Using Medium Friends Links

Are We Doing Medium and Ourselves a Disservice by Using Friends Links?

Using friends links whenever we share our stories may be discouraging some people from becoming members.

Image (with transparent background) by Mesoderm — Inkscape on Wikipedia (CC0)

When Medium introduced locked stories for members only, there was some concern from writers that this might create an atmosphere that didn’t seem welcoming to non-members. The worry was that in order to earn money, stories had to be locked but doing so might make their regular outside readers feel excluded. In response to this concern, Medium created Friends links that writers could give to their friends and followers so they could access the writers articles without becoming a paid member.

In the past, there were different opinions regarding whether or not to lock posts at all and if so, how many. Now, Medium recommends that both members and non members lock their posts and most posts are. They encourage this by making only locked stories eligible for curation. Many publications also only accept locked posts.

Since curation and publications were two of the main ways a story gained a wide readership, writers followed Medium’s advice and started locking everything. This meant that the friends links became a valuable commodity to include an audience that the writer may have already established or to increase their audience outside Medium.

From the start, I decided to lock all my Medium stories. I am trying to make a living from writing and so I felt that I needed every dime I could make.

At the same time, I also decided that whenever I promoted an article, I’d always share the friends link so I wouldn’t limit my potential readership. I had visions of an Editor from the Atlantic interested in something I wrote, clicking on a regular link only to find they couldn’t read the story and becoming so annoyed that they swore they’d never read anything I wrote ever again.

So my goal was to balance earning money with building a fan base. I thought that gaining as large a following as possible on Medium would help in the future for other projects off the platform. Sharing the friend link wouldn’t hurt my earnings since I’d still get paid for any Medium paid members who read and engaged with my stories even if they got there through a friends link. So it seemed like a win — win situation.

But I’ve been reconsidering this position lately. While sharing the friend link for locked stories may not negatively impact a readers earnings as things currently stand, I’ve begun to wonder whether this might change in the future. My thinking on this involved the effect of non-members having access to a lot of locked stories.

Outside Readers

The more writers there are who widely share friends links, the more articles non paying members will have access to. They already have access to all stories shared on Twitter since any Medium link included in a Tweet will be the friend’s link. Even if you share the regular link, when you post it on Twitter it will be replaced with the friends link.

Why might this be a problem? If non-paying members can access a large number of stories they are less likely to become paying members. This means that potential members whose fees would be split between the stories they clapped for won’t have reason to buy a paid membership. So this represents the lost possibility of additional income from outside fans.

Non-Paying Members of MPP

While outside non-member readers might not directly affect writers in terms of the earnings received from Medium, there is an issue that could. This is Medium’s policy of not requiring writers to obtain a membership in order to earn money from the platform.

At first, I found this policy to be refreshing and supportive of writers. But I also assumed that most people would do what I did which was take a couple of months to learn the platform, do some writing and after determining that Medium was a good fit, buy a membership.

After a year writing on the platform, though, I have seen a lot of writers who joined around the time I did but who still don’t have a paid membership (Hint: You can tell which ones do by the green halo around the profile pictures of the paying members.) All of their stories are locked and they constantly drop links in Facebook groups to earn some of the money from paid members who also post there.

Friends links play into this as well. It is clear that, unless you are already widely known, in order to gain a following on Medium, you need to read articles written by others on the platform. Those who drop links in every Facebook group but who never reciprocate will find they don’t build much of an audience or income.

When writers who aren’t paid members can read and engage with a lot of the articles promoted in Facebook groups and on other social media sites, this will increase their earnings through reciprocity of paid members. The amount that paid members earn is then diluted because a proportion of members fees are being paid for articles written by non-members’ who don’t contribute back into the pot.

As Medium continues to grow, there are bound to be more writers who want to earn money from writing here without paying even a small fee to do so.


Using the friends link whenever we promote our work may not benefit either us or Medium overall in the long run. This is because it may fail to encourage writers on the platform and other readers from outside Medium from buying a paid membership.

At some point, it is likely that this will become unworkable in terms of writers being able to earn a decent amount of money on the platform. Already only 7.3 percent of writers on Medium earn more than $100 a month. This percentage has been dropping over the past year.

A number of writers have shared the opinion that they believe Medium must be supplementing the amount paid to writers as the $4 or $5 memberships don’t seem to be enough to provide the number of writers in the Partner Program with the amount we are all earning. Regardless, with the increasing number of non-paying writers who earn from their stories and the lost potential from outside readers, eventually revenue will no longer reach a critical mass to maintain writers’ payments. At this point, Medium will likely be forced to raise membership fees.

While it would be nice to assume that everyone will be a good Medium citizen and buy a membership when they start earning at least $4-$5 a month, this will never be the case. Similarly, when outside readers have free access to a lot of stories through friends links they won’t feel the need to buy a membership either.

There may come a time that Medium decides that in order to be able to earn from the program you have to purchase a paid membership. They may also decide to either limit the number of times each friends link can be used or eliminate them all together.

But until that time, the best way we can help Medium as well as ourselves and do our part to prevent them from feeling the need to raise membership fees, is to use the friend links sparingly as opposed to using them everytime we promote an article.

While this may decrease the overall views somewhat, it may ultimately serve to increase the number of paying members and help with earnings. Should this happen then it is probably that views will rebound over time or if they don’t that Medium will take steps to ensure that earning members are paying members.

Thanks to Shannon Ashley, Tom Mitchell, Ev Williams, and David Shorb for the inspiration for this piece.

Natalie Frank (Taye Carrol) is an editor for One Table, One World and 1-One-Infinity, and is Editor-in-Chief for Mental Gecko and Promposity, two publications she created. She serves as the Managing Editor for Novellas and Serials at LVP Publications. Natalie has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.

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You can find links to my other work on Medium and follow me here. Thanks for reading!

Natalie Frank, Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology)

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I write about behavioral health & other topics. I’m Managing Editor (Serials, Novellas) for LVP Press. See my other articles:

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