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The Penalty of Newsletters on Medium

Not everything that’s packaged as a gift is a gift.


Recently, Medium proudly announced Newsletters.

Sounds good news but I’ve seen enough on Medium not to jump for joy about those “improvements”.

Let's dig deeper.

Letters sucked for a long time

If anyone ever tried to use the “old” Letters, they soon noticed how that tool sucked.

Formatting tools were (actually, are) poor at an embarrassing level.

Worse, Medium competes with independent publications on its own platform with well-formatted newsletters, using tools that are not available to Publications. So, while a Medium’s flagship publication bombs a massive inherited audience with their eye-catching newsletter, you're stuck with a letter that seems out of WordStar from the ’80s. Luckily, no Courier font, but good news stop there.

Of course, no one at Medium cared about that, for years. Why? Because they never cared about independent publications. No custom domains, poor formatting tools, no promotion or promotion tool at all. Independent publications have been released at the beginning, before Medium becoming the big magazine that it’s now. Afterward, despite what they say, independent publications have always been “tolerated” guests. They’re just legacy.

Do you really think they started caring now, especially seen that everything in Publications is stuck at what it was, for long years?

What a Newsletter really is on Medium

What’s their gift, exactly?

You can now create a Newsletter linked to your Medium publication. One or more is not specified, but it seems than only one can be there. So, why do you have to create it, maybe with a different “brand” than that of the publication itself? Again, not clear.

But… Wasn’t this Letters? (Btw, Letters has now become Newsletters…)

Well, Letters addressed all of your publication followers. Newsletters don’t.

That’s the “improvement”.

Newsletters inherit the publication followers (“Existing xxx email subscribers will be automatically subscribed.”), then the two audiences become independent. A new publication follower doesn’t translate in a Newsletter subscriber.

Medium found a way to limit the publication audience and we’re all happy about the new “tool”.

“But I now have Newsletters and a mailing list,” someone could and will say.

No, you don’t. Medium has a mailing list. You don’t. Nothing changed. You own not a single email.

“But Newsletters is a better tool.”

No, it isn’t. Same crappy formatting as Letters. They are Letters.

“But I have a landing page, now.”

Who will land on it? Your audience comes from your publication and your stories. Medium members. This is a Medium newsletter.

“I can promote my newsletter on my stories, now.”

Before, you just had no need for it. The publication followers already usually were your “subscribers”. Now they have to explicitly and separately subscribe. And, if you promote the newsletter on the stories, your call to action is spent on that, now. Medium found a way to replace also your call-to-action slot.

Newsletters is Letters with a “remodeled” audience. And you can bet than in most cases this will translate into a shrunk audience.

What now?

Actually, nothing changed, except that you now have to fight for your subscribers a bit more.

You still have no formatting tools, nor you own a mailing list.

So, what to say?

If you want a newsletter, the path is what it was before. Either you grow an external newsletter or you just have nothing.

If your writing success is focused on Medium, forget Newsletters, and just start writing what Medium likes.



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Vico Biscotti

Vico Biscotti

Engineer, rebooting from crash. Jack of all mistakes.