To start publishing your ideas online, should you use Substack, Medium, or both? It ultimately depends on your goals.
More than ever before, it’s important for established writers to develop a personal brand. By brand, I don’t mean fancy photos or logos, though. Brand is about articulating your ideas and perspectives online, but it’s also about learning how ideas get distributed on various platforms on the internet.
One of the best ways to do this is to publish content specifically on a blog publishing platform. Two of the most popular platforms are Substack and Medium, and they offer a more thoughtful, focused alternative to most social media platforms.
- Medium as a website has higher domain authority and a vast reader base.
- If you don’t have an audience yet, Medium can be a great way to build your audience and also earn money along the way.
- Substack, in contrast, presents an opportunity to gather paid subscribers.
- Paid subscriptions can be a powerful revenue generator, but you’ll need a loyal subscriber base to keep things humming along.
In this article, we’ll compare Substack and Medium to help you decide which platform is best for you.
Table of Contents
Medium is an open-source website in which anyone can start publishing essays of their own, without the need for your own website. Medium offers new writers a built-in readership, and this built-in audience can help you develop your own audience without the long-game audience build that is common with SEO.
Medium.com home page. Screenshot taken Oct. 5, 2023
Substack, in contrast, doesn’t have this same level of discoverability. But the allure of paid newsletter culture, combined with more souped-up social features and cool factor, has led it to become the more popular tool.
Unless you have highly compelling content that people love to share, you’ll need to develop a digital marketing strategy to get the word out about your Substack newsletter when you start writing.
Substack home page. Screenshot taken Oct. 5, 2023
Notable Substack Features
Substack is a platform designed specifically for writers and newsletter creators. You can also use it to launch your own micro media empire, and the platform recently added podcast hosting functionality.
With Substack, you can distribute their content directly to subscribers through email. Blog pages and social media feeds are notoriously distracting; newsletter distribution is one way to increase the amount of time users spend reading your work.
Posts on Substack populate as articles, with hard-coded social proof buttons at the top.
You can create publications and customize your publication menus in Substack.
The podcast function lets you upload audio versions of your newsletters or other audio content and feature it in your publication.
One of the key advantages of Substack is that it allows writers to monetize their newsletters. Creators can choose to either publish free content or charge a subscription fee and limit content to paying members only.
With Substack, writers have complete control over their subscriber base and can even export their subscriber list if they choose to switch platforms in the future. To increase in-app discoverability, the platform recently added a feature called Substack Notes.
Example of the Substack Notes feature, which launched in April 2023.
My test publication is killing it. 😜 You can see publication performance in a backend dashboard at any time.
How Paid Subscriptions on Substack Work
Substack’s crown jewel is the way it lets creators offer memberships to paying subscribers. Substack wasn’t the first to do this, but they’re one of the best at making this process easy, which is what many creators want. When readers subscribe, you can give them the option of whether they have to pay to receive your content.
Pro Tip:To build a successful paid newsletter, Substack suggests you first get good at developing an existing mailing list. This is sound advice.
Payment processing for subscriptions happens within the Substack interface, thanks to a direct integration with Stripe. Like most processors, Stripe charges a 2.9% processing fee on all transactions. Substack itself then takes an additional 10%, and this is the startup’s primary revenue source.
This isn’t an unusual business model. Patreon takes a 6% cut, OnlyFans takes a 20% cut, and apps hosted on Apple’s App Store take a blistering 30% cut. If you’re just getting started with content creation, however, letting Substack take a slice of your paid subscribers’ dues might be worth it in exchange for a turnkey solution.
Substack has a paid newsletter checklist available for PDF download on their On Substack publication -- the post is here.
- With Substack, you don’t need a website. You can set up a custom domain if you want to, though.
- You can have your work shared by other writers, which can result in more referred memberships.
- The platform lets you create publications, which can replace the need to have your own blog.
Notable Medium Features
Medium, on the other hand, is a blogging platform that aims to provide a space for writers to share their thoughts and ideas. It has a wider reach compared to Substack, as its articles are accessible to millions of users both within the Medium community and on the internet in general.
The stats dashboard on Medium is limited, but easy navigate. Like Substack, impressions are not measured.
One feature that makes Medium powerful is its domain authority. Medium is one of the largest websites in the world; if you’re trying to get discovered on search engines for certain niche topics, publishing on Medium will probably be a better strategy than publishing on your blog.
Each story on Medium has its own reporting that automatically updates.
How the Medium Partner Program Works
Unlike Substack, Medium does not offer built-in monetization features. However, creators can join the Medium Partner Program, through which they can earn revenue based on engagement and readership of their articles.
With the Medium Partner Program, you have the option to place your articles behind Medium’s paywall. You’ll then be paid based on read time from paying Medium subscribers. Medium readers don’t subscribe to individual authors; instead, they pay $5 per month to have access to all of Medium.
When enrolled in the Medium Partner Program, you'll connect a Stripe account. Royalty payouts are then paid out each month, based on member read time on your articles.
Most articles won’t pay much. If you have an article get picked up by Medium’s algorithm, however, there’s huge potential to not only earn income, but also reach a broader audience.
- Medium doesn't require as much consistency as Substack, although publishing regularly does tend to snowball growth.
- Established writers don’t necessarily have an advantage over newbies on Medium, which makes the platform a great tool for beginners to cultivate their own audience.
Which Publishing Platform Is Best?
It’s hard to say.
One thing to remember about Substack is that its success stories are personalities and journalists who already had huge followings before they came to the platform. Some of these writers were also given cash advances and extra publicity when they came over to Substack. If you don’t already have an audience, Substack can be tough, but if you have a unique perspective, it’s incredible for niche independent writers.
Medium is less cool. I’ll just say it. But it’s the right platform if you’re more focused on audience growth and aren’t necessarily worried about subscriptions. Medium is my preferred battle ax, but the two platforms are both great for independent writers, and they’re worlds better than social media if you’re trying to build thought leadership.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Write for Both Substack and Medium?
Yes, it's possible to post similar articles on Medium and Substack. Some publications might require that your work not be published elsewhere, though.
Which is Better: Substack or Medium?
Substack empowers independent writers with paid subscription functionality. However, Medium has a broader reader base, better discoverability, and immediate monetization opportunities.
Why Use Substack Instead of a Blog?
Substack makes it easy to start a newsletter, so if a simple setup is important to you, it might help you start publishing your work sooner without having to deal with any tech setup.
What Are the Disadvantages of Substack?
Substack lacks important features compared to other email service providers. You’ll also need to market your newsletter regularly in order to build awareness; it can be a challenge to start from scratch and gain momentum.
Is Substack the Best Newsletter Platform?
Start Publishing Online Today
If you have an existing audience and want to build recurring revenue, Substack is the way to go. On the other hand, if you seek a wider audience reach and potential revenue through engagement alone, Medium might be a better fit.
Take the time to evaluate your needs, consider your target audience, and weigh the pros and cons of each platform before making your final decision. ◆
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