How I made $542.47 from Medium Partners without writing a word.
This is an article about moving old articles into the Partner program.
When Medium announced that they were doing a revenue share with their partner writers, I started moving some of my old posts behind their paywall.
One of those posts, This Alternative To-do List Will Help You Complete 100 Tasks Everyday, actually did pretty well and generated $542.47 over the last seven days.
What’s cool is that the work of writing that article is long past. I like working, but sometimes I like not working even more.
As an author, there’s nothing more gratifying than getting paid for writing after you’ve forgotten how hard the piece was to write. In 2003 I wrote a programming book, and then revised it in 2006, and I still get a $100 royalty every month. That is my absolute favorite $100 that I make all month. Until now.
Moving my best old articles over to Medium Members looks like it will pay off (literally).
Here’s a few lessons I’ve learned as I experimented with my old content.
Write for a human with taste because curated topics drive most traffic
Medium is monitoring every article that gets moved into Members. Then they review the writing to make sure it is up to their standards. I know this because I accidentally submitted an article with a sales-y call-to-action at the bottom. The Medium editors just flat out deleted that section.
What also seems to be happening is that Medium is flagging specific articles and then featuring them in their topics.
A Medium editor featured my Alternative To-do article in the Productivity topic. Here, look at the spike:
That spike came immediately after the being featured in Productivity and I can’t find any referrer that contributed. I looked. I monitor Reddit and the article wasn’t posted there. The article is in a popular publication, but publications only boost traffic for new articles — they don’t do anything for long-tail. Everything was sparked from being featured in a topic.
As a comparison, I do tweet out old content, but, again, look at what my revenue was for the articles that didn’t get featured in a topic:
This is probably the only truly important point I’m going to make: optimize for a smart reader.
Marketers grew up on the idea that we needed to optimize for algorithms. This is a huge bias that Google’s SEO algorithms have inserted into our way of thinking.
And yes, Medium has algorithms that help an article spread if it gets initial traction. But this is the genius of Medium’s partner program. They wanted to break out of a content world that has been corrupted by people gaming algorithms. Medium’s use of humans in the process is working.
A real human vetted that article before featuring it. And I love that.
There’s got to be a phrase for this new world, maybe human-mediated algorithms. Anyway, again, I love it. Now you can just focus on writing something high quality. Sure, humans are imperfect, but I’ll take the judgment of a thoughtful editor over the typical algorithm data source: instinctive click-behaviors of procrastinating office workers.
A clap is worth $1, give or take $1.
I now have three data points on claps. Last payment period I heard payments that averaged between $0.33 and $0.67.
For my Alternative To-do piece, I got 312 claps from 48 members. That’s $1.74 per clap.
So, as most of you know, the clap is the primary factor in how you get paid. And only claps from Members matter for payment.
Although, I think claps from non-members help drive visibility, which drives reads from members, which gets claps from members. So really All Claps Matter.
There’s no consistent value on claps though. They are treated proportionally per member. So if one member only claps one time for just one article, they are putting 100% of their clap-weight (new term!) toward that one article.
But if I clap 50 times for your article and then clap 50 times for 99 more articles, then I’m really only putting 1% of the clap-weight of my $5 membership toward your article. Sorry. I’m clap-easy.
Don’t move articles that have SEO traffic.
I have 496 public articles on Medium. Only one of them gets any meaningful search traffic. It’s this embarrassingly polished script for firing people.
Normally that article gets about 5,000 page views a month. So I thought, greedily, that if I moved it into the Partner program that some of that search traffic would turn into revenue.
What actually happened is that Google very quickly took the article out of their search results. Here’s what that looked like:
Thankfully, I pulled the article out of Medium’s Partner program and Google adjusted by adding it back to search results within a few days. It might look like the dip has continued, but the article is back to being the #1 search result in Google, so I think that’s just random noise at the end of the graph.
I wonder what would have happened if I held this article behind the paywall for a month or a year. Would Google have noticed when I made it public again? I wouldn’t want to risk that.
What about getting famous?
One of the fears about putting an article behind a paywall is that nobody will ever see it or learn your name. Anonymity is death for an author.
But Medium is actually using a metered pay-wall, which means that all Medium users can read up to three Member articles each month for free.
Earlier, I said my Alternative To-do post got claps from 48 Members. But my stats show that it actually got claps from 328 people total. So that’s 270 non-members.
Working through the math, 82% of the clappers that came as part of the traffic spike were non-paying readers.
I have to use that ratio to estimate, but essentially, it looks like moving the article to Members generated an extra 10k eyeballs outside of the Member program.
Was that too much math? The lesson is that moving to Members can generate a second wind for an old piece and that second wind can still be a lot of eyeballs.
What about that long tail?
I had one article hit and it felt great.
But I also had 8 other articles that generated $45 over the span of a week. That’s actually pretty good — you have to remember that these are articles I wrote for free.
I have 107 articles on Medium that have more than 1k page views. Maybe not all of them should be moved over to Members, but a lot of them could. Some of those might even get featured.
But even if they don’t… a world where my long tail writing makes $100 or $200 or even $500 dollars every week would be amazing.
That might not be Warren Buffett money, but then again, Warren Buffett himself has a pretty healthy view on how to value every dollar. I can’t quite find the video clip, but the essence of one of my favorite Buffett lessons goes as follows.
Buffett and Bill Gates were speaking to a group of Nebraska business school students. One of the students asked them, “If you saw a $5 bill on the ground, would you pick it up?”
Gates hesitated for a second. And Buffet just yelled out, “Of course I would! I may be rich, but $5 still buys a hamburger and a hamburger is going to still taste like a hamburger no matter how much money I have.”
So, Medium, is a place that would could give you somewhere between 9 and 100 hamburgers every month. Or if you live in New York, like I do, between 3 and 25.
These payments are coming as part of a marketplace. They could be different every single week. More submitted articles could drive down the payment or they could attract more members and drive up the payment. I have no idea.
And that’s a pretty great part of this Partner program too. You don’t have a long term commitment. So, make some long tail cash right now, then take your content somewhere else later.
Also, there are some authors writing on commission. This is part of Medium seeding content for subscribers. Authors and publishers working on commission are getting a flat rate and that flat rate is often also pretty great. I need to say that because my publication, Better Humans, is one of the publishers working on commission. So, if you ever run into me offering authors a flat rate, then that’s what is really happening. But I wrote this article above to share what is was like to experiment in the normal, pay-for-performance Partner program.