There was a time when I read Shannon Ashley’s (one of the most prolific writers on Medium) income stories on Medium and wondered how that was even possible. Of course, it wasn’t difficult to see how. She writes on the daily and somehow manages to write in a way that makes me read her stories — many of those a few thousand words long — from top to bottom, without having to trudge through. That’s a rarity in and of itself.
So, yes. This was a few months of some major envy back in 2019, and somehow I’m not even ashamed to admit it. I mean, if I’m going to be envious of a Medium writer, I’d rather they be Shannon Ashley.
Anyhow, those days of jealousy are past me now. I’ve made a unique space for Medium in my life, and so far, I’m happy with how things are. That said, I figured I’d impart some thoughts on this platform in case any of you are wondering if this platform is worth giving a try.
In this post:
A little background + my income on Medium
I started writing on Medium in 2018. It was around the same time Shannon Ashley also started writing on this platform. Looking at both of us now, you’d be wondering why one of us is making high four to five figures on Medium and the other (that’d be me) made less than 250 bucks in the last 12 months… yeah.
- Shannon Ashley is an amazeball writer.
- Shannon Ashley is a full-time writer.
- Shannon Ashley is a power-writer.
I’m none of those.
But don’t feel too bad for me because around the same time in 2018, I also started a blog on WordPress — that’s right, this blog — and now it has become my personal high-four-figure per month side-hustle. So, I guess I’m none the poorer for my worse performance on Medium.
And yet, I continue to publish on Medium, albeit sporadically. And that’s because Medium allows me a few things I don’t get to do on this blog.
The Side Blogger is a niche blog, and I don’t stray off course much
Starting a WordPress blog meant I had no existing audience I could tap into. So, I relied on third-party platforms like Pinterest and social media to drive traffic, as well as good old SEO. Let’s just say that when you’re the only writer on a platform and trying to build an audience, it is a whole lot easier if you’re strictly focused on a particular niche.
And that’s where Medium has allowed me to veer off course and write about all the other topics I’m interested in —the human condition, our socio-political landscape, etc.
While I do not make much on Medium, it turns out I still make some money
You want numbers? Here they are!
I made more money in 2018 through mid-2019 because I wrote more often back then. Earnings tapered down around late 2019 and stayed low throughout 2020. But don’t bother going through my archive on Medium because I’ve recently gone through a major KonMari there and deleted all the articles that didn’t spark joy in me.
I enjoy writing on Medium
Now, ~$250 in a year is next to nothing. And yet, I’m not complaining. Here’s why:
- Had it not been for Medium, I wouldn’t be able to write the things I’ve written there, and just writing them has given me pure joy.
- Even if I did start a whole new blog on WordPress or somewhere else just so I could write these stories, I’d still have to do the marketing and promoting all by myself, and honestly, I don’t have the time.
- Writing on a personal blog doesn’t pay unless you have some monetization system in place. For example, in this blog—The Side Blogger, I do affiliate marketing with my content, and I also sell digital products. So, while my blog is how I drive traffic to my website, the money comes from selling my products. I don’t make money with my writing alone.
- And that’s where Medium is different. On Medium, writers make money with words and their words alone.
Some observations on Medium then and Medium now
Things have changed a lot since 2018. Medium isn’t what it used to be. As irregular as I am on this platform, even I’ve noticed the difference.
Back in the days, the platform rewarded you for just writing anything semi-decent. Just a few days ago, I came across one of my highest earning stories on Medium, and it was full of dumb typos (Grammarly didn’t work on Medium back then, and I was apparently too lazy to give the thing a second read before I hit the “publish” button.)
But that’s the thing about any third-party platform. Early adopters always benefit more. If you started writing on Medium in 2018 or earlier, the chances are that you had an easier time building up traction, gaining followers, and making more money. But a new writer will have a much harder time with all the aforementioned.
Let’s look at a few specifics.
Publications didn’t matter so much back in the days
Sure, getting into a publication could give you some extra eyeballs, but what really mattered then was curation (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, give Zulie’s post on how to start writing on Medium a read first.) You could have published a story in your profile, and if it got curated, you could easily make some decent money.
These days curation means nothing unless your story is also published in a reputable publication. For example, one of the recent articles that I published on my profile got curated, and in the three weeks since then, it received a grand total of 25 views making less than a buck! Another article that I published around the same time on Better Marketing attracted over 1K views and made me a whopping $36.88.
Nowadays, it’s all about the publications you get into, which makes the playing field that much harder. First, you have to get in (more about this in the next section), then you have to have your article accepted (getting accepted as a writer doesn’t guarantee your articles will be published), and then, if your article is curated, you’ll get eyeballs on your piece and make some money.
