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30 Aug 2020

Medium tries to save its writers

The space of internet writing, paid subscriptions, and news distribution has been moving fast in 2020. With Substack on the rise (including multiple big name writers jumping ship for the direct-to-consumer model), Medium realized it needs to keep some of it’s writers from moving off platform.

Medium for me is now a syndicate. I write in my own editor, prioritize my direct writings, and host on my own website. Medium is the best route to traffic for now, but their paywall really limits access. If you Google Medium Paywall Problem or something of the like, you get tons of titles and testimonials to how the paywall is limiting access (because they don’t distribute articles not in the paywall).

The average order of views I get with and without the paywall is striking:

  • Without using their distribution (0-100s of views)
  • Using their distribution, no publications (0-1,000s of views)
  • Using a syndicate publication such as towardsdatascience.com (100s-10,000s of views)

The relationship between quality of what I write and these views is almost entirely separated, and that is the biggest problem for me. What I want: a platform with a clean reading interface where I know my readers can follow me and connect with my content — any risk of disruption to access is all the reason to leave, and disruption to followership is a barrier to enter.

Here’s chronological events as Medium tries to save its writers.

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From Pexels, a Medium.

Medium Newsletters: A new way to connect with readers (3 Jun 2020)

This is in response to Substack, but it is too late. As a writer with thousands of views, “Top writer in AI” tag when I want it, hundreds of subscribers — I didn’t know about this when I made my newsletter.

The problem: newsletters are only for publications

I think everyone can make their own publication on Medium, but this is limited because Medium stepped back on people’s abilities to have custom URLs. How do readers make the link it’s you if your email needs to go to the main medium.com URL.

A second problem: what is the difference between following a writer and subscribing on medium? Doing just one of these makes a website much more accessible. This also leads to: do I follow publications or authors? Keeping these trade-offs simple is what makes a publishing site run smoothly. As an author, how do I know my audience is following me.

This means, I can follow a writer and get more of their stories recommended to me, but is this enough? I have heard from multiple friends that following me on Medium by no means that they will see all of my content — and that is the specific reason they made an account. More on this trend is to follow: custom URLs, better author following, and more.

A more expressive Medium (28 Jul 2020)

This post seems minor, but is a big direction of the trend: they want to give writers their own space.

We’re launching with a foundational set of controls around color, headers, type, and branding so that you can make a space on Medium that is uniquely yours. And this is just the beginning: we intend to evolve and build on these features over time, giving you even more flexibility to make Medium your own.

This is big because it is acknowledging the Medium itself is not the reason the reader is there. The author is. What this will do is move Medium further in the direction of an aggregator and further from a publication. Medium wants to host our content to take our content, but as a writer you should be sure to own what you write.

Paired with this is a new mobile app that brings inline reading, so there is less of a barrier to click an article — but only for publications. Medium is really prioritizing publications, so let’s see if they bring enough incentives to allow writers to run their own publications. If I post under my own name, are the features of the future going to be on their app?

And finally, short form content. Honestly, not a strong opinion here if they can minimize the clutter. I don’t think competing with Twitter has gone well, but maybe they can make a TikTok of writing — Medium does like to flex it’s algorithms.

Our favorite Medium setting:

Set the canonical link for all your posts. Have this be somewhere that treats writers well (e.g. your own website or Substack. What this does (in theory) is redirect the search engine optimization from traffic to where you want it.

A new Medium on mobile (20 Aug 2020)

Authors are coming first here — literally, they’re now taking up the homepage instead of curate content. Now, Medium is adding icons from those who you read frequently on the home page, and only one or two articles. They call their new features shelves and it is tuned towards the individual. For authors, there’s things like easier writing and stats viewing, but really having a people-forward homepage is huge for a writer. Now I don’t have to worry about pleasing the algorithm when tuning my content to their platform (well, hopefully not as much, we will have to see if this is true).

What’s around the corner for Medium (30 Aug 2020)

Custom domains, fairer distribution (claimed), better profiles, and more is Medium’s core response to disruption. While Medium has seen a near exponential growth in viewership during 2020 (a crazy year for news), they don’t seem happy with how that is being converted into followership and engagement (I agree).

Following people over algorithms — this is a big change, and a step back from the first reason I left Medium.

The big change we announced with our new mobile app is that we are going to be putting more emphasis on following people and publications, over the algorithmic feed.

As for the custom domains, it’ll interesting to see if it is limited to xyz.medium.com or if it lets you link with hosting companies like Google Domains for true separation from the Google name. That would maybe be enough to bring me back. The biggest news is that curation will not be tied to monetization — I no longer have to choose between views and $$$ vs open access, which is important to me.

All posts are now eligible for further distribution across Medium, whether they are paywalled or not

Thanks for reading, where do you write?




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