10 min read

ConvertKit vs Substack - big differences for sending newsletters

Tools with similar goals with a big difference in execution
ConvertKit vs Substack - big differences for sending newsletters

ConvertKit and Substack are 2 popular options for creators to send their newsletters.

However, they are almost opposites.

And in this article, you will learn more about their differences, strengths, and limitations.


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.


Main differences between Substack and ConvertKit

The main difference between ConvertKit and Substack is that ConvertKit is a platform for sending newsletters. While Substack works as a hybrid for a newsletter, blog, and podcast.

Further, Substack can be your CMS for your blog, Email Service Provider (ESP) for a newsletter, and podcast hosting. While ConvertKit is an ESP that works pretty well with any CMS or website builder with powerful automation and monetizing options.

So, ConvertKit is a superior newsletter service. And Substack is becoming the central hub for hosting all online content from a creator.

Pros & Cons of ConvertKit and Substack

Here you can read a summary of each platform's strong points and limitations.

This list should give you an overall idea of the jobs each platform is better suited for.

ConvertKit summary

ConvertKit is one of the best alternatives to Substack and one of the best newsletter services on the market.

It was created in 2013, and ConvertKit focused on being the email service for creatives.

As you will see, they have all the tools to run a personal newsletter, monetizing and earn a full-time income.

ConvertKit strengths:

  • Free to use up to 1000 subscribers;
  • Automated email sequences;
  • Integrations (example, Zapier);
  • Easy to sell digital products (as a one-time or recurring subscription);
  • Lots of analytics tools (including click tracking and subscriber engagement score);
  • Good email deliverability;
  • Low fees (only payment processing fees);
  • Email segmentation (send emails based on tags);
  • Landing pages builder;
  • Form builder (to embed on other CMS and website builders);
  • Referral program;
  • Team members;
  • Custom domain.

ConvertKit limitations:

  • Pricing based on subscribers puts pressure to monetize the newsletter;
  • The public archive is extremely limited (no comments or likes);
  • You need a standalone website to get discovered and grow the newsletter because ConvertKit doesn't have a hybrid model with a blog included;
  • Finding members that canceled subscriptions can be tricky.

Substack summary

Substack was created in 2017 and is the main reason for newsletters becoming so popular again.

In their short existence, Substack already made a significant impact on media and attracted high-profile writers.

Also, Substack uses a modern approach to blogging which combines a blog with a newsletter. Even better, Substack also allows the creation of podcasts and has video hosting rolling out (currently in private beta).

All this allows creators to use Substack to create all kinds of content.

Substack strengths:

  • Can be used for free forever;
  • Works as blog + newsletter;
  • Free podcast hosting;
  • Video hosting;
  • Good email deliverability;

Substack limitations:

  • Content guidelines (you have to follow their rules or risk getting banned);
  • High fees without a ceiling (10% + payment processing);
  • Lack of email sequences;
  • Lack of integrations;
  • No tags or email segmentation (only segment by free or paid subscribers);
  • Bad SEO and discoverability of your Substack page (especially for small newsletters);
  • Minimal design options (all Substack pages look the same);
  • Enabling custom domain costs $50.


Newsletter about tech for blogs and newsletters


Comparing Substack to ConvertKit

Now, you will see a head-to-head comparison of ConvertKit and Substack.

This will serve for you to see if ConvertKit or Substack is superior for the goals you want to achieve.

Let's start with the ease of use and setup.

Starting and managing an account

Here I'm looking at how easy it is to start and create posts.

How easy is it to start using Substack?

It's effortless. I even consider Substack the standard of ease of use for creating and sending a newsletter. You only need to create a Substack account and fill some fields with the name and description of your publication. That's basically it.

After doing those steps, you are ready to start importing subscribers or writing new posts.

How easy is it to start on ConvertKit?

It's also as straightforward as you would expect. Also, ConvertKit doesn't require you to fill a physical address to comply with ICANN laws as most pure ESPs do.

Instead, they state you can use their address, and if they get a letter in your name, they will open and email it to you.

Where things can be tricky with ConvertKit is on email sequences. This feature allows you to create advanced email flows. Still, this can become time-consuming depending on how you use it and your experience level.