Getting accepted as a writer in reputable publications used to be much easier
Believe it or not, I didn’t have to apply to be a writer on pubs like Start It Up, Mind Cafe, Noteworthy - The Journal Blog, etc. They’re the ones who reached out to me and asked me to be a writer for them. And I’m not even that great of a writer, and I was worse back then.
Now, even though I’m not a regular writer, I still enjoy some sway as an early adopter who started writing on the platform in 2018. The fact that I’m part of some of the highest-performing publications means that I can get my pieces published in these pubs a little more easily than someone just starting out.
Topics mattered then and they matter now
This seems to be a consistent thing on Medium. Topics matter. You’ll likely get more traction writing personal essays or personal development pieces, than, say, if you were to teach a skill or write a poem.
To give you an example, two of my articles were recently published in the same publication — Better Marketing — only a few days apart. One of them was a short piece on how-I-made-4K-in-4-days, and the other was a longer piece on what a minimum viable product is and how to make the most out of them (I later republished the minimum viable product article on TSB).
The first piece did exceptionally well, attracting over 1K viewers and $36 in just four weeks. The other one, published a few days later, attracted barely 200 views and made some 7-bucks.
As you can see, topics definitely matter when it comes to making money on Medium. (Hint: if you’re planning on writing and making money on Medium, spend time on the platform, read articles with over 1K claps, and try to find a pattern for topics, story length, writing style, etc.)
I’m more confused than ever now regarding “followers”
Back in the days, your follower count didn’t matter so much. I honestly never cared about how many followers I had. Tom Kuegler — the Medium guru — would often write about following other users in double digits on the daily so that some of them would follow you back.
First of all, I’ve always found the follow-for-follow system super cringe. Second, even if I never partook in any follow-per-follow scheme, I still somehow managed to gain some 1.4K+ followers in the last three-ish years on this platform, all while publishing an article once in a blue moon. But honestly, I doubt that number has had anything to do with how much money I made on this platform.
But I do see some other writers—writers like Shannon Ashley, for example—get a lot of traction on most of her Medium stories. So I guess it does have something to do with how many followers you have. But I bet most of this has to do with the quality of your followers rather than the quantity.
And therein is my confusion. Medium made some changes to its algorithm not long ago and said the new algorithm rewards those with a higher following. But as I said, in my case, it doesn’t seem to matter much. It appears that for me at least, it’s more important to get the right kind of stories in the right publications. Because my 1.4K+ followers don’t seem to care much about me or my writing…
But, I believe there’s hope for new writers on Medium
Alright, maybe I scared you off a little. My bad. Everything I shared above is to help you understand that Medium is constantly changing. What worked two years ago, or even a few months ago, does not seem to work anymore. And I doubt we’ve seen the last of the changes.
Yet, I believe there’s still hope for writers on Medium.
You can still make decent money on Medium
So, I have shared some of my then-and-now observations earlier. Let me now bring you back down to Earth and help you connect some dots. Can you still make money on Medium? Yes, yes you can! And I’ll give you some proof.
In October 2020, one of my stories got published in P.S. I Love you—one of the top publications on Medium. Since then, this story has had 2.8K views, 400 claps (not that claps mean much when it comes to earnings; writers on Medium make money based on reading time), and made $87.23 at the time of writing this. That’s not bad for a story that’s about 900-words long, took me only a couple of hours to write and edit, and required zero research whatsoever. I recently wrote an article for an online publisher (not on Medium) that required much more work, and it paid only $35. So, yeah, Medium still paid me more than many other online publishers would.
(FYI, don’t judge me based on the story title in the image above. I know it’s cringe! But I needed to make the title cringy to make my point! Feel free to read it here.)
The thing about Medium is that the earnings pile up over time. Medium didn’t pay me $87 as soon as I published the article. It has been a cumulative dollar amount. So, often it feels like Medium isn’t paying much, when in fact, it is! You just need to be patient on this platform when you first start writing.
Publications are keys
Gone are the days when your story, if curated by Medium’s human editors, could bring in tons of views and $$. Early adopters with a regular presence on this platform may or may not be exceptions in this case (for example, if you have a large number of quality followers, you may get a lot of views and reads even if your story wasn’t published on a reputable publication), but for new and occasional writers, I believe publications are keys.
There are all kinds of publications, so you have to be cautious. Not all pubs perform the same way. Do your research and find out some of the best ones to write for.
