I never thought I’d make any actual money on Medium…until one email changed everything.
At the beginning of November 2019, I woke up in my London AirBnB and opened that email expecting the usual peanuts. When I saw $1517.15, I shot out of bed dumbfounded. “This can’t be real,” I thought. I expected the FBI, Medium, or someone to ask for the money back. They never did.
For the first time ever, my income from writing online could pay the mortgage by itself and then some. That day I learned how awesome the internet truly is.
Over the past few years, I’ve accumulated more than 10,000 followers on Medium, have published about 100 full-length stories (give or take), and have earned $21,006.57 with little to no prior professional experience as a writer.
If I can do it, so can you. But the bigger question I’d also like to explore is: is it still worth it?
After reading this article, you’ll learn exactly how to make money on Medium, including what I did, what I would do if I had to start over today, and whether or not I think it’s worth the effort.
This article is a doozy just shy of 6,000 words. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure type deal so feel free to jump around as you please.
Table of Contents:
If you’re totally unfamiliar with Medium, it’s what I call a semi-free platform. It operates on a subscription-based model with two tiers: “free” and “paid”. Note that this is applicable to both readers AND writers.
Any writer can make a Medium account today and start publishing as many “free” articles as they want. These articles aren’t eligible to make money and anyone on the internet can view them, meaning they’re not gated by Medium’s paywall.
The “paid” tier is where things get interesting. As of 2017, Medium opened up their Partner Program in which eligible writers could pay $5 per month (or $50 for a full year) to become a premium writer for the platform. In tandem, Medium started offering premium subscriptions for readers at the same price point.
Partner Program writers can author “paid” articles that count as premium content. This content is viewable by “free” readers on an extremely limited basis while “paid” subscribers get unlimited access. Writers earn money based on each article’s performance (funded by subscribers and other Partner Program writers).
In addition, Partner Program writers earn a monthly commission for each person they refer to become a Medium subscriber. Medium’s really been pushing these commissions lately. At first, I wasn’t a fan, but it’s grown on me. Earning a base wage each month for people you refer is kinda cool.
The tl;dr is that Medium pays:
Medium’s algorithm for “paid” articles isn’t super complicated. The primary statistics that Medium tracks for articles are:
All of this information gets factored into how much money Medium chooses to dish out for your stories. No one really knows (except for Medium) what the exact calculation is to determine earnings, but we know for sure that more views, more reads, longer read time, and more fans directly correlate to more money. Easy peasy.
Keep in mind that articles published on the platform don’t make a one-time lump sum payment. They earn money each month they exist. That means Medium could be a potentially awesome long-term play for anyone. The more articles you publish (and the more subscribers you refer), the more “passive income” you can earn from your previous work.
Now that we know how Medium pays its writers, we can look at what actions have the greatest impact on earnings. That brings us to the principles.
Below are the basic principles for how to make money on Medium. For now, I’m just introducing you to the high-level concepts. The rest of the article expands on these in detail.
These five principles are your top priorities for maximizing how much money you can make on Medium.
Before we get into the thick of things, it’s worth noting that Medium is not the same place today as it was a few years ago. A major competitive advantage to earning the type of money I did was when I did it.
Out of sheer luck, I discovered Medium just a few months before their Partner Program launched. When it did, I joined almost immediately. Everyone in the Partner Program at that time, including myself, was an early adopter. The platform was pretty popular but still relatively young.
Being early to the table had its advantages:
Since money collected from the Partner Program was reallocated back to its writers, it was advantageous to be in a smaller pool of writers. Also, there were only a handful of top writers on the platform, which meant less competition for attention.
Medium had yet to be fully diluted with the shitstorm of mediocre self-improvement articles that flood the site today. Medium’s algorithm was better at parsing through and driving traffic to content when there was less of it. Plus, it was easier to come up with new content that hadn’t already been published somewhere.