However, this is an optional difficulty.

Who wins this category?

Having that said, I consider these 2 platforms easy, but Substack is a sightlier easier. I say this because ConvertKit has more advanced features, and for a beginner, this can be harder to use.

So, ConvertKit has more and better features, but when talking purely about ease of use, Substack wins by a small margin.

Creating and writing

Now, I'll explore the process of creating content with each tool.

Who is better for writing posts and has the best editor?

ConvertKit's editor is better than Substack's.

Overall, they share 90% of the features. But ConvertKit has layout options, countdown timers, file downloads, and HTML blocks (for custom HTML).

Which platform has more features?

ConvertKit. You get automated email sequences, integration with Zapier, and email segmentation with them.

Substack doesn't have any of those mentioned above. However, they allow you to publish posts and create a podcast as a blog. Which ConvertKit can't do.

Who wins this category?

This will depend on the person reading. For me, it's a tie. They offer completely different things, and what is better will depend on the user's goals.

Being objective, ConvertKit is light years ahead for sending newsletters. But Substack is a 3-in-1 platform: blog, newsletter, and podcast.

Overall, ConvertKit is better for newsletters. Substack for publishing several types of content in the same place.

Customization

Next on the list comes customization and design.

What customization options are available?

On Substack, basically none. Only, recently templates were introduced, and now there are 3 options.

However, all Substack pages look the same. And it is hard to build a recognizable brand.

The same applies to the newsletter you send. It looks like the same for every writer on Substack.

On another side, ConvertKit has plenty of options, including more templates.

First, the newsletter layout is fully customizable. Then there are landing pages and forms with several design options.

Who wins this category?

ConvertKit wins on customization by a wide margin. You have the freedom to create and send newsletters with a clean design. While Substack will severely limit your options.

Pricing

Now, you'll read about the most complicated topic of this comparison: the price.

Making a pricing comparison between Substack and ConvertKit is hard.

Both have free plans. But Convertkit can be forever free, while ConvertKit is limited to 1000 subscribers.

What does this mean in terms of costs?

If you have a small subscriber count, you can keep using ConvertKit for free with some limitations. But when you pass the 1000 subscribers, you must upgrade for a paid account starting at $290/ per year.

While Substack takes 10% of what you charge to subscribers. At first, this will be a low number. But if you keep growing, your costs keep growing indefinitely.

And these high fees are one of the reasons people later abandon Substack and move to Ghost.

For example, if you make $10k, Substack will take $1k of those. But if you make $100k, they take $10k.

And suppose you consider you are getting the same service independent of the subscriber base and revenue. In that case, it gets to a point where Substack alternatives look more and more attractive.

So, let me show you an example of how their prices compare. For this example, I'll consider a $5 as the newsletter cost.

Subscribers ConvertKit cost per month Substack cost per month
500 subscribers Free $250
1000 subscribers $25 $500
5000 subscribers $66 $2500
10000 subscribers $100 $5000

As we can see in the table above, with 10k subscribers, Substack will cost 50 times more than ConvertKit. Yes, 50. Five. Zero. With this big difference, it's hard to defend Substack as a reasonable pricing option. But you don't have to enable subscriptions on Substack.

So, you can use Substack for free forever with 50 subs or 1 million subscribers. As long as you don't enable payments, Substack remains completely free.

Who wins this category?

For this complex question, I will give the following answer:

  • ConvertKit wins for paid newsletters;
  • Substack wins for free newsletters.

Monetization

After a tough category comes an easy one. This time is about ways to earn money.

In this case, the clear winner is ConvertKit.

On Substack, you can turn payments on and put your posts behind a paywall. That's the only monetization available on the platform.

💡
Most writers on Substack accept advertisements and put them on the body of the post. But this isn't something I see as the "monetization" part of a Substack because you can do this on every platform. And it's not even a feature.

In contrast, ConvertKit has several options like a paid newsletter, a tip jar, and digital products in the Commerce tab.

For example, digital products can be an e-book, hire you as a consultant, etc.

Who wins this category?

ConvertKit is the winner in monetization as they have many ways integrated into the platform for you to receive money from subscribers.

