Medium Won’t Pay the Bills, But It Might Build Your Writing Platform
I started writing for Medium back in 2016, but I didn’t join the Partner Program until the end of February. Here’s what I learned in my first full month in the program.
I’m not getting rich any time soon.
Here are my stats for March, 2021:
Based on those numbers, Medium will pay out $3.15. This puts my rate at about a penny a read.
I know, I know, that’s not how they determine payouts, which are based on membership reading time. Essentially, you get a percentage of a members’ reading time that month.
How Medium calculates payouts
If a member spends 20 minutes reading Medium content during the last 30 days, and they read one of your stories, which takes, say, five minutes to read, you’ll earn $1.25 (25 percent of their $5.00 monthly membership fee).
But since I don’t have visibility into share of reading time, I’m going to use the crude dollar-per-reads ratio as a way to frame the conversation.
Determining my Medium pay rate.
I wrote five posts this month. We can measure writing labor either by time or word count.
Pay rate per word count
These five posts amount to 4,403 words, an average of 880.6 words per post (or five-minute reading time). I’m going to split my earnings among these five posts. Again, it’s not quite accurate since these earnings include other posts, but for the sake of narrowing the focus of labor for this month, I’m giving myself some latitude.
This works out to 63 cents per post, or .07 cents per word.
Pay rate by time
Let’s see if it’s any better if we measure by time. The amount of time it takes to write a post varies wildly. Some pieces include a fair amount of research, while other pieces are simple ruminations.
Again, this is not a perfect measure, as I’m sort of eyeballing it, but let’s say I write about 300 words an hour (I’m baking in editing into this figure). At that rate, these posts are taking me just about three hours.
That means I’m making 21 cents an hour.
What some publications pay
I recently earned $350.00 for a reported 1,000-word article and $500.00 for a 750-word personal essay. Features for for veteran reporters can climb into the thousands, and corporate ghostwriting can fetch substantially better rates, but that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Through Medium, I would have earned $70.00 for the reported piece and $52.50 for the personal essay, if we measure by word count. If we measure by time, however, I would have earned $2.10 (10 hours) for the reported piece and 42 cents for the personal essay.
To be fair, this is an apples-to-oranges comparison, as Medium is not a traditional publisher. I should point out that the most challenging part of freelance writing is securing work in the first place. That can take a lot of time, painstaking research, thick skin and stamina. Editors improve your work, but they can be demanding. All of this factors into your work as a writer. With Medium, you don’t have to deal with any of that.
Medium’s Long Tail
I took a two-and-a-half-year hiatus from Medium, from 2018 to the end of 2020. During that time, I kept gaining followers (I’m up to 1,200), and my stories kept attracting readers.
Old posts for the win
When I looked at my numbers from March, the article that garnered most member reading time for this pay period was one from April of 2018. This post has 2,500 lifetime reads and 4,200 views. I wondered how much I might’ve earned.
I did the math.
Those older posts generated 24, 277 reads (and 40,000 views), which would amount to about $242.00, if we stick with my unscientific formula. It’s not a lot, but most of those reads came long after I stopped publishing on Medium. How many more reads could I have gotten if I stuck with it? How many more followers?
Woulda coulda shoulda.
Sure, but the point is that most of my Medium “success” came after the fact. Even after neglecting the platform for years, my old posts still outperform the newer posts (so far). In other words, Medium pays readership dividends in the long run.
Building An Audience for Free
The cost of website maintenance
I pay to host them. I paid for Wordpress themes. I paid for stock images. Even with the themes, the websites took time to put together, and they take time to maintain. I optimize posts for SEO, and I optimize images for loading time. I set up Google Analytics, email and an associated newsletter.
On Medium, I don’t think about any of that.
Focusing on writing
If you have your own blog or website, you have to deal with maintenance. If you’re a freelance writer, you have to spend your time pitching editors and researching writing markets. On Medium, you can focus on writing.
I’m interested to see how my Medium analytics develop over the next year, but I’m not expecting to earn a living wage from it. I am, however, hoping to build an audience. And if I don’t, that’s OK, because I will have spent the time doing the thing that drew me here to begin with.