The Mission and Better Humans are two of the big ones that come to mind. If you were an authorized writer for one of these publications back then, which I was, you had a huge advantage. Almost everyone on the platform followed them and it was way easier to get an initial burst of views and claps.
Will you have the same competitive advantages that I did when writing on Medium? No, but it’s still very possible to earn good money, and you may even find your own competitive advantages in today’s landscape.
I promise this is the last thing I’ll touch on before we get to the good stuff.
You’ll often see writers, especially influencers in the field, share their views on whether they favor quantity or quality when it comes to writing online. Quantity meaning how much you write and how often you publish, and quality referring to how good or compelling your content is.
To me, the debate is sort of silly. In a perfect world, you would publish lots of high-quality articles on the reg. But in a world of competing priorities, quality tends to diminish the more you focus on quantity (unless you’re an absolute beast of a writer).
The bottom line is this: both aspects are important when writing online. However, on Medium I believe quantity is more important as it directly correlates to more views and more chances to go viral.
Let’s look at it mathematically. To earn $1,000 a month on Medium through writing, you would need:
Even if you do everything right, it’s extremely hard to predict how well an article will perform. That means if you want to consistently earn a decent income, you’re better off playing the quantity game.
Remember that once you publish an article on Medium, it earns money forever (as long as it’s published there). Over time, you’ll have a much more consistent floor on your earnings simply by publishing a ton of articles.
Plus, if you’re an OK or better writer, you have a good chance of writing at least a few articles that significantly outperform the rest and “carry” your earnings.
When it comes to earning money on Medium, views are your money-maker. They directly correlate to dollars earned. Plus, each view also means more potential reads, claps, comments, shares, etc, which leads to even more dollars per article!
There are a bunch of ways to increase the number of views on your articles.
These are the only two things people see when scrolling through their newsfeed. If you have a weak headline, image, or both, the quality of the content buried beneath doesn’t matter – nobody is going to read it.
Writing headlines is another behemoth of an article in itself, so instead here are a few resources to get you started:
You’ll learn quickly that time spent perfecting your headline is always well spent.
The number one reason people write on Medium is to leverage the 60+ million users on the site. Instead of starting a blog with an audience of zero, you can create a Medium account and pretty quickly start tapping into the platform’s existing audience.
This is where things get kinda neat. It doesn’t matter if you have 0 or 50,000 followers, if you can become a writer for a big publication, your reach immediately expands to however many people follow the publication.
Top Pub is the site I use to see what the biggest current and up-and-coming publications are.
Even though I only have 10.4k followers, I’m a registered writer for The Startup. That means when I publish an article in their pub, I’m potentially putting my work in front of 739,004 readers!
Your goal from day one should be to put your writing in front of as many eyes as possible. Publications are the way. This guide for submitting to Medium publications is an excellent resource for you to get started.
Medium’s wheelhouse is simpler than you might think. In my experience, these are the most popular topics on the platform:
None of those should surprise you. Humans are selfish creatures of habit, and all of these topics scratch the right itches.
Let’s start with the bad news. Most of these areas are oversaturated with existing content. The good news is that most of it is mediocre at best.
The challenges you face will be:
All totally doable with a bit of hustle and creativity. The primary differentiator between what’s already out there and what you’ve got to offer? Your unique point of view and personal experiences.
Publications are going to be your primary workhorse for generating views, but don’t discount the value of growing your own following. Medium distributes content you publish directly to your followers, which expands your reach beyond the publications you write for.
Most importantly, people who follow you directly are more valuable than strangers in a publication because they’ve already decided that they like you and want to read your content.
The best strategies I’ve repeated for gaining more followers are:
Medium can do a lot of work for you, but sometimes the algorithm falls short of putting your content in front of the right people. That’s OK though because the first principle is to ignore the algorithm – it’s going to do whatever it does.
Instead, you can grow faster and earn more views by going outside the system and promoting your own content (it may also help boost Medium’s internal algorithm).
Every little bit counts.
