Medium Wants You to Steal Their Readers

Newsletter options provide new opportunities to build a following — and take it with you

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Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

In a recent post on Medium’s 3 Minute Read blog, Abby Aker of Medium’s design team shared an extremely important update to the platform. The post was so subtle — and shared among so many holiday updates with striking statistics ($11 million paid to writers in 2020!) — that most Medium creators have likely overlooked it.

In her post, Aker wrote that with a new feature update from Medium, creators can:

“Let your fans know when you’ve published something new from their email inbox…by adding the option to subscribe to story updates.”

That’s huge. Medium has essentially created an internal newsletter function for creators. Fans have the option to subscribe to you, and you can send them your own personal version of a Daily Digest every time you publish a new story.

And the kicker? As Aker writes:

“Your subscriber list is portable.”

That’s right — you can export your personal list of subscribed followers, and take their emails with you, as long as you don’t sell the list, send spam, or otherwise violate Medium’s Terms of Service.

Basically, Medium is saying that they’ll help you build your own internal mailing list of followers. And they’ll even let you “steal” those followers away from the platform if you’d like to.

The new feature is the culmination of several recent trends I’ve been tracking in how the Medium platform functions. It’s also an extremely valuable feature that every Medium creator should enable right now.

Let’s explore it in more detail.

Deepening Relationships

For months now, Medium has been working towards building a more relational platform. I covered this change in detail in Storius:

In contrast to a transactional model (which focuses primarily on individual pieces of content), a relationship model focuses mainly on creators. With the move to a relational model, Medium has said that they’ll take a ton of steps to help readers develop relationships with creators (following them, seeing their content surfaced consistently on the Medium homepage, viewing their content on a Profile page, etc.)

Launching personal newsletters is a powerful new way to encourage relational connections between readers and creators. As a creator, if a reader loves your work, they don’t even need to log in to Medium to see when you’re published a new story. If they choose to opt in, they can get an update on your new stories right in their email inbox.

This new feature — and especially the portability of lists — is also a powerful way for Medium to put its money where its mouth is. It’s easy to say “we’re going to help creators develop long-term relationships with readers”, but it’s quite another to build a feature which allows (and even encourages) creators to deepen those relationships even if they do that off the Medium platform.

With the new feature, you could publish on Medium, develop a list of opted-in readers, and then export the whole list, put it into Substack or Mailchimp, and launch your own independent blog, taking your readers with you. Of course, you probably won’t. If you have a big enough following to amass a list on Medium, you’re probably doing well on the platform, and will probably stay here.

In that way, Medium’s new feature is a big vote of confidence in their own platform. It’s like a restaurant (let’s call it Cafe Ev) that says “We make great bread, but XYZ restaurant down the road makes better chowder than us. You should get your bread here, and your chowder there.”

You’d probably appreciate that honesty, and the fact that Cafe Ev is genuinely guiding your towards the best choices— even if those choices mean patronizing a competitor. You might visit XYZ restaurant for your chowder. But you’ll almost certainly keep buying bread at Cafe Ev. You might even tell a friend about it, and how Cafe Ev really values its customers.

Medium’s move is similar — they’re saying that they’re confident enough in their platform to let you take readers elsewhere, because they’re pretty sure you’ll keep developing content for readers on Medium, too. If you know you can build an audience on Medium while creating your own portable list of followers, you’re probably more likely to publish on Medium, since you can double-dip.

The move also builds on another trend I’ve been following — treating creators like publications.

Publications have been able to build their own newsletters since the Summer. Now individual creators can do it too.

How to Enable the Feature

Enabling the new feature is incredibly simple, but easy to miss.

To enable it, click on your picture in the upper right of the Medium homepage, then click Settings and Followers. You’ll see a checkbox for “Display a message to promote email subscriptions on your profile and story pages”

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Courtesy Medium.

Check that box. That’s it — your newsletter is now enabled, and readers can subscribe to you.

On the same page, you can see how many people have subscribed to your personal newsletter, and export your list of subscriber emails. When readers see your stories, they’ll also see an option to subscribe and get your stories in their inbox.

As far as I can tell, this option appears on stories on your profile page, as well as stories which you self-publish. It also seems to appear on some but not all publications. If you’re publishing in a publication, Medium likely prioritizes the publication’s Calls to Action, like its own newsletter functions.

The fact that the new feature appears most prominently on your own self-published stories is further encouragement to self publish on the platform, to promote your profile page, and to experiment with shortform posts so you can post more frequently.

Once you have at least one subscriber, when you go to publish a story, you’ll see an option to send the story to your subscribers’ inboxes. You can decide if you want to email them with all your output, or only send selected stories, so they don’t get tired of your content and unsubscribe.

How to Build Your List

Now that you have the ability to capture a personal — and portable — list of subscribers, how should you use it?

One option is to switch the feature on, and then let your list grow organically and do nothing to promote it. As readers find your stories on the platform, some will likely love your work and choose to subscribe to you, and your list should grow organically over time, even if you do nothing.

Of course, you can almost certainly grow it faster by promoting the subscription feature directly. Medium has recently changed their curation guidelines so that tasteful CTAs won’t affect your chances of being curated (more on that soon — subscribe to me to stay informed).

See what I did there? I subtly asked readers to subscribe to me in a way that’s not too obtrusive. Lots of writers already include a CTA asking readers to subscribe to their off-platform newsletters. There’s no reason you can’t do this for the on-platform newsletter too. From my experience on YouTube, I find that simply asking people to subscribe — especially after they’ve finished consuming a useful piece of your content — is often enough to rapidly grow a list.

Once you have a list, what should you do with it? One option is to export it periodically, and keep it as a hedge against some horrific future where Medium sells out to a heartless private equity firm, and they turn the platform into a content mill churning out clickbait articles about baldness cures.

To be clear, that’s not going to happen. But if it did (or some other change to the platform made you want to exit), you could take at least a portion of your readers with you.

Another option is to export your list periodically (maybe once per month), and then import it into your own external newsletter platform (Mailchimp, Substack and Convertkit are popular options).

You can then keep readers informed about your Medium articles through your own newsletter, and also inform them about content you publish elsewhere. Medium has users opt-in to these kinds of messages when they subscribe to you, so you should be clear to add their emails to your own newsletter platform, and use Medium’s new feature as a way to grow your own mailing list.

A final option is to use the newsletter as an internal-only feature. When you publish a new story, you can decide if you want subscribers to get it in their inboxes. You can either send them all your output (readers are often surprisingly open to this), or to select one or two stories per week to share in this way (perhaps your most important or best work). This is a great way to give a boost to the stories you publish on Medium, in addition to all the ways that Medium already promotes your content.

Medium’s new feature is free, easy to enable, and unobtrusive to readers. All Medium creators should enable it immediately. It gives you all kinds of options for internal and external engagement, all at no cost beyond 1–2 minutes of your time.

Now, I’ll take a dose of my own medicine and say:

If you found this article useful in any way, please consider clicking Subscribe below to get my best stories in your Inbox.

Written by

Co-Founder & CEO of Gado Images. I write, speak and consult about tech, privacy, AI and photography. tom@gadoimages.com

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