That article I mentioned above — the one that made me $87 — only did so well thanks to the publication. The same story, had it been published on my profile only, wouldn’t have made me anything, I can guarantee that.
Quantity (with quality) seems to be the key to making money on Medium
Provided that you get into some reputable pubs, the next thing you have to do is to write (and publish) a lot - preferably a few times a week. Daily would be better. It comes down to how much time you have and how much you want to make from Medium alone. If you can write and publish an 87-dollar-story every day, that’d make you about $2.6K per month. Not too shabby, right?
So, quantity seems to be important still. But so is quality because remember, to get your stories published in reputable pubs, you have to first produce well-written stories!
Should you be writing on Medium now?
That depends on you. My motivation for writing on Medium are:
- to grow as a writer who can write on a variety of topics
- to write about things that are close to my heart, but have no room for on this blog
- be compensated for the time I put in on Medium, even if it isn’t much
As most of you are aware, in this blog I teach how to create a blogging business on your own platform (self-hosted WordPress). In your own platform, you can target a specific audience and market your products to your heart’s content. The business model for growing your personal blog is a whole different ball game than growing your writing profile and audience on Medium. Personally, I prefer my own platform. I feel more in charge here, and I prefer ownership over all that I do. My business decisions are mine alone.
On Medium, you have to play by Medium’s rules, their constantly evolving algorithms, and business decisions. If tomorrow Ev Williams — the owner of Medium — decided to close shop, nobody could do a thing. The chances of that happening are slim, but there’s still that slim chance, right?
But that’s just me.
Should you write both on your own blog and on Medium?
Again, that’s up to you. Your life and circumstances are unique, and nobody can tell you what’s best for you; only you know that.
That said, consider the following:
- Do you have time to write on two platforms? You can republish your work, of course, but I advise you to do that sparsely. Every now and again I’ll cross-publish an article on this blog as well as on Medium, but that’s not my usual style.
- Are you treating one of your platforms as a hobby or are they both your business babies? For me, as I have mentioned already, this blog is my main side-hustle. Medium is for letting loose, for flexing my writing muscles occasionally, for having fun with topics I wouldn’t try otherwise. In short, Medium is for fun. If you’re trying to run two businesses, it’s gonna be that much more difficult. Also, understand that to make four figures on Medium, you’ll have to publish prolific content daily, or at least several times a week. It’s not easy.
- But if you want to make Medium your main hustle? Well, then read the next section.
Tips for those wanting to make Medium their main hustle
Understand that the following advice comes from someone whose main hustle is NOT Medium. As I’ve said, I write on Medium occasionally, and for fun.
But I have been on this platform since 2018, and have observed many other prolific writers making significant money on Medium. I’ve studied their work. So, I’ll go ahead and share with you what I have learned from my research.
- Medium cannot be your main hustle from the beginning. It takes time to gain traction on this platform. You’ll need to be patient, and meantime, have another source of income to pay for your expenses. (Also, never forget that you do not own Medium, so, I don’t know, maybe it’s better if you do not put all your eggs in the Medium basket.)
- Topics matter (sorry for repeating myself, but it’s that important!) Find topics that trend on Medium.
- Find patterns. Spend a copious amount of time studying top writers’ stories. Study their angle, study the average length of their stories.
- Find top publications to pitch to. Life would be a lot easier if you could get into a few of these publications and start writing for them regularly. Which pubs you pitch to will depend on your topics, but this here is a good place to start.
- Remember, Medium is very much a number game. If you want to make four figures on Medium, you have to publish several times a week, preferably daily. I know some writers who often publish two or even three times a day! Also, publishing frequent half-assed stories won’t help you; you’ll need to write well. (But don’t worry, even if you’re not good in the beginning, if you continue to produce shitty articles a lot, you’ll eventually start getting better. Quantity can often lead to quality too, so that’s good news. You just have to be patient.)
Everything I shared has been my unique and personal experience. Do keep in mind that I’m not a four-figure monthly earner on Medium. My time is limited and I’d much prefer to spend most of my side-hustle time growing this blog instead of Medium, because for me, this is where the money is. So, there are times when I don’t publish anything on Medium for months. That said, every now and then, when I do publish a piece on a reputable publication, I end up earning a decent bit. That gives me hope for new writers who want to make a little bit of side-income on this platform.
Could you make a living off of Medium still?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Could you make a few hundred bucks to a grand every month as a side-hustle on Medium?
That seems to be very much possible!
Last but not least, as Shannon Ashley has said herself , and I’m paraphrasing —consistency has its rewards. So, you want to make four figures on Medium? Then keep writing and keep pushing on.
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