Here’s something many people don’t know (or fail to capitalize on). Medium’s baseline authority in search engines is MASSIVE, which means your articles have a good chance of ranking high in keyword searches (e.g. on Google).
If an article of yours happens to start ranking on Google, you have a solid long-term income stream via people finding and reading it. This is great because Medium’s algorithm eventually stops distributing your content to the masses, but Google’s will last for a while!
A little bit of basic SEO knowledge can go a long way. This article should help get you started.
Medium has this magical thing called ‘curation’ where, if selected, your article gets added to a topic and is then distributed across Medium to anyone interested in that topic. Neat.
I’m going to be totally honest. I have no idea how this works, and I have never actually tried to get curated, though I have been curated quite a few times by sheer luck.
If curation is something you’re interested in figuring out, this is the best resource I could find. But be careful, the process of getting curated is a moving target. No one, outside of Medium themselves, actually knows how it works. You’ve been warned.
I’ve found it much more effective to focus on everything else besides getting curated. That’s just me though.
Views are king when it comes to earnings, but ‘read’ and ‘read time’ stats can take you to the next level. It’s one thing to get someone to click through to your article, it’s a whole ‘nother animal trying to get them to actually read it.
Let’s look at what ‘read’ and ‘read time’ stats mean for you and how to improve them.
A ‘read’ is when someone clicks through your article and scrolls all the way to the end.
‘Read time’ is the amount of time someone spends reading the article. Since increasing the number of reads and improving read time directly translate to more earnings, they’re worth focusing on.
Technically, with awesome headline writing skills, you could get thousands of people to click through to your articles, but your success will be short-lived if the content within sucks. Your read stats aren’t just any extra stat to boost your earnings, they’re key indicators of how good a writer you are (i.e. how well you capture and hold the reader’s attention).
Here’s how to crush your read stats:
Demonstrating basic formatting and grammar skills is critical here. People don’t like reading walls of text. I don’t know about you, but when I see a wall of text I don’t even care how well the content is written. I’ll probably click away and onto something else. My simple brain has been trained to seek immediate positive feedback. That’s where headings, paragraphs, and formatting come into play.
You should make effective use of your headlines to convey the key points of your article. Your paragraphs should be generally short and bolster whatever your headlines claim. This keeps people scrolling down the page. Your headline should capture attention/pique curiosity, the paragraph below should fulfill their curiosity, and then the next headline should repeat the process.
Before they know it, they’re at the end of your article.
Also, don’t be insanely sloppy with your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It’s a serious turn-off for readers, especially during the “hook” of your articles. The few extra minutes you spend spell and grammar checking are well worth your time. A tool like Grammarly makes it super easy to do.
Here’s a secret most writers don’t like to admit: you don’t have to be an awesome writer to be successful at writing online.
Sure, the major grammar mistakes or sloppy writing can be a turn-off (especially in the intro), but most of the time people are just looking for something entertaining or beneficial to them. The idea almost always means more than how it’s communicated.
Don’t try to be cute or clever, just aim for clarity and you’ll do great. Trust me you don’t have to be Hemingway to attract an audience. Just consistently deliver on your headline’s promise and don’t totally suck as a writer.
The main takeaway is that writing online is a different game than it’s been in the past. You need to capture and continually hold your reader’s attention. This is because your competition as a Medium writer isn’t just other writers on Medium. It’s every piece of content ever written, filmed, recorded, etc. You are constantly competing for your reader’s attention, and the first chance she has to move on to something else, she will.
If you’re really looking to step up your game, Nicolas teamed up with Dickie Bush to create (in my opinion) the best online writing course out there, Ship 30 for 30. I was in last year’s May Cohort, and it wildly exceeded all expectations.
This is content writing 101. Everything in your article should add up to delivering on your headline’s promise. The reader should leave your post feeling satisfied he or she clicked on it, not duped.
Readers who click through to your article are expecting to gain some value based on what your headline “promised”. If they skim through it and don’t feel like you upheld your end of the bargain, they’ll leave (and may not ever come back).
