The Myth of Medium Publications in Numbers

Does the exposure of popular Medium publications matter for you?

Source: Pexels

The myth of exposure of popular Medium publications never convinced me.

Does this exposure translate into a boost for single authors, especially “minor” authors?

I run a small publication — only 98 followers — but comparing its results with popular publications showed me something beyond my expectations.

Preparing the game board

Source: Pexels

Exposure means something to me if it’s related to feedback. Views alone mean nothing, on Medium.

Claps have more meaning and are easy to check on all stories. Along with that, it’s easy to check the number of responses, which is another good metric for feedback. Finally, we need the number of followers of the author, to calculate relative metrics, because we are not interested in the total claps or responses of a publication, but how much a publication boosts feedback for a single author.

I’ll consider five publications, two “minor” and three “major”:

  • inside Blogging (98 followers): my publication, where most of the articles are mine, chosen because I have direct experience with it.
  • On the Rise (173 followers): a publication of friends, chosen because of a good reason: they’re friends.
  • The Writing Cooperative (115k followers): my preferred popular publication. Most of its stories are members-only (and this may even be an advantage), but 115k followers should compensate enough for it.
  • The Startup (336k followers): a pretty popular and recommended publication.
  • The Mission (460k followers): if you need me to explain, just stop reading here.

I’ll add two variations, which are The Mission and The Startup filtered by authors below 2k followers (fairer comparison, considering the many popular authors in those publications). The Writing Cooperative has already most of the authors below 2k followers.

Data refer to stories from 8 June to 14 June 2018 and have been taken on 19 June 2018 (letting stories be exposed for more or less five days). You’ll find the complete raw data here.

This is not an ambitious data paper. I just want to see what exposure means in numbers approximately.

20 stories

Let’s compare the latest 20 stories.

Average claps on inside Blogging: 547.
Average claps on The Mission (authors <2k): 131.
Average claps on The Writing Cooperative: 197.

Not to mention comments, where the “minor” publications win hands down even with absolute numbers.

I can imagine all the criticisms to these statistics. But this first glance is anyway a bit surprising, to say the least.

Consider that The Mission and The Startup have respectively 23,289 and 10,828 average followers per author, which boost absolute numbers in claps and comments. But the medals of the popular authors tell nothing about exposure.

One week

You’re not satisfied because 20 articles on major publications mean just a few days, while on minor publications may mean weeks of exposure to readers and potential clapping.

We all know that the burst of claps happens in the first few days, and the above is not really an issue. Anyway, I want to listen to you, so I’ve dedicated time to extract the data covering one week.

Unfortunately, this means just one story for inside Blogging, which I will exclude. But do the many stories in a week matter something, for authors?

You can tell that anything about these stats is wrong. Still, if the exposure effect was at work, we should expect completely different numbers.

On the Rising (173 followers) has 314 average claps and 3.6 average comments.
The Startup (336k followers, that is around 2,000x) has 319 average claps and 1.8 average comments.
If we take away the authors above 2k followers, The Startup even offers just 151 average claps and 1.0 average comments, and The Mission (460k followers) offers even less for both numbers.

Weird insights

Source: Pexels

On the Rise has 3 stories of 15 with less than 100 claps. How many articles in the “major” got less than 100 claps, in the same week? 141 of 313 stories. 45%. Nearly half.

Of 156 stories in The Startup, 89 have zero comments. 57%. Maybe readers are intimidated?

Let’s trash privacy and check single authors.

Chad Grills(29k followers), the editor (and CEO) of The Mission (460k followers), in his last 5 stories on The Mission got an average of 504 claps and 2.4 comments. Absolutely no critic here, of course, but he’s expected to be the one who benefits most from the exposure. Chad, confess, you lower your stats by purpose.

MR. Molly Maguire (1.5k followers), editor of On the Rise (173 followers), got 385 average claps and 4.6 average comments, in his last 5 stories on the publication.

Aleesha Lauray (1k followers), editor of On the Rise (173 followers), got 339 average claps and 4.2 average comments.

Vico Biscotti (me, 871 followers), the editor of inside Blogging (98 followers), got 284 average claps and 5.2 average comments.

Last but not least, Larry Kim (192k followers!) has two stories in The Mission, in the aforementioned week. One with 89 claps and another with 115 claps. Both with 0 comments. We’ve finally discovered the gold mine of The Mission.

