I Switched A Viral Free Article To Member Only, Here’s What Happened

How readers fluctuated, how much it earned and more.

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Recently one of my old but popular articles had a resurgence of traffic. I was getting more views/reads/claps the whole lot. I clicked on the stats page and had a glance at when it started.

Resurgence Beginning December 6th

Most new hits had come in from internal referrals. Medium curators had distributed my article in Productivity and Self (which I was very appreciative of). Meaning, my article was now showing up in the Medium digest, the app, and other places.

Being the curious guy I am, I had a lot of questions. Skipping over all the boring ones, let’s focus on ones related to the Medium Partner Program.

I wanted to know what would happen if I switched a currently ‘trending’ article to paid.

When I had written the article, it immediately became quite popular. I had published it to The Startup but back then, and someone can correct me here if I’m wrong, you couldn’t publish paid articles to publications. But this had changed since.

So I wondered.

“If I was to switch this, would I immediately be stopped getting distributed?”

“The article’s helping people, would people stop reading it?”

“What’s the earning potential of this anyway?”

My curiosity got the best of me and I switched it across on the 8th of December. Here’s the results of the experiment.

Dec 8 — Jan 3 (27 Days)

Earnings: $171 USD
Views: 7135 
Reads: ~2640 (7135 * read ratio)
Fans: ~300 (7135 * total fans) / total views

A few things became certain. My article was definitely still being distributed. If it was on a featured page, it was still there. If it was in an email, well, it wasn’t going to be ‘unsent.’

I realised that it didn’t really have anything to do with whether it was a part of the program or not, decent content is decent content. If it has value, it wasn’t going to be stifled by curators, it was going to be promoted.

So that left me with some logic that was playing out in my head.

All other outside factors aside, I assumed a free article would be more popular than a paid one. Now, there’s no way for me to know whether the free version would have done even better, but just looking at the stats, the inverse seemed to have happened.

Over the first two days of being distributed and free, the average number of views a day were 268. Whereas the next week’s average was 322. That’s a 20% increase while it was distributed and member only. Granted there are obvious limitations of a sample size of two days.

This reminded me of an earlier article published by Tom Kuegler. Where he mentioned that Medium did give preference (in terms of promotion) to Member only articles. Could this be the reason it performed better?

All in all, some question were answered, but more questions arose. I’m still not any more sure about how their algorithm works or how their curators operate. All I can say is, writing valuable content, regardless of whether its member only or not, will eventually get you out there. Switching from free to member only doesn’t punish you either.

Keep on writing,
Sah 👏

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +408,714 people.

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