If you have a voice, Medium claims to have room for it—no matter your background or choice of topic. The community blogging platform is the ultra-inclusive place to find content by everyone from former Vice President Joe Biden to actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt to your college freshman cousin who reviews dance shows in her spare time.
As founder Ev Williams—who also co-founded Twitter—put it: “Medium is not about who you are or whom you know, but about what you have to say.”
So is it worth cultivating a Medium presence? I use it as a back-up plan when I’m itching to write something but can’t get an editor to bite on the pitch. Whether such content will stand out among the clutter online remains an open question. But even if no one reads your work on Medium, putting it out there and flexing your writing muscles can’t hurt.
Still, you should keep in mind that publishing on a third-party site means giving up ultimate control of your work. If the site changes its practices or goes down for good, your articles could sink with it. Here are some pros and cons to becoming a Medium contributor.
Exposure through storytelling
Medium has reach. It averages about 60 million readers per month. So unless you’re a blogger with an established audience, you aren’t going to beat that exposure starting from scratch with a personal website. There are plenty of examples of writers using the site to jumpstart careers—success stories like Srini Rao, whose viral article led to a book deal.
With a reputation as a home for more creative storytelling, Medium differs from other contributor pages like HuffPost or BuzzFeed Community. Amid its staff picks, Medium features inspiring, engaging stories that usually elicit an emotional response. When perusing the suggested articles on my page while researching this post, I ended up spending 30 minutes reading about the woman who made Mario Batali’s apology cinnamon rolls, an American Airlines flight attendant whose uniform is literally poisonous, and an AirBnb tire swing accident that killed a reporter’s father. The stories covered the whole spectrum of personal narrative—some were fascinating, others humorous or undeniably honest. It all made me eager to read more.
Medium also pays. In 2017, the site introduced the Medium Partner Program, which compensates contributors based on a system of “claps,” its version of a Facebook like. For a place that writers may use as a back-up plan, that’s not a bad deal.
The drawbacks of third-party publishing
While a partner program is a great incentive for people to publish on Medium, freelancers shouldn’t expect to get rich. By signing the rights of their work over to Medium, writers agree to a weighted cost-per-clap system that doesn’t always work in their favor. Medium members pay a $5 subscription fee every month, which is the cap for all of their claps.
If a member claps for five stories in a month, each author gets $1. But if someone else claps 250 times, that person is literally giving each author their two cents. Under this system, a story with 300 views can make far less than a story with 23 views. So which is better: More money or more exposure? That’s something every contributor has to decide.
It’s also important to remember that even established sites may not offer a permanent home for your work. HuffPost recently ended its free contributor platform in favor of new opinion and personals sections. Should Medium change its practices or even shutter, writers could lose their platform and an archive of their work.
An additional drawback to using a third-party site like Medium is that you lose SEO juice that could otherwise go to your personal website. You’ll still have work published with your name on it, but it’ll weaken the connection to your work that lives elsewhere.
In order to control ownership of their work, freelancers should consider using Medium as a secondary platform that directs readers to their personal websites. Publish a post on your blog and then repost it on Medium to get those extra views, with a handy link to your site and newsletter tacked on the end. After reading Geraldine DeRuiter’s aforementioned cinnamon roll article, I followed a link to her blog and ended up reading her other published work and following her on Twitter. Medium is the reason I’ve become a fan of hers.
While it’s unlikely that Medium alone will be the launchpad that skyrockets your career, freelancers should at least try out the site. Who knows, it could just be where you finally find an audience for your personal essays about underwater basket weaving. And if not, then at least you’ll get a free home for your work as a consolation prize.