And how getting curated affected my earnings
As a part of my year-end review of how my writing has fared on Medium, I opened up my ‘Stats for all stories’ tab. Although I knew I was being curated with some regularity, the naked numbers really surprised me — out of a total of 16 stories I have published since July (I am not the most prolific writer), 7 of them had been curated. That is a 43.75% curation rate — yes I rounded it up to ‘almost half’, math isn’t always a strong suit with authors.
I decided to do some qualitative and some quantitative analysis on which stories got curated and which didn’t, trying to whittle down to what works and what doesn’t.
1. Does curation affect views?
The average number of views that I received for curated articles vs non-cuurated ones was 4083 vs 70. That is a huge difference. We obviously know that curation increases the number of ways in which readers come across your story, so it is but natural that the views would increase.
But the 4083 view figure that I calculated was pretty skewed by a couple of articles that did extremely well, whereas my views for non-curated articles were closer together in range. So I decided to check the medians instead of the average, removing extremely skewed articles, both low and high.
My median for curated articles is a lowly 207 vs 46 for non-curated ones. There is still a big difference, the views are more than four-fold for curated articles.
I also checked the ranges for both. Curated articles ran from 61 to 21000 views, and non-curated ones ran from 21 to 248.
What do all these numbers mean, though?
- First, the lower range of both types of articles are similar (21 and 61). So, if your article is not interesting enough, even curation won’t help.
- The upper ranges vary widely (248 and 21000). That translates into — if your article is intriguing, curation can really pick it up and run with it. My non-curated highest view article is, in my personal and biased view, one of my more creative articles, which would have certainly garnered similar amounts of views had it been curated. Here’s a link — see if you agree?
- Though the averages may be skewed by a couple of well-performing articles, the medians also tell a similar story. You can expect curation to boost your views by anywhere factors of four to fifty times.
2. Does curation affect member reading times?
Do members give more credence to curated stories than to ones that just show up because they follow someone? The closest metric we have for this is the member reading time.
The data was surprising. My curated stories were read for an average of 3 minutes 7 seconds, while the non-curated ones averaged 3 minutes 27 seconds.
The median for curated stories was 3 minutes 14 seconds and it was 2 minutes 53 seconds for non-curated ones.
Given this inconsistency in the data, where the average for non-curated ones was much higher but the median was lower than the figures for the curated stories, I went back and checked the data points. It turned out that one particular story — a longish fitness piece I had written which was a 11-minute read — had garnered a massive 5 minute 40 second reading time. If I excluded that story, the average for non-curated stories came down to 3 minutes 10 seconds — similar to the 3 minutes 7 seconds average for curated stories.
(If you’re curious about that long article, here it is)
Which all lead me to the conclusion that, no, members don’t care if a story is curated or not. Curation doesn’t seem to lead any credence to stories, and — arguably — doesn’t accurately predict member interest (or quality) in a particular story. If curation did indeed select my higher quality articles, the difference should have shown up in the amount of time readers spent on them. It seems that my readers have loved my uncurated articles as much as those curated. Curation has been hit and miss, at least in my case.
3. Does curation affect earnings/view?
Before diving into the numbers, I had a hypothesis that curation would lead to a higher dollar per view amount, because curation would be geared towards paying members. Let us see if that hypothesis is correct.
Well, it turned out to be absolutely incorrect, yet again. My earnings per 100 views was $2.01 for curated articles, but it was $2.59 for non-curated! Surprising as it is, at least we now have a ballpark figure regarding how much you can earn on Medium — the figure is around $2 for a 100 views.
The range for curated articles was from $0.98 to $2.8, whereas it ranged from $0.5 to $5. The medians are $2.39 for curated and $2.21 for non-curated — further confirming our ballpark figure of about $2/100 views.
Though the data is pretty inconclusive (average for curated articles is lower but the median is higher), the only takeaway I would take from this is that no matter the curation status, articles will usually make the same amount per 100 views. It is only with the scalability of views that curation is a help, not in the actual earning per view.
Conclusion for the quantitative analysis
I’m going to be blunt about this, but I have the data to back my conclusion up — in my case, curation has NOT been able to pick up stories that readers would love to read, and has NOT increased my earnings per view. From the point of view of both the readers and the creators, it seems to be pretty hit and miss.
The one part where curation really does help, much more than publications (almost all my stories are published in mid-to-large publications), is in boosting views. Curation can, and in my case has, picked up good articles and massively increased their views, thereby increasing my earnings from those articles. But, on the flip side, a lack of curation has led to certain good articles gaining fewer views than I would have expected.
Now that I knew what curation could and could not do for me, I decided to analyze my stories to find clues as to WHAT got me curated and what didn’t. These are some things that, in my opinion, differentiated the two types:
1. Actionable articles vs prescriptive articles
The majority of my curated articles (6 out of 7) were actionable lists that one could follow to achieve various goals — get published, sort out one’s financial life, be frugal.
On the other hand, 7 out of 9 of my non-curated articles were prescriptive. They dealt with why certain things occurred (why family is very important for financial literacy, why time privilege was important, why sleep was crucial to productivity), or dealing with personal relations (lending money to friends). By their very nature, they could not be step-wise actionable lists.
2. Personal Finance Topics vs Miscellaneous
I primarily write on personal finance. But I also intermittently write on topics like productivity, publishing, and even health. As I concluded from the member reading time, it isn’t as if I only write well on personal finance topics and suck at everything else. If anything, it means that I suck equally, no matter the topic.
But 6 out of my 7 articles were on the topic of personal finance (strictly personal finance, and not the more social aspect of it like how it affects our relationships).
Only 2 out of 9 of my other articles were on personal finance — one to do with debt payoff, and the other on how to invest.
Is it the case that Medium curates more articles which deal with personal finance than on the other topics I chose?
I don’t think so. I think it has to do with intersectionality of topics. While most of my curated articles clearly fell into certain categories (which happened to be personal finance in my case, but I have also had ones that are related to only publishing), my other articles lay somewhere on the intersection of topics — mostly finance and relationships, sometimes finance and celebrities (like the Taylor Swift article).
Maybe it has to do with how curation teams work. If there are separate teams for different topics, like one team for finance and another for more personal articles, it would make sense that my intersectional stories had a high appeal for either group.
Lesson learned — try and write on a single topic. But I do love writing these more flowing stories as well, I’ll just continue doing that without expecting curation.
3. Well-linked articles vs personal opinion
Flowing from the fact that my curated articles are mostly on the topic of personal finance, it also so happens that most of them are well-linked to primary research. They link back to reports by government agencies, articles by business publications, and sometimes to other PF blogs.
On the other hand, because the uncurated articles are usually prescriptive and personal, they are opinion pieces and not as heavily reliant on external links.
This criteria does make sense from the point of view of the curators, since one would want articles with a solid factual foundation, and not simply fluff pieces.
But that, for me, has meant that even when I will now write my opinion pieces, I will go out of my way to work in at least some links (ironically, this is one of those articles that are really difficult to link out). The two reasons for this are: one, I think it is a good practice to follow, as creators on a platform with a wide reach, I believe even our opinions need to come from a place of fact and truth. And second, of course I want to be curated.
Even with the new invisible form of curation (where the author isn’t told which categories they have been curated in), it remains an important tool to increase views, in conjunction with getting into relevant publications.
If you want to increase your curation rate, these are some ways that I have found to work:
- Write on a single topic. Intersectional topics don’t do as well.
- Write actionable points rather than paragraphs of description or prescription.
- Link your articles to relevant sources for data.