Getting back to my old salary, in my underwear
In December I quit my job and started writing full time on Medium. I gave myself a year to get back to my old salary but I’m almost there now. After blogging for 18 years, this is the first time I’m making a living purely from writing. You can see exactly how much below.
In December I earned Rs. 160,000 ($884). January I’m on track for Rs. 290,000 ($1,600). It’s not a lot in dollars, but for me, it’s a lot of rupees. It puts my family back where we were, and I’m happy. There’s no security per se (the algorithm could change, or Medium could go under), but there is freedom and hey, I’m getting paid to write.
How Medium Works
A quick intro. Medium is a shared paywall. It’s a purposefully leaky paywall so you may not even notice, but that’s the model. Medium members pay $5 a month for access. That money is split up based on the hours they read. I suspect there is also a significant subsidy from the VC gods and Ev Williams.
It’s a good model. I don’t know how much investor cash it spits out, but it perfectly aligns the interests of readers and writers. I’m writing for human brains, not eyeballs. There’s no advertising, so there’s no incentive towards clickbait, or the destruction of civilization.
As a writer (a Medium Partner) you just need to hook up a Stripe account (which only works in a few countries) add your tax information (there’s 10% withholding for me, for example) and that’s it. Then you just have to write.
Most people are not doing it full time, and most people are not making much money, but it’s possible. I suspect that I’m in the top 5%. This is what Medium said in their last (December) email:
69% of writers or publications who wrote at least one story for members earned money.
8.0% of active writers earned over $100.
$22,658.57 was the most earned by a writer, and $7,384.22 was the most earned for a single story.
As a reader you wouldn’t notice any of this, you just have a lot of stuff to read.
Personally I think the $5 is well worth it. I find that reading stuff on Medium leaves my brain much less fried than Twitter or the news. It’s a bit slower, more personal and much more human. For whatever reason, the content I get is very high quality. I guess because Medium has paid publications and human curators that seem to read every piece and select the best ones for distribution.
How Medium Works For Me
I am unusual. I live in Sri Lanka but have access to a foreign bank account. This means that I can earn dollars and spend rupees, which is the only way I’m able to make a living out of this.
My old salary was $1,650 a month, which is not a lot of money in the west. The average household income in Colombo, however, is $550. So, in terms of spending power, I’m earning a lot. And it’s not that hard to move money around, we just use the debit card here.
This is the ideal situation, but also highly unusual. The platform isn’t built for this, because Stripe’s international coverage is so limited. If you can make it work, however, it works great.
Note: If you don’t have a foreign bank account, you can theoretically pay $500 and join the Stripe Atlas program. This will register a US company, set up a bank account, and then connect that to Stripe. I don’t know if this works, but it could.
My target income is much lower than that of most users. I just need to pull in $55 a day (Rs. 10,000). This month (January), that’s where I’m at. So, how did I do it?
1. Keep Batting
In test cricket, you just need to keep batting. You just have to be patient, grind out the singles and wait for your pitch. If you’re lucky, every now and then you hit a six. I often think of that when I’m writing.
Some days 100 people will read a piece. Some days its 10. I put a lot of work into them all, and it can be frustrating. However, sometimes a piece will just blow up and reach 25,000 people, earning $650. The thing is that I can’t predict what will blow up, so I just have to keep batting, grinding out the singles and waiting for a six.
2. Keep A Lot Of Balls In The Air
Where the cricket metaphor falls apart is time. A piece that looks like a single can turn out to be a six — only weeks later. To me, it happens all the time.
On any given day only about 5% of my traffic is from what I published that day. The rest is from my past. It’s like compounding interest. The more content I put in the bank, the more I earn.
For example, I’ve earned $430 thus far in January. Of that, almost exactly 50% is from a piece I wrote in December. I’m still earning from content I wrote in July of last year. One note, however, is that only the content that is curated (ie, selected by Medium) tends to have this effect.
Hence, while you do need to be consistent, it’s necessary to spend time on quality, because the lifespan of content is weeks, months or even years.
3. Keep It Global
In the graph above, you can see that my earnings took a hit in October and November. That’s because Sri Lanka had elections. The funny thing about political writing is that opps accuse me of being paid, when in fact I’m just losing money. Medium has very few paying members in Sri Lanka, therefore I earn very little writing about local politics.
In November, for example, I had more readers than December, but earned one-third as much. It’s not readers that matter, it’s members, and Medium membership is primarily in the US and other western countries.
Hence what I write here is more general —As my auto-generated bio states, I’m a ‘top writer’ in Business, Climate Change, Future, Technology, Science, Startup. This is fine with me. Being a political writer in Sri Lanka makes you guaranteed broke and possibly dead. It’s also nice to expand my mind and think and read more widely.
The Secret Sauce
What I haven’t touched on is how to be a good writer. I don’t know what to tell you.
I started writing when I was five years old, read voraciously, and have been blogging for 18 years. My blogging career is an adult now so about time it earns a living. I don’t know how to be a good writer beyond it being a compulsion.
Ever since we wrote daily journals in Mrs. Stewart’s first-grade class, or stories in Mrs. Conroy’s, all I’ve wanted to be was a writer. And my whole life I thought that wasn’t possible, because you couldn’t earn a living. I always did something else, I never felt free to just write. Whether it lasts or not, I really appreciate Ev Williams and Medium for giving me that chance. It’s a blessing, to be able to focus on writing and have money just show up in a bank account.
Nothing lasts forever and I’ll need to diversify my income soon, but for right now I’ve been able to quit my job and get back to the same income level pretty fast. I’m very grateful for that opportunity, and very lucky. So thank you Medium, and if you’re a writer, good luck!