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"If you hate change, leave Medium. (Or the internet)"

Published 8 months ago • 9 min read

Hi Reader,

It's a crisp, almost-autumnal morning here in Boston as I write this newsletter. My cat and I are enjoying our morning coffees in a gentle breeze.

It is the perfect kind of morning to tell you:

Medium, no matter what you've heard, isn't dead.

  • What's Medium? If you're new here, the long and short is that it's a superb writing platform for beginner bloggers who don't want to deal with the hassle of starting a whole website, but still want to write and publish their thoughts online.
  • Why do people say it's dead? Well, in August 2023, Medium unveiled its new payment model. Some people are doing much better. And some and people are now doing worse. This has led to a whole slew of people posting loud "I'm leaving Medium," "Medium is dead," "It's impossible to grow on Medium anymore" blog posts.
  • Why are those people wrong? OK, I'm going to have to move out of bullet point format here. Long answer coming up!

TL;DR: Medium isn't dead. Data shows it's actually growing for the first time since July 2021! If you want the very best advice for how to succeed on Medium under the new algorithm, I recommend you check out Sinem Günel's article. She's been on the platform for 5 years and knows all the ins and outs:

Want the longer version? Well, this is one of my longer emails. Go ahead and get yourself a drink, too!

Why Medium isn't dead, despite the rumors

Let's start with a simple graph.

This graph illustrates a very important fact: Medium is, actually, not dying. It is living and growing for the first time since July 2021. That graph shows the number of new paying subscribers to Medium!

Let's back up a little and do a quick refresher on how Medium works. Medium is not a platform that is designed to pay writers. Common misconception! In fact, Medium is a platform designed for readers. Every month, Medium collects $5 from paying members. That member money is what pays us, the writers.

Medium, almost uniquely on the internet, does not clickbait because its business model is quality, not ad views.

Medium's business model is not making sure that authors of viral articles like "10x your life in 1 minute per day" make money. They are in the business of serving stories that are so good that in a world of almost unlimited, free, online info, in a world of 10,000 different subscription models, someone chooses to pay $5 a month to read articles on Medium specifically.

Us, the writers, getting paid is actually a side effect of that. Not the main goal!

In August 2023, Medium did something that made a lot of writers very unhappy. They changed the algorithm and they changed how people got paid.

Before, clickbait titles won the day. If you could write a good title and a solid intro, you could make good money on Medium. You could go viral and earn tons of money with titles like "How to Make $10,000 Online In One Single Day."

Now? That's no longer the case.

Medium pays based on:

  • Engagement. Does someone click on your story?
  • Stickiness. Do they stay on your story? Do they read for 30 seconds at least?
  • Does that reader follow you? AKA, are you writing for your specific audience?
  • And, crucially, is that story Boosted? Boosted stories earn more per view than non-Boosted ones.

Boosting refers to Medium's new way of elevating good articles. Before, it was mostly based on a clickable title. Now, Medium employs around 50 people to trawl through Medium and highlight the best articles to show to readers.

People got mad about this, because it's a higher bar to clear. You have to write things that are actually good, not just good clickbait. It's also a subjective bar -- some things that I think are good, for example, don't get selected. But it's a human judge, not just an algorithm.

OK, now let's go back to that graph. In that 2023 Q3, Medium's Boosters started Boosting in earnest. And they found something curious:

When readers were served these Boosted articles in their feed, they were 3 percent less likely to click on them.

But when they did click? They were twice as likely to become paying members.

That's what's driving that growth on Medium. Non-paying readers are being shown awesome articles, and they're becoming paying members.

So why do people think it's dead?

I want to pivot into sharing some of my own data to help explain this.

Here's the kind of article that used to do well for me on Medium:

Super clickable title! I mention money! Tons of people clicked on this. Some even read it. The story earned over $2,000, which was really phenomenal for me.

But those don't perform so well anymore. And suddenly, people like me who had figured out the old algorithm had to pivot.

Now, if you look at Medium, you'll notice there's very little about earning money. There are very few generic life hack listicles. There are fewer and fewer titles that have the words "insane" or "I was shocked!" as the subtitle.

Stories that do well on Medium are now... more personal.

They're deeper and more thoughtful.

Even the "wake up at 6 a.m. and be more productive!" type articles are now science-backed and more researched.

This led to established writers being annoyed because you can work really hard on a story, and it still doesn't do well. And financial success is heavily dependent on Boosts, too.

For example, this article got around the same number of views on two consecutive days. But in between, it got Boosted. That 4x'd the amount of money it earned:

So that's annoying -- if you're not getting your articles Boosted.

But I've noticed that many of the loudest people complaining about changes on Medium are not writing good articles. They expected Medium to just be a gravy train and... it's not.

Medium doesn't really care about your consistent monthly earnings

The last thing I want to say is that one reason some people are experiencing lower views and earnings is that the pie is being split among more people.

