With the introduction of paid newsletters, WordPress.com competes with Substack


The launch of WordPress.com’s paid newsletter product could shake up the market for online content.

In an aggressive bid to compete with platforms like Substack, WordPress.com has unveiled an expansion to its Newsletter product to support paid subscriptions and premium content. Launched in December, the WordPress.com Newsletter tool has been primarily utilized by writers to distribute posts via email and maintain direct audience engagement, all while exploiting the platform’s other strengths. WordPress.com has now evolved this tool to adapt to users’ changing preferences in content consumption, reflecting the disillusionment with cluttered and ad-laden websites.

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Previously, blog owners had to rely on plug-ins and third-party services to email their posts to subscribers. However, the increasing distaste for chaotic websites filled with advertisements, pop-ups, and cookie consent prompts has prompted a shift towards email newsletters. This trend provides readers with a simpler, clutter-free way to stay abreast of their favourite writers, journalists, and publishers.

With WordPress powering approximately 43% of all websites, including its open-source variant, this move into the newsletter sphere cannot be underestimated. Initially, the WordPress.com Newsletter tool did not offer sufficient resources to compete with established revenue-generating newsletter businesses. However, it provided a myriad of features beneficial to general newsletter management. These include options to import subscribers from other platforms, customizable newsletter themes, scheduling capabilities, custom domain connections, and support for posting via email.

The latest expansion of the tool allows WordPress.com publishers to incorporate paid subscriptions and premium content into their newsletters, thereby monetizing their efforts. This feature is accessible to all WordPress.com blogs, even those on the free plan. Yet, as the scale of their newsletter businesses expands, publishers might consider transitioning to paid WordPress.com plans to reduce the transaction fees incurred on newsletter subscriptions.

In terms of transaction fees, free plan users are charged a rate of 10%, whereas users on the Commerce plan are exempt from such charges. These transactions are processed via Stripe, hence their availability is limited to markets where Stripe is operational. By comparison, Substack also levies a 10% transaction fee via Stripe.

Much like Substack, WordPress.com authors retain the freedom to decide the access level to their posts—be it free or paid—during the publishing process. WordPress.com has an advantage as it offers versatility as a comprehensive publishing platform. Creators have the liberty to gradually evolve their newsletters into full-fledged websites, accept one-time tips or donations, or even run an online store. Furthermore, WordPress.com’s extensibility allows access to an extensive array of plug-ins, themes, and design patterns, providing further customization options.

Despite these benefits, WordPress.com’s focus on multiple functionalities might make it fall short of the specialized tools that are offered by its competitors for large-scale newsletter operations or online businesses. Also, it might not be able to compete in the social aspect, an area where Substack is emerging as a force, transforming itself into an online community. Substack recently introduced features like Notes and Chat, enabling writers to interact with readers beyond just email.

WordPress.com does not inherently offer a built-in social community. However, Automattic, its parent company, recently procured an ActivityPub plug-in, which allows blog owners to join the Fediverse and post updates directly to Mastodon—an open-source Twitter rival.

As of today, the new paid newsletters options are officially available, confirms WordPress.com.