With every article you write, you should be asking yourself: did what I write deliver on my headline’s promise? If yes, there’s a good chance it’ll do well.
Reader engagement is the last major focus area you’ll want to target. You can more per article based on the number of fans and/or claps it receives.
Even more importantly though, reader engagement is the best way to signal to other prospective readers, “Hey, this article is really good and worth your time!”
I can tell you that, as a user of the platform myself, I’m much more inclined to read an article on my newsfeed that has a few hundred claps as opposed to one with less than 100. It’s human nature to think this way. If I know other people have read AND clapped for your story, I know that it’s probably worth my time to do the same. At the very worst, my chances for disappointment are minimal.
This also means that the more engagement you receive on your articles, the more direct earnings you’ll likely receive through additional views and reads.
So, how to improve your reader engagement?
The first (and easiest) thing you could do, since you can’t clap for your own articles, is create a second account and clap for them that way.
You’d have to pay an extra $5 per month for the account, but it could still be worth it if it leads to > $10 per month in overall earnings. Keep in mind that the current clap limit per account on a given article is capped at 50, and there’s also a monthly clap limit per account (though I have no idea how high that is).
It’s pretty hard to track how worth clapping for your own articles on a second account is, but if you can afford it, go for it.
Alternatively, you could enlist the help of friends or family who have accounts to clap or comment on your articles too.
Over the years, I’ve developed my own network of Medium writers whom I consider friends. We consistently clap for each other’s articles and occasionally comment on them too. The best way I’ve found to make friends on the platform is (you guessed it) to engage and comment on THEIR articles!
It’s just kind of something that happens naturally. You comment on a few of their articles, so they check you out. Maybe they read a few of yours and do the same for you. Before you know it, you become “friends”.
The more you write for the platform, the more of these relationships you should try to form. Feel free to go after:
Forming real relationships on the platform will improve your overall experience, and you won’t have to rely on “cheating” the system nearly as much.
I’m not a big fan of directly asking for claps or comments, and there’s not much proof that it works on Medium anyway, so I don’t advocate for doing that. However, I do think asking a compelling question at the end of your article could convince readers to engage with a comment.
For example, if you’re writing an opinion article, ask them if they agree with your stance and to elaborate.
This is something I don’t see too often on the platform, but when it’s done right, it works well.
There’s really no way around this one. If your story sucks, nobody is going to clap for or comment on it. So, this is where writing high-quality articles trumps quantity. A few things to keep in mind as you do this:
…and that’s pretty much it. Those are all the secrets I know to earning more money on Medium via article performance.
I don’t have a whole lot of experience (or earnings for that matter) in this department, but it’s definitely got potential as a means to further increase and add some stability to your Medium income.
Basically, Medium gives you a monthly cut for every person that you directly refer to the platform as a subscriber. There are two ways this generally happens.
First, there’s a decent chance that, with no extra work on your end, readers may stumble across your articles and decide to become a “paid” subscriber to Medium. This is the best-case scenario (and awesome when it happens).
You probably shouldn’t count on this happening too often, which brings us to the second way. If you want to really boost your earnings by referring members, then you’re going to have to…start referring more members.
The best, not in-your-face way to do this is to add a Call-to-Action (CTA) in places that make sense:
Using CTAs strategically could convince someone to subscribe and support you as a writer. Usually, it can’t hurt to try.
I’m not going to cover every aspect of how to get started on Medium, but I did want to make sure I at least clued you in on some of the key things you need to do in order to maximize your earning potential.
You can’t get paid for your articles unless you’re in the Partner Program. Unfortunately, you might not be able to join the Partner Program on day one. Medium has two minimum requirements that all writers must meet before being eligible:
I suggest linking your Twitter and/or Facebook accounts to see if you can immediately hit the 100 follower minimum. If not, you’ll just have to publish articles for free on the platform until you’re eligible. At any rate, you’ll definitely have to publish at least one free article to be eligible for the Partner Program, which should be easy, especially if you’ve written elsewhere in the past. Just republish and boom, you’re good to go!
