Can writing for online platforms generate a useful income? Simon Whaley reviews his first year on Medium
In August 2012, Evan Williams, who founded Blogger and co-founded Twitter, launched a new online writing platform: Medium.com. It’s grown into a platform where writers can write about almost anything and get paid for their content. Payment, though, depends upon how many of Medium’s subscribers read their work. So, can this be a useful income stream for writers?
A lot has happened over the ten years since Medium launched, and some writers who’ve created content on the platform for many years frequently earn four-figure monthly payouts. For the majority, it’s much less than that. In September 2020, Medium identified that only 6.4% of writers on its platform earned more than $100 a month.
I joined the platform in July 2021, and as I add more and more material to the site, I’m seeing my monthly Medium payments increase. But from a business perspective, writing on Medium isn’t just about money.
In some ways, Medium is no different to any other online platform that allows creators to monetise their content. The most successful content producers are those who regularly create content, have many followers, and have a large body of work available. Producing regular content means they’re also further developing their skills.
Mario Lopez-Goicoechea is the author of Cuban, Immigrant, and Londoner, a reflection on life and culture in the UK, the English language and writing in English from a non-native speaker’s point of view. He joined Medium in 2015, primarily to improve his writing skills, having been on Blogger for almost ten years.
‘It was the opportunity to build on my blogging experience to access high-quality writing and to develop my writing skills,’ he explains. ‘In addition, getting paid for writing, even if it was pennies at the start, was not to be scoffed at.’
He’s also noticed other benefits, too.
‘I believe that in order to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader first. Because I am an omnivore when it comes to reading, Medium fills that gap for me. The offer is wide. I’m also editor of a couple of publications, which means I’m constantly reading new material.’
Blog or publication?
There are two ways you can publish on Medium. The first is through your own account. You can write about anything you like and then publish it under your name, just like you would a blog. Your followers will see your article in their feed. Some dedicated followers may sign up to be notified by email every time you post something.
The other route is through publications. The Medium platform allows anyone to set up their own publication, which means if they’re open to submissions from other writers you can submit your work directly to them. If it’s accepted, they will publish it under your name but on the publication’s feed. This means, besides your followers seeing your latest work, they will also bring it to the attention of the publication’s followers. Some Medium publications have tens of thousands of readers.
For writers new to the platform, getting work accepted by publications is one of the best ways to build a following.
Some writers use the site like a personal blog, writing whatever takes their fancy, while others treat the platform like a virtual newsagent and write material specifically for publications.
The Medium.com business model currently avoids external advertising. This makes reading articles a pleasing experience. The website is uncluttered, and when readers click on an article, all they see on their smartphone or tablet are your wonderful words and images.
Medium calculates earnings daily, based upon the number of Medium subscribers who read your work. Medium allows everyone to read up to three articles a month for free. After that, they need to subscribe, which currently costs $5 per month or $50 a year.
Like all these platforms, there are many algorithms at work. You’ll also find many articles on the platform interpreting how these may or may not work. (There are thousands of articles about Medium on Medium!)
Essentially, there are several factors at work, including the number of subscribers reading your material, and how long they spend reading your work.
You can check your statistics daily, although as I’ve discovered, it’s better if you focus on writing more content than becoming obsessed with how many pages views you’ve had in the last 24 hours!
Having said that, Medium’s statistics allow you to explore which type of articles work well. They break down the information based upon the total number of views an article has had, how long people spend reading that material and whether those readers were internal Medium subscribers or external views.
What frustrates some writers is that Medium only pays out based upon the number of Medium subscribers who read your work. Thousands of non-subscribers can read your writing, because Google ranks the Medium platform highly in search results. If you’ve written an article on Medium about a topic someone is searching for on Google, your article may appear near the top of Google’s returned search results. If those readers haven’t used their three free article quota for this month, they’ll have full access to your piece, even though it’s behind Medium’s paywall.
Therefore, it’s possible for an article to go viral outside of Medium, yet earn very little from Medium subscribers.
However, some writers use Medium for this very reason. It can put your work in front of thousands of readers, so if you’re promoting your latest book, you could see a financial boost via book sales, or an increase in people subscribing to your mailing list.
There are publications that allow you to submit the first chapters of your novel, while others will publish short stories and poetry. Writers who’ve sold stories and poems to magazines, but still retain some electronic rights, can give their work a new lease of life on Medium.
Medium is also a place for experimental writing.
‘I still use Medium as a place to try ideas out,’ says Mario. ‘My recent series of Urban Diary columns have been published mainly in a publication called The Shortform. There’s something about the challenge of writing no more than 150 words per post that I welcome. It keeps me on my toes. And of course, with a book out, I’ve used the platform as a marketing tool in conjunction with Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.’
There are pros and cons to Medium, and those who succeed financially are the writers who invest time and energy into the platform.
‘There’s a feeling of community on the platform,’ suggests Mario. ‘We get paid for writing and there’s a wide range of topics for readers to choose from. The cons are that there are far too many articles about writing at the moment. I know I have made a small contribution to those, but I try to keep my output on that topic to a minimum. A lot of these posters make preposterous claims. I read a piece today where the writer claimed he’d made $600 a day from an article that had gone viral. So, expect your first Medium millionaire any minute now.’
Medium allows readers to leave comments on other writer’s work, which means the platform has a social element about it. It offers a sense of community, and I’ve made many more writer friends with similar interests on the platform, whom I wouldn’t have met on other social media platforms. It’s also wonderful when readers recommend your articles to other readers.
But just like other social media platforms, it’s subject to inappropriate comments, which you can block. However, this isn’t something I’ve come across during my first year.
In January 2022, Medium introduced new rules, which means new writers won’t earn money for their writing straight away. To join Medium’s Partner Programme, writers need to secure 100 followers on the platform, and have published at least one article.
This can take time. It’s designed to get new writers to engage with other writers on the platform. In reality, it means posting several articles, because readers are more likely to follow a writer who produces content they enjoy reading.
New writers can apply to join the programme once they’ve met the follower threshold. Besides payment for the number of times your articles are read, if a reader subscribes to Medium through your referral link, you’ll also receive fifty per cent of their $5 monthly subscription, for the lifetime of their subscription.
So can Medium become a useful income stream for your writing business? Mario recommends being realistic. ‘Go for it, but don’t expect to hit the jackpot overnight. You have to put a shift in, write regularly and connect with other writers.’
His advice is spot on. My first year on the platform has seen my monthly earnings increase each month, as I add more content to the platform.
Spend $5 to subscribe for a month (you can cancel at any time), and get a feel for the market, just like you would any print publication. Follow writers and publications whose content is like yours, so you can see how other writers do it.
And who knows? Medium might be the perfect home for your material that hasn’t found a home yet. Or it might be the perfect place for the features or stories you’ve always wanted to write, but not found the right print publication.
I make money on Medium. You can, too. How much is down to you.
For more information about Medium visit www.medium.com
For details about getting started, its Partner Programme, and how to submit to publications visit help.medium.com
© Simon Whaley