Communication

A brief overview of features that are offered in Medium’s newsletters, compared with alternatives like Substack, EmailOctopus, Mailchimp, and Revue. One thing to note is that EmailOctopus and Mailchimp are geared towards marketing, while Medium, Substack, and Revue are focused on writing.

This post was originally published on January 15, 2021 but I updated it today after receiving an update from Medium stating that they’ve added the option to connect your blog to a custom domain.

About Medium

  • The platform itself allows anyone to publish their blogs for free.
  • By publishing on Medium, you retain ownership of all copyrights and intellectual property rights related to the content you share, but you give Medium non-exclusive license to publish it on Medium Services. See Medium’s Terms of Service for more.
  • Medium offer some tips for SEO but you don’t have nearly as much control as you would if you used a traditional blogging site like WordPress.
  • You can monetize your blog by becoming a Medium partner, which means you have to make an account with Stripe. You get paid monthly based on how much time a Medium member spends on reading your blog, as a proportion of their total reading time every month. According to Casey Botticello from Blogging Guide, the highest amount earned for a single story (as of March 2020) was $5,099.90. The highest amount earned by a single author was $17,126.40. Very few active writers earn over $100 (6.9%)—according to Quora, 9% of writers made over $100 (posted January 2020) while this Medium blogger reported that 5.7% of active writers earned over $100 . The first set of earnings estimates came from Casey’s own annual Google Survey and I’m not sure where the latter figure came from, so I don’t know how representative the data are because I don’t know the methodology behind their data collection. As someone who studied demography in graduate school, my criteria for this is pretty steep. Also, it’s not clear how newsletters matter for this other than as a way of funneling readers to your posts—the Casey Botticello guy shamelessly redirects through his Substack newsletter, so looks like you could double-up on your strategy like he does if revenue is your main driver for starting a newsletter. Anyway, to earn anything, you must select the option to make your story eligible for Medium’s metered paywall:
Medium Meter Option

NOTE: I joined Medium after they changed their subscription and partner model sometime back in 2018 or 2019. It was a lot more lucrative back then, apparently (e.g., Forte Lab blog post)


How does Medium compare to alternatives

There are a lot of options out there that are becoming increasingly popular, like Substack. I’ll also briefly cover two others: Mailchimp and EmailOctopus.

Unique features that differentiate Substack from Medium

  • You can build an email list of your subscribers, which you can take to any other platform.
  • You have the flexibility of setting the price of your monthly subscription, if you want to charge. Substack collects 10% commission per paying subscriber.
  • You can attach your newsletter to your custom domain (which costs $50 + the cost of your domain)–Medium just launched this option but I’m not sure how it translates to the domain for newsletters.
  • You can create podcasts and audio content.
  • There’s less restrictions on the format of your writing than Medium, assuming that you want your content to be curated by Medium.

Notable limitations of Substack

  • The ability to customize the design of your newsletter is very limited, but Medium isn’t much better.
  • At the time of this writing, you receive very limited analytics on their platform by default—just the total number of views of your Substack story.

Limitations of both Substack and Medium

  • You cannot export content if you want to move to another platform.
  • There is no list segmentation option. All subscribers are added to a single list.
  • You cannot conduct A/B testing.

If you’re interested in learning more, this post discusses all the metrics that are offered through Medium, which you can compare with Substack.


EmailOctopus

  • The free tier for EmailOctopus is capped at 2,500 subscribers and 10,000 emails per month. The next pricing tier is $20 per month for 5,000 subscribers and 50,000 emails, plus additional features.
  • They recommend using it with Carrd to build a landing page. The price for Carrd starts at $9 a year for 3 sites with no analytics. For $19 a year you get 10 sites and access to forms, widets, embeds, and Google Analytics. If you look at their templates and you’ve poked around on the internet enough, you’ll notice that many of their templates are actually free (e.g., free HTML5 themes). You could always download the theme and create a landing page and host it on Github for free.
  • EmailOctopus looks geared toward marketers and sellers, rather than writers. Also, while the design features are appealing, I’m not sure if you run into any issues once they land in someone’s inbox. For example, with newsletters on Medium, you cannot embed gifs or video.

Mailchimp

  • Mailchimp offers a forever free tier that allows up to 2,000 subscribers. You also get free landing pages on their Mailchimp domain. Other free features include a Marketing CRM, Creative Assistant, and website builder.
  • The next tier starts at $9.99 per month for 50,000 subscribers and audience segmentation, plus custom branding, email templates, and more advanced marketing features like A/B testing and multi-step journeys. Mailchimp recommends the $14.99 per month option that allows for up to 100,000 subscribers, 5 audiences, customer journey builder and branching points, time optimization, behavioral targeting, custom templates, and dynamic content.
  • Mailchimp isn’t really designed for long-form content, whereas Substack and Medium are primarily dedicated to writing.

While I was researching this topic, I found a lot more options (18 in total so far). I will say that these are among the most popular options that I came across, especially if you’re interested in starting a small email marketing campaign. ConvertKit was another popular option that I did not include in this post.

Another one to keep an eye on is Revue, which was recently acquired by Twitter. Revue is also free and only takes 5% of subscriptions fees.

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