Here’s Medium’s official guide to getting started with the Partner Program if you want more details on how to join.
After joining the Partner Program, the next thing you’ll want to do is set up your profile. This is likely the first place people will go after they read one of your stories and want to learn more about you.
There’s a lot you can do these days with your profile compared to when I first started. Mine could honestly use an overhaul, so I don’t think it’s the best example to use here. Instead, let’s look at Zulie Rane’s (who I think kills it):
Let’s break it down.
Immediately you can see who she is and what she writes about.
Writers do a lot of different things with their cover image. I think Zulie’s does a great job at looking nice and further promoting herself. Not a super important aspect to stress over, but looking professional always helps.
Medium recently added an about page as an option to enhance your profile. Previously, writers would just create a new story about themselves and pin it to the top of their profile, so it’s nice that this is now just a separate feature. Zulie’s is here and hits on all the right marks.
The only thing I’d suggest she might want to add is a list of links to her favorite stories for quick reference. She has a few other calls to action in there (which I’m sure she chose for a reason), but I just really like when a writer gives me an easy way to read more of their best stuff.
Again, my profile sucks at the time of writing this. Just telling you what I SHOULD do.
Whatever you choose to do, make your profile personal. People like following other people. Not robots.
If I had to start over on Medium today, here’s what I’d personally focus on to get the most bang for my buck:
Once again, I’m going to be totally honest with you. I don’t actively do everything I’ve described in detail above. (Do as I say, not as I do.) I do most of it, but I’m not as consistent as other all-stars on the platform.
If I were to shift gears and make Medium my primary focus, 100% I would do all of it. It’s all great advice and works when followed. That said, I’m a full-time engineer and part-time creator. I write on the side because I enjoy the heck out of it, and it grants me fulfillment on a level I’ll likely never get from my day job.
My experience on Medium is based on that premise of being a part-time creator. I’ve never been a writer who consistently published 2 to 3 articles (or more) per week. Have I been consistent? Yeah, mostly. Since I started writing on the platform I’ve averaged ~ 4 articles per month, or about 1 per week.
That’s nothing crazy, but it’s enough to have hit the jackpot with one viral article. This story here explains exactly how I managed to accidentally write one of Medium’s highest-grossing articles ever.
As you can see, ONE article earned $12,594.43, which is more than half of my total Medium earnings of $21,006.57.
Without breaking down the details story-by-story, I can tell you that my earnings are very top-heavy. Four or five stories account for 75% of my earnings. Another ten or so account for 20%. And then more than a hundred stories make up the last 5%.
I’ve spoken with a handful of other Medium writers who shared similar experiences. Expect most of your articles to earn peanuts, and rely on a few winners to bring home the bacon.
We’ve covered a boatload of information so far. Without a doubt, earning good money on Medium is a lot of work. You might be wondering, “Is it worth it?”
The short, honest answer is: it depends.
I’ve been a writer on the platform for almost 5 years. I’ve gained 10,000+ followers and have earned $20k+. I’ve done all of that as a part-time writer, on the side, publishing mostly consistently. In that regard, hell yeah it’s worth it.
But here are a few things you might want to consider:
If you’re good with all of that, I’d say it’s probably worth it to write for Medium.
One of the great things about the platform is that you can quit and come back as many times as you’d like. It’ll always be there for you, and your existing articles continue to make money while you’re on “vacation”.
Overall, Medium’s a pretty awesome platform for writers and readers to coexist and engage with one another.
Sometimes it seems like Medium has no idea what they’re doing (especially with all their UI changes), but it’s still one of the best, low-commitment platforms for making decent money. As a part-time creator, it’s neat to just come and go as I please.
I’ll actually be publishing a bit more consistently there in the future and seeing where that takes me.
If you give it a shot, let me (@jason_guti) know how it goes on Twitter! I’m always down for connecting with other writers.