Why the Best Things in Life Are All Backwards: A Comparison of Substack and Medium


Hatched by Glasp

Aug 31, 2023

4 min read


Why the Best Things in Life Are All Backwards: A Comparison of Substack and Medium

In today's digital age, writers have more opportunities than ever to share their work with the world. With the rise of platforms like Substack and Medium, writers can easily reach a wide audience and potentially monetize their content. But which platform is the best fit for you? In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between Substack and Medium, and why the best things in life are often counterintuitive.

Platform Purpose and Intended Function

Both Substack and Medium have unique purposes and intended functions. Medium operates on a metered paywall model, charging readers a subscription fee to access its content. However, readers can still access three articles per month for free, which acts as a marketing strategy to entice them to become paying subscribers. On the other hand, Substack focuses on empowering writers to build their own fanbase and reach new readers through effective use of their WYSIWYG tools. Substack also allows writers to have direct access to customer subscription information, giving them the option to potentially leave the platform in the future.

Successful User Profile

The successful user profiles on Substack and Medium differ in terms of content and engagement. On Medium, the top writers are those who can create semi-viral content. This is because Medium's compensation system rewards writers financially based on the engagement of paying readers. In contrast, successful Substack writers typically write about a very specific niche and are sometimes considered quasi-subject matter experts on a particular topic. While a baseball-specific publication on Medium might generate some traffic due to the platform's high domain authority, it is unlikely to generate many views from paying readers, which directly affects earnings through the Partner Program.

Writer Monetization Methods

The way writers are monetized on Substack and Medium also differs. Medium pays writers based on Member Reading Time, which measures the total time paying subscribers spend reading their articles. On Substack, however, there is little in terms of content discovery tools or assistance driving traffic. Writers on Substack rely heavily on their existing fan base and their ability to attract new readers through their own efforts.

Content Discovery

One area where Medium has an advantage over Substack is its robust content discovery tools. Medium provides various tools for writers to track the performance of their emails, such as the number of recipients reached, the number of opens, and the number of readers who subscribed. This allows writers to understand how their content is being received and make adjustments accordingly. Substack, on the other hand, lacks these content discovery features.

The Paradox of Effort and Reward

Now, let's shift gears and explore the paradoxical nature of effort and reward in various aspects of life. We often assume that the more effort we put into something, the greater the reward will be. However, this linear relationship between effort and reward is not always the case. In fact, when it comes to complex and multivariate actions, such as drown-proofing, the relationship between effort and reward is more of a diminishing returns curve.

Drown-proofing, for example, teaches us that the more we struggle to keep our heads above water, the more likely we are to sink. The trick is to surrender to the physics of water and use them to our advantage. Similarly, in many areas of life, the more we panic and try to exert control, the more likely we are to fail. The key is to let go and embrace the fact that some things are beyond our control.

Applying the Paradox to Writing

This paradox can also be applied to the world of writing. Instead of chasing after viral content or trying to please everyone, successful writers often find their niche and focus on creating meaningful content for a specific audience. They understand that the quality of engagement is more important than the quantity of views.

Actionable Advice

Based on the insights from Substack, Medium, and the paradox of effort and reward, here are three actionable pieces of advice for writers:

  • 1. Find your niche: Instead of trying to appeal to a broad audience, identify a specific topic or audience that you are passionate about. By focusing on a niche, you can establish yourself as an expert in that area and attract a dedicated fanbase.
  • 2. Embrace the diminishing returns curve: Recognize that not all efforts will yield proportional rewards. Instead of constantly striving for more, learn to prioritize your time and energy on activities that have the greatest impact.
  • 3. Let go of control: Understand that there are certain things that are beyond your control. Instead of trying to micromanage every aspect of your writing career, learn to surrender and trust the process. Sometimes, the best things happen when we let go.

In conclusion, Substack and Medium offer different opportunities for writers to share their work and monetize their content. Understanding the nuances of each platform can help you make an informed decision about which one aligns best with your goals and writing style. Remember, the best things in life are often counterintuitive, and embracing the paradox of effort and reward can lead to greater success and fulfillment in your writing journey.

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