Further, because of Substack content guidelines, you can be punished if you try to sell something outside and platform. And can result in a ban on your page. They enforce the rules at their own discretion as this is a centralized platform.

Growing tools

Finally, in this comparison comes tools for growth.

I'll have to say that this category is probably the weakest spot of both platforms. So, picking the better at this is the case of done one who sucks less.

Let's see what I mean.

The discoverability of Substack pages has been a known problem for quite some time. As a result, there have been many things written about it online.

Substack has a discoverability tool on their homepage, but they list the most popular newsletters and with most subscribers. This creates a funnel effect by directing new readers towards prominent publications, making them even more popular.

This makes sense from a business point of view because when a writer makes more money, Substack also makes more money. So this is an incentive for them to push big players.

On top of that, discovering a Substack page via search engines is very hard.

💡
My experience says it's unlikely to find a publication without putting the word "Substack" in the search box. And even then, the results it shows aren't relevant at all.

Yet, when we look at ConvertKit, things aren't bright either.

At this moment, ConvertKit doesn't have a proper public archive and way for people to find your newsletter organically (i.e., via search engines).

However, ConvertKit has landing pages and puts subscription forms on other websites.

For example, this will help grow the newsletter by importing members to ConvertKit from your blog without needing 3rd-party tools.

Who wins this category?

So, the best one who sucks less is Substack.

As I said, their discoverability is bad via search engines, but at least there's a sliver of hope. While ConvertKit doesn't have a proper public archive for allowing this organic growth.

To be fair, the Substack discovery tool got a lot better than it was in 2021. At least, now they show some recent newsletters mixed with popular ones. Which didn't happen before.


blogstatic review - have a great blog without hassle
Blogging doesn’t have to be complicated, and with blogstatic, it isn’t.
Buttondown review - Prices and features for individual creators
For the lovers of minimalism, this is what you want to use for sending newsletters.

Why Use Substack for Your Paid Newsletter?

You should use Substack for your paid newsletter if you want to dive into different types of content and have all the content on the same platform.

From what you can see, they're integrating a blog, newsletter, podcast, and video publishing all in the same place. This gives you options.

Substack is the default option for non-technical people to create a newsletter. This is because it's so easy to start and is free. So, Substack is a good option for a paid newsletter and to grow an online audience.

Be aware of following their content guidelines and preparing yourself to work a lot to grow the newsletter via channels other than search engines.

Why Use ConvertKit for Your Paid Newsletter?

Using ConvertKit for a paid newsletter is a wise decision if you are looking for an ESP with lots of tools, cheap and easy.

They have the reputation and built a platform around helping creators to earn a full-time online income with their work.

ConvertKit is more than only sending a newsletter and charging for a subscription. With them, you can sell any kind of digital product.

Also, ConvertKit has low fees on payments, which helps creators reach profitability faster.

Final Thoughts

The comparison between ConvertKit and Substack is a tricky one. They do similar things (sending newsletters) but are built differently and have many different features.

Telling you one is significantly better than the other isn't easy. It depends on what you want to achieve.

So, let's see a recap of how they compare on the categories mentioned above:

  • Starting and managing Substack wins by a small margin;
  • Creating and writing is a tie;
  • Customization ConvertKit wins by a comfortable margin;
  • Pricing is a complicated answer, ConvertKit is cheaper for paid newsletters, but Substack can be forever free. So technically, it is a tie;
  • Growing is a category where neither is good, but ConvertKit is slightly better.

ConvertKit wins 2 categories, Substack 2, and there are 2 ties.

Depending on what you want to achieve, those ties will tip the scale towards you, preferring ConvertKit or Substack.

So, the winner will be situational. For example, ConvertKit will be much cheaper for a paid newsletter, have a better writing experience, better monetization options, and fewer censorship risks.

However, if you want a hybrid platform to create all kinds of content, Substack is your best option between these 2.

For me, ConvertKit is superior and the best platform. And because of Substack content guidelines, I don't see myself ever using them. But that's a non-issue for most people as they aren't trying to sell something outside of Substack.

If you enjoyed this article subscribe to the newsletter


Rate this article