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Who are you really supporting when you subscribe to Medium?

Medium has branded itself as the platform for publishers of content. It’s estimated that more than 60 million readers are active on Medium, making it a space comparable to services like Apple Music. The main difference, of course, is that those numbers for Apple Music reflect paid subscribers. And while Medium has adjusted its model to include a paid subscription, there are still questions as to if the platform will succeed in its current format.  


How does Medium work?


Since its inception in 2011, Medium has managed to lure some pretty big names on its site. Most notably, Feminist author Roxanne Gay recently started a publication on Medium titled Gay Mag. But if you’re an avid Medium user, you know it’s all about the writers. About 50,000 writers a week according to CEO Ev Williams. Medium is designed for writers looking to gain some traction telling their stories or sharing their expertise. It’s also a home for creative writing. It’s poetry and fiction sections are more popular than you would imagine, and there have been cases of authors inking book deals based on their contributions through Medium. 


Medium is both simple and nuanced at the same time. It’s simple in that anyone can sign up, whether you’re a writer or not. You can also read content from Medium without signing up at all. Although reading that free content is limited to three articles per month, Medium understands, similar to news publications, that there needs to be a frictionless gateway to accessing their content. 


If you want to be a writer on Medium, it’s also pretty easy. You sign up and pay the $5/month subscription fee (or a one-time payment of $50 for the year) and start writing. Once you write your first post, it gets shared into the Medium abyss of 60 million users looking for content on everything from tech, gaming, film, politics and even comic books. 


Do writers get paid on Medium?


This is where it gets a bit tricky. When Medium introduced its Partner Program, it promised writers they would now get paid for their contributions. Medium originally used a system based on claps (which are similar to likes, but you can clap more than once for a single piece). More recently, they switched this system. Now writers earn money based on the length of time readers spend on each post. 


Medium is actually pretty transparent about how many writers make money and how much they pay out each month. Here’s an example of the last Partners Program email they sent out: 


Based on member engagement from this period:

  • 59% of writers or publications who wrote at least one story for members earned money.
  • 9% of active writers earned over $100.
  • $24,438.59 was the most earned by a writer, and $6,783.28 was the most earned for a single story.

The top-earning numbers are pretty darn good. For anyone to make over $20,000 a month is impressive, regardless of the industry. But with only 9% of writers earning over $100 (that’s about 4,500 writers out of 50,000), can you really say that Medium is successfully helping writers earn a liveable income? 


A recent article claimed that Medium is in pursuit of 1 million subscribers. They’re doing this by trying to convince bigger named publications already in existence to transfer over to Medium’s platform. Getting these names will hopefully combat any hesitation from potential subscribers as and validate Medium as a space worth paying for. 


Is subscribing to Medium worth it?


Medium is definitely the go-to platform for writers creating content. Communities of writers are formed and the support they show each other is admirable. It’s also a great resource for readers who are curious about any topic imaginable. And for $5/month, it’s a small enough commitment to make subscribing to Medium worth it. 


What you’re really paying for is to support good writers producing good writing. Writing is one of those careers where paychecks don’t happen every two weeks. And just like musicians should be paid for audiences streaming their music, why shouldn’t writers get paid for readers essentially doing the same thing? 


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Keep track of all your subscriptions in one place with the Butter app.
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