Rachel Gleason performs her slam poetry and songs at The Drunken Retort. Photo credit Ryan Nehring, Something Somewhere Photography; courtesy The Drunken Retort. Full article here.

Publishing poetry to Medium Members is the digital equivalent of a speakeasy slam

$80.53 in free drinks and tip shares included

Update: since this was written, Medium’s model has shifted to focus the majority of its resources on supporting celebrity and mainstream authors, and low visibility and minimal payments have driven many independent authors to find new platforms — myself included. I’ve moved all my works, and my COSGRRRL publication, over to Mighty Networks. Find me at creativeonion.me and cosgrrrl.com.


A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences publishing my poetry to Medium subscribers:

I know it’s considered gauche to talk about money, but due to our alignment of mission and interest, I’m committed to helping Medium beta test their platform. As a marketer myself, I understand how important real data points and insights are to building a sustainable product. As long as industry armchair skeptics like Forbes’ Theo Miller continue to spew vague criticisms based on a poor understanding of Medium’s mission, there will be a need for Medium’s users to speak openly and honestly about our actual experiences.

At least, I think so. But then, transparency is one of my core values.

If you want to know more about my motivation for monetizing my work on Medium (which includes the fact that it’s not about the fucking money), I recommend reading the post above.

With that behind us: I have new data and promised an update, so here we go.

Data & insights

Since the data cited in my previous post (which ranges Sept 3–6), I’ve made an additiona. $80.53, just on poetry. The new data range ends Sept 18, which is just shy of two weeks.

With $11.05 in the first (slightly less than a) week, and $80.53 in the next (slightly less than) two weeks, we can roughly calculate that revenue nearly quadrupled.

I also published like a motherfucker. I’ve locked 15 poems to date.

My most profitable poem made $53.93, and my least profitable poem made $0.10 (*snort laugh*). That last one had been published for less than a day, though, so don’t judge it too harshly.

It’s not really enough data to draw any firm conclusions from, but it’s definitely a strong upward trend, which is always a great place to start.

Other key trends which I discussed in my first post have continued to show growth as well. If you recall my insights from the last post:

  1. Some of my backpublished stories began to slowly gain more viewers
  2. Poems that get little traction on the first day have a slow but consistent upward trend in views AND a high engagement ratio
  3. One poem began trending in the category Lit, and cracked the 10 fan ceiling
  4. Engagement across all poems has been consistently high, with 70–100% read ratios and fan engagement that more than triples that of my essays and articles
  5. My followers have been steadily increasing.

In this update, #1 and #2 are less true. Many poems did seem to stall out after a day or two with just a few dozen views, despite very high engagement ratios to start with (fans/claps per view). That was kind of disappointing.

Same with #3 — none of my locked posts spiked enough visibility to get picked up by category suggestions. Thanks, however, to some arts journalism about local fellow poet Kyd Kane, as well as a silly cospoem I wrote as a teaser for an upcoming publication (in which I snagged Wil Wheaton’s attention), my profile got picked up as a Top Writer for the Poetry tag, so that’s been a boon to both fans and visibility — although the progress on locked poems is still very slow going.

To me, that just reinforces how important being connected to the larger community of artists is to being a successful artist yourself. Also good karma (which is why I subsequently unlocked a handful of poems).

#4 and 5 have absolutely held true, and 5 — my profile’s followers — continues to gain momentum.

The trouble spot for Medium: visibility

That momentum in my # of followers isn’t, however, translating into more visibility and momentum for my locked poems. Not, at least, at a rate that’s anywhere close to the rate at which my followers are increasing.

I’ve noticed that very few of the new followers I’ve gained from my unlocked posts (like the cospoem, and my unlocked essays) are Members. I suspect this is the main reason that visibility to my locked posts isn’t gaining nearly as much ground as my profile’s visibility. It’s not a surprise to many of us; we’ve always known that generating a large enough subscriber base to make a paywall viable would be the real trick.

Medium’s User Feedback team mentioned, in response to my last survey, that issues with visibility was a common piece of feedback from writers, and the team is actively working on solutions. And it makes perfect sense: engagement (claps, comments, shares) are what propel posts to be visible to more users, but when the user pool is narrowed to the Members who can freely read and interact with locked posts, their opportunity to gain these engagement metrics and the resulting momentum is far more limited.

I do see new subscribers (w/ in the last month or two) follow my profile here and there — so Medium’s paid readership is not stagnant. It just seems to be slow.

I suspect, based on how I’ve seen Medium respond to user feedback to date, that this issue of poor member post visibility will be a key focus on the development team over the next few months. And…possibly promoting subscriptions to prospective Members?

The silver lining: Member-only space is intimate AF

Sure, performing at Carnegie Hall is the stereotypical goal, but getting a standing ovation from a tiny barroom packed with colleagues you respect offers its own unique magic.

But then, I’ve always been a sucker for niche audiences.

Much of my poetry behind Medium’s paywall is of an intensely personal nature. I treat Medium’s subscription platform the same way I would a print publisher, and offer it only what I consider to be my best, most important work — which, incidentally, is my most intimate work. It’s not work I want people to engage with haphazardly. In a way, locking my poems ensures that my readers place tangible value in what they’re reading, which makes them far more likely to be engage with the ideas I present in a critical, thoughtful way.

Take this, for example:

This is a roughly 5 page, intensely personal poem in the form of a conversation, and it grapples with controversial and nuanced issues — as its title implies. Even the photo itself is deeply personal; it’s not a stock photo, it’s a picture of my dad, taken years before I was born.

It’s not the type of content you’re going to stumble across browsing CNN, or even Twitter, most of the time. It’s, frankly, the type of thing you’d find in a chapbook in an independent bookstore.

It’s long, it’s difficult, and it’s emotionally evocative. Being on Medium’s Membership platform sends the message that this content carries with it mutual investment; artistic investment from me, the writer, and the philosophical and financial investment of the reader.

And I dig that.

Just look at the stats on the post embedded above (live for 6 days now). The #s are, left to right, views, reads, read ratio and # of fans. What it doesn’t show is # of claps, which as of the sceencap below are at 24:

For a 5-page equivalent poem (i.e. way longer than most other Medium poems), a 64% read ratio is pretty damn good. What’s even better is the nearly 20% conversion of readers to fans, and the average of 8 claps per fan.

Yeah, the volume is a pittance, but hot damn, look at those stellar engagement rates. It’s the digital conversion ratio equivalent to a standing ovation — albeit from a tiny audience.

A community of truly engaged readers

Medium Members, likewise, are highly aware of their relationship with Medium’s paid writers. They know that each clap, each view, has real financial implications for the authors they’re engaging with. They’re conscious that they have a direct relationship with the writer. And, from everything I’ve seen (including private convos with writers and publishers), it makes them extremely intentional about how and why they engage with writers.

And I think that’s really, really awesome. I mean, that’s kind of the endgame, isn’t it?

Readers who actually give a shit about what they’re reading, and the person who wrote it…it’s quite the concept.