The Incredibly Long Lifespan Of Medium Content

Old stories earn the most money

Old money used for illustrative purposes. Down with colonialism, and down with the Queen

On the web, you’re only as funky as your last cut. The half-life of content on the Internet is usually measured in minutes or days. Viral hits come and go in the blink of an eye. Medium is different.

This month, 90% of my earnings come from old content. 76% from last month, and 15% from as late as last July. Only a minority of what I earn in January is from work I actually do in January. It’s more like real farming than click farming. You plant a seed and wait for it to grow.

Note that these numbers are as of January 20th, 2019, and are in no sense an accurate sample. There are numerous confounding variables, like frequency of posting, and there being an election in November. These are just my raw stats.

This is similar to how blog or website traffic looks (a long-tail), but with one big difference. Traditionally, Facebook and Twitter would drive your daily ‘viral’ traffic and Google (search) would drive a long-tail of old stuff. These readers would all have high bounce rates and Google and Facebook would be keeping all of the money.

On Medium, however, what matters is Medium members. You only get paid if paying members read your stuff. Hence, all that matters is the Medium algorithm.

I’m not trying to decrypt it, but my experience is that the Medium Algorithm does not favor recency much at all. If a piece is curated (selected by human editors) it can cruise in the low hundreds and then suddenly get a second wind. Medium is still showing my old posts in people's daily feeds, more as time goes on.

It’s a very different model than the ‘now, now, now’ of social media or the ‘this, this, this’ of search. Medium content should be good for humans to read, and deeper than a hot-take if you want it to last.

Going Viral Doesn’t Matter

I’ve had pieces go (relatively) viral. It doesn’t matter. Here’s an example.

Above are the stats for The Unbearable Whiteness Of Tourism. This piece is being shared on social media and has nearly 10x the views of anything I’ve published this month. It doesn’t matter.

This article was not curated (selected by Medium human editors) and has only earned me $3. I don’t expect it to earn much more. This is a viral ‘hit’, but a complete miss on the Medium platform, and one which will likely be buried with time.

SEO Doesn’t Matter

In the same way, it doesn’t matter if I write a highly optimized answer to a common search query. Medium is still indexed and I assume has good SEO, but it doesn’t matter to me. All of that search traffic will just bounce. They’re not paying members so I’m not getting paid.

Only Medium Matters

On Medium, the only algorithm that matters is the Medium algorithm. And that seems to be consciously designed to be slow, deliberative and human-centered. In my experience, Medium doesn’t reward clickbait or SEO wizardry. There’s a human filter (the curators) so you’re not trying to appeal to a machine, you have to actually write for human beings.

This is great I think. I think it makes for a great reading experience (worth paying for) and a great writing experience (it’s good money). Is this a scalable model? Will it return money to its investors? I don’t know. It seems like a logical model, a fair one, and it’s good for me as a human being. It’s certainly not corrosive to society the way the ads/surveillance model is.

I think that Medium has reached, well, a happy medium.