have available at the moment is a welcome email that you can customize.

Yet, this is better than Ghost CMS that doesn't even have automated welcome emails.

Only for solo use

If you have a big newsletter and work on a team, Buttondown isn't a friendlier option at the time. There are no team permissions, like adding an editor or writer.

So, if you run a newsletter as a team, the only way for multiple people to access the dashboard is by sharing the password. Not ideal.

However, I don't think the Buttondown user base would require these features. The platform has a very personal feeling when receiving and sending emails.

Missing CTAs

This is a personal complaint that I also find on other platforms like Ghost or Blogstatic.

Adding a call-to-action is essential for when you want users to take one action after reading your content.

A CTA is basically a button. And this helps increase conversions for when you want to sell something or promote affiliate products.

Like if you click on this button below, you'll be directed to Buttondown's website through my affiliate link.

SEO

Buttondown doesn't appear to be well optimized for search engine discovery.

I've looked into the code from a public newsletter archive, and some meta tags are missing.

Source code of Weeknotes newsletter to show the absence of meta tags to improve search engine discoverability.
Source code of Weeknotes newsletter. As you can see there are no meta property tags.

Meta tags are essential to optimize the website as search engines use them to better understand the page.

So, there is no way of adding meta descriptions to pages on Buttondown.

Also, your default public archive will be buttondown.email/Newsletter-name. And this isn't good for SEO as you don't build a reputation on your domain over time. Instead, all the links you get will build Buttondown's reputation.

At least Buttondown has a sitemap generated automatically. This is useful because it helps search engines crawl all the pages easily.

Broken pages on the free plan

Buttondown users on the free plan can't customize 404 pages. And if a user goes into one, this is what they see:

This page shows a 404 message error on Buttondown.
The 404 page someone will see if they hit a broken link on a public archive without a custom domain.

There is no way for them to go back into your public archive page, and it only shows the Buttondown website footer. This isn't particularly great for your branding.

Buttondown pricing explained

Is Buttondown free?

Yes. Buttondown is free to use up to 1000 subscribers. And after that, the price increases by $5 per month for every 1000 subscribers.

For example:

  • For 2000 subscribers, it will cost $5 per month.
  • For 10000 subscribers, it will cost $45 per month.

Buttondown offers a discount if you pay one year upfront. Reach out to them to benefit from it.

The free account gives you access to the same features independently of the subscriber count.

However, if you want more features, you can upgrade to a Professional account. Keep reading to know what it includes.

Buttondown for Professionals explained

If you are an advanced user or want to benefit from extra features, you can upgrade your account.

Buttondown for Professionals includes:

  • Custom hosting domains: meaning you can host your public archive on your domain
  • Zapier integration: if you want to use Zapier with your Buttondown newsletter, you must upgrade to a Professional account.
  • White labeling: this allows you to remove Buttondown branding from your newsletter
  • Multiple newsletters: if you want to run multiple newsletters under the same account.
  • API support: you can do advanced stuff like sending emails without using their interface by using the API. Check their docs to learn more.

Buttondown alternatives

The most popular alternatives to Buttondown are:

  • Ghost;
  • Convertkit;
  • Mailerlite;
  • Mailchimp.

Now, let's see a comparison of Buttondown pricing versus competitors.

Number of subscribers Buttondown standard plan Ghost (Pro) Convertkit Mailchimp Mailerlite Substack
500 $0 $11 $0 $9,99 $0 10% fees
1000 $0 $19 $0 $20,99 $0 10% fees
2000 $5 $50 $49 $30,99 $15 10% fees
5000 $20 $81 $79 $52,99 $30 10% fees
10000 $45 $124 $119 $78,99 $50 10% fees

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Note: These are prices for a monthly commitment. They will be different if you make an annual contract with each company.

As you can see, prices escalate quickly on Buttondown competitors.

Also, some competitors lock some features into the expensive plans. This isn't the case on Buttondown. With Buttondown, have access to basic features independent of your subscriber count.

The only way to access features is to upgrade into a Professional account at $29 per month. This add-on plan will allow Zapier integration, custom, sending, and white labeling.

See below the comparison of Buttondown for Professional prices versus competitors.

Number of subscribers Buttondown for Professionals Ghost (Pro) Convertkit Mailchimp Mailerlite Substack
500 $29 $11 $0 $9,99 $0 10% fees
1000 $29 $19 $0 $20,99 $0 10% fees
2000 $34 $50 $49 $30,99 $15 10% fees
5000 $49 $81 $79 $52,99 $30 10% fees
10000 $74 $124 $119 $78,99 $50 10% fees

As you can see, even with a Professional account, Buttondown price is competitive.

Some notable comparisons

Now let's see a quick head-to-head of Buttondown versus their competitors.

Buttondown vs Ghost:

  • Buttondown is much cheaper than Ghost;
  • Ghost has a better dashboard and more features;
  • Ghost is the better option if you want a website because it has better SEO;
  • Ghost support is more responsive than Buttondown's;
  • Neither platform charges fees for selling;
  • Neither platform has email automation.

Buttondown vs Convertkit:

  • Convertkit is similar to Buttondown on features with a much better user interface;
  • Buttondown is much cheaper than Convertkit;
  • Convertkit has store features for selling digital products;
  • Convertkit locks advanced features on more expensive plans;
  • Neither platform charges fees for selling;
  • Convertkit allows automation.

Buttondown vs Substack:

  • Substack becomes ridiculously expensive the more subscribers you have;
  • Both platforms have a clean interface;
  • Substack allows public comments on issues;
  • Substack doesn't let you customize much;
  • Buttondown require you to have higher technical knowledge;
  • Substack charges 10% fees on top of Stripe fees;
  • Both platforms only accept payments via Stripe;
  • Neither platform allows automation;

How do subscribers cancel their premium subscription on Buttondown?

To cancel a premium subscription on Buttondown, simply unsubscribe from the newsletter. By doing so, the payment is canceled.

If users want to downgrade from paid to a free plan, they should unsubscribe and subscribe to the free plan again.

Who should use Buttondown?

Buttondown is better suited for users with solid technical knowledge.

So, the best fit for Buttondown is developers. They will be comfortable with all the settings and usually love minimalist products.

However, I'm not saying you need to be a developer to use Buttondown.

On the contrary, this is a tool that you can learn if you are willing to read the documentation to understand how to take advantage of all the customization available.

Also, Buttondown is suited for people frustrated by Substack's lack of customization/ features but who want to use a minimalist and simple platform.

Final considerations

Buttondown has an incredible price for its service.

Their price is fair for beginners, and they have features at a reasonable price for advanced users.

You get a public archive, powerful editor, no memberships fees, and lots of control over the newsletter.

Overall, Buttondown is a platform I would recommend.

I know their interface isn't appealing to everyone, but that's a positive thing. And Buttondown could build a strong following if they did more marketing. Especially near developers and minimalist communities.

Buttondown is a dream for minimalists created by a developer that seems to enjoy minimalism.

However, they have some room for improvement. Mostly on their onboarding, SEO, and layout options for the public archive.

Sign up for Buttondown today using the click below.


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