Using Medium as my primary writing platform often feels like something of a gamble.
Yes, it’s free for me to use, but the only way I can make any money from it is by affirmatively placing my work behind Medium’s paywall. For folks who don’t subscribe to Medium, should they stumble across something I wrote after they’ve already clicked on five other Medium articles, they don’t get to read it. In that scenario I not only lose a potential reader (though not any income because they weren’t subscribing to begin with), but any potential new readers I might have gained from the that person sharing my work. It just stops at the paywall.
If I publish outside the paywall, of course, anyone can read it and share it, and that’s great, except the part where I don’t get paid.
Then the question is just how much I stand to lose by not posting behind the paywall. And the answer is: Usually nothing. Prepare yourself to be shocked, but, alas, I do not command a huge readership. So the vast majority of my articles wind up generating me something between about 20 cents and a buck and a half every month.
That makes it sound like an easy trade-off. Do without the pocket change and potentially get your material in front of far, far more people! That’s the way to go!
Except! Medium isn’t going to highlight material that’s not behind its paywall, suppressing any “organic” discovery of my work by the platform itself. I’m also not going to get picked up by any Medium-based publications with their own followings.
Also! Once in a blue moon, one of my Medium pieces does strike a chord, either with readers or Medium editors, and it catches fire, generating tens of thousands of eyeballs and a little bit of extra cash for me. (Nothing that would ever change my life, but a nice little bonus.) This has happened to me two or three times, ever. I’d like it to happen more.
So I do really think that most of the incentives point toward posting behind the paywall. There’s more potential for Medium to promote the piece, other publications are more likely to pick it up, and a little lightning in a bottle can, once in a long while, bring a little attention and compensation. But I don’t know for sure that it’s the best way to go. I have no way to quantitatively determine what is the most “optimal” route for me, post by post, short term or long term.
For now, I’ll keep favoring the paywall, because I don’t know what else to do. But every time I click that box to make it a premium article, I shudder a little, wondering what I might be losing as a result.