Medium is, again, not in the business of helping us grow our business. Medium does not care if I have a regular, stable income writing! They just want to make readers happy.

One effect of the Boost is that as readers, we get brilliant articles from authors that meet the moment, tell an incredible story, and never or only rarely come back to Medium because they've said their bit.

An example of this is Tara Haelle. She is a science journalist, public speaker, and author of Vaccination Investigation and The Informed Parent. Her content was very popular during the peak of COVID, because that's her specialty. She recently had a story featured about the effects of long COVID brain fog. But before that, she hadn't published in over a year.

This kind of Boosting dilutes follower effects. When I write a story, it might be shown to my 129k followers. But those followers might be shown Tara's story, too, since it got Boosted, even though they don't follow her.

People only have limited time to read. And Tara's story is frankly more important to folks than, for instance, my article on how much you can earn on YouTube. My followers chose to click on her article instead of mine. Or Medium’s algo might choose to show them her story instead of mine. Boom, those 129k followers suddenly don’t count for very much.

This obviously made established writers mad, because Medium is not invested in helping them maintain their $5,000/month or whatever. They care more about showing the right story to the right reader.

(I'm not going to link to anyone's stories specifically here because I don't want to call anyone out, but if you want to see a look at some of the negative thoughts about this change, I recommend you check out Buster Benson's, Product @ Medium, list of Partner Program feedback. Some is valid, some is... more complainy.)

So what to do?

You can complain, sure. Or you can take a page out of Medium's book and pivot.

Own your audience

Medium isn't dead. But the old Medium, where clickbait was a viable growth strategy, is dead. Now, if you want to succeed, you have to change.

Maybe that means publishing in publications more. Most of the people who nominate stories for a Boost are publication editors, like Eric from Fanfare, Tara from Long COVID Connection, or me from Better Marketing. While I do look over all of Medium for Boostable stories, I review the ones from Better Marketing first. I imagine other nommers are similar.

Maybe that means going for quality over quantity. It is very, very hard to write five Boost-worthy stories per week. So don't! Now, the financial incentive is to spend all week working on one Boostworthy story.

Maybe it means some honest introspection. When you publish an article, ask yourself: would I pay $5 to read this? Would I ask my friend to pay $5 to read this?

Maybe it means allowing yourself to get a little more vulnerable. Share your personal story. Talk about why things matter to you. Get emotional and share that passion with readers. The old, impersonal stories won't cut it anymore.

Now, no matter how you get Boosted, this is a bit more of a crapshoot, because again, subjective humans are deciding whether your story is "good" or not. And like I said, sometimes the ultimate Boost deciders and I disagree on what's "good."

What does that mean for you? It means you need to own your audience.

You can't count on Medium to make steady money. If you ever could, well, you're lucky! I could never predict my earnings, and Medium is subject to change like every other platform on the internet.

Instead, you should:

  • Grow your newsletter. Your story may not be externally Boosted, but you can send content to your email audience. Here's my video on how to grow your newsletter, by the way! Post that "sign up for my newsletter" link on your Medium profile for free growth.
  • Sell your expertise to people. Hey, did you know I offer consultations? My latest client said, "Zulie knocked the ball out of the park. She got my business model immediately and offered several suggestions on our strategy, most of which I’d not considered. She followed up with a detailed summary of our meeting along with a few links to things we’d discussed. That follow-up summary alone was worth more than the cost of the consult."
  • Publish somewhere else. In my creator starter kit, I recommend picking two platforms. Mine are Medium and YouTube. Medium goes up and down, YouTube goes up and down, but I have more long-term stability.

The upshot? If you're not succeeding on Medium, I've got bad news. It's not because Medium is dying. It's because Medium has changed. You can change and grow with Medium. But if you don't, you are unfortunately doomed to fail. Clickbait is no longer a success strategy on Medium, and I for one am happy about it.

I am incentivized to write better, deeper, more thoughtful stories. I am also incentivized to grow my business off Medium.

Last resource: if you want to know how to sell but hate selling, I recommend this strategy guide from, again, Sinem:

Whew, that was a long one.

I started writing this around 10 am and it's now past time for lunch! Hope you enjoyed this deeper dive into Medium's alleged death.

I will end with four final screenshots.

In August 2022, I wrote seven stories and earned $1,427.31.

In August 2023, I wrote two stories (and a non-paywalled newsletter) and earned $X.

I can't speak for anyone else's stats or strategy, but I can speak for myself.

I prefer writing less and working on stories that matter more to me.

I am so relieved that "make money writing" content doesn't perform well anymore.

I love writing about what I love. And I find that Medium's new payment and algorithm models are helping incentivize more writers to do that.

Happy writing,

Zulie

I help beginners write online.

by Zulie Rane

Want to share your story online but not sure how to start? I'm here to help. I cover the best writing platforms, how to grow your online audience, monetization options, and reviews of popular writing tools.

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