My stats

Source: Unsplash

Measuring stats for a single author on more publications — or outside publications — could be a useful exercise, but much less significant, because conditions vary too much for the same author. You usually publish different topics/genres — or different perspectives — on different channels. Publishing of Bitcoins on a publication and poems on your own doesn’t tell much about the boost given by the Bitcoins publication.

The data of this article are just meant to show that “exposure” on publications has a very relative meaning on Medium. They are not intended to be precise and reliable indexes.

Anyway, here are the data of my stories in three cases, for an average of five stories each:

  • The Writing Cooperative (115k followers): an average of 264 claps. They are mostly members-only articles, but members-only articles are highlighted there, and we can say that the writing topic is not a niche topic on Medium.
  • inside Blogging (98 followers): an average of 284 claps. They’re about blogging, and they are free articles, but that publication is immensely less popular than The Writing Cooperative.
  • Members-only posts on my own: an average of 194 claps. About life and self-improvement. I excluded poetry for obvious reasons.

Useless to check more stats because Chad will ask Ev to trash my account, after this article.

Why those numbers?

Source: Unsplash

I don’t pretend to have an explanation. I’ve just opinions and hypothesis.

But just reflect on this. Do you usually decide to read articles because they are in a certain Medium publication? Which are those publications?

The attractiveness of the name

I primarily decide to read articles because of the topic and the author. Sometimes I just read almost everything from an author.

But when I had subscriptions to physical magazines, my first choice was which magazine to read. Because that magazine had a reputation, and I knew that articles in it were from good authors, often experts in their field, and there was an editorial filter. I don’t mean just scientific publications.

The same is with many digital magazines — inside and outside Medium — but not all of them, at all.

Now we have access to free stories from any author, in a very crowded Web, and many publications are much more open and less selective. There is a gain? Yes. There is a loss? Yes. Maybe we need all the various approaches.

Still, the notoriety of some brands doesn’t seem to give much boost to single stories.

Followers and algorithms

But what about the many followers? Where are they? They should at least be addressed by the Medium “algorithm”. 460k followers cannot be all fakes.

Maybe they just followed because anyone here wants to publish on the major and presses follow as a first step, or they were initially afraid of missing the feed from such a renowned source. Maybe they are just a too large, varied, and uninterested audience.

I don’t know, but Medium also seems to give low weight to those “follow”. Maybe Medium notices some patterns and see that your choices are not really around that specific publication. Or anyway Medium drives some more views than usual (I usually get some more views, in some publications, while absolutely not in proportion of their followers) but those views are from a poorly interacting audience.

Numbers from Google are even less useful.

Promotion

Publications are supposed to promote articles, and this promotion is supposed to have some weight. Why does it not seem to work?

Numbers are clear. That promotion may drive followers to the publication, but doesn’t boost stories.

We don’t have their analytics, but we can guess that people are just attracted by the notoriety of the publication in itself, not by the content promoted by the brand. Do readers just see the publication as an opportunity or a community, more than a trusted curation?

The benefits of publications

Source: Pexels

Publishing on publications helps. But not as you expected.

You expose your articles to a different audience, reaching new readers. If you’re loyal to a publication, you join more or less a community. You can build relationships with the editors and be eventually helped by them (in my case, I’m now just fucked). They sometimes even promote your articles (no big deal but it’s something).

If you’re particularly in line with the publication — especially if you are already popular — you may also take advantage of the potential exposure.

But it’s all matter of a good fit between you and them. Just having the name of the publication on your business card, or throwing your story among others there, won’t help.

I’m quite loyal to The Writing Cooperative. Not because of the exposure, but because they’re all about writing, from editors who are all about writing, with readers interested in writing. The right community for my articles. That’s the point.

But I get the best results from my small and focused publication.

The popularity of the publication doesn’t seem to matter much.

And I know many authors who get exceptional results by publishing stories on Medium just on their own.

Conclusions

Should you stop submitting to Medium publications?

No, of course. At the beginning it’s important, afterward it’s more a choice. No right or wrong there. Just good fits and bad fits.

Should you expect much better results, by publishing on popular publications on Medium?

Not at all. But anyone is a different case. If the alchemy between you and the publication works, good for you.

But don’t mention exposure to me. Tell me a different story.