My keynote talk for Medium Pub Crawl

How publications help writers find readers

Tony Stubblebine
The Medium Blog

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On Tuesday, March 19, we hosted our very first Pub Crawl, a 24-hour virtual meetup that connected Medium writers with Medium publication editors. Below is a lightly-edited transcript of my keynote remarks — slides and all.

Hello, welcome to Medium’s first ever Pub Crawl event. I’m Tony Stubblebine. I’m the CEO here at Medium.

The purpose of today is to connect writers to publications.

The vast majority of what I’m about to talk to you about today is aimed at answering a question for writers, “Why should you work with Medium publications?”

Thematically, the answer is going to circle around one answer. Publications help you find readers.

There are a thousand places you could publish online. But the reason to come to Medium is because we have built a system, led by Medium publications, that helps you find readers.

As I talk today, I hope you can be open to thinking about the difference between Medium bringing you lots of readers and Medium bringing you the right readers. Publications are doing both. They are the force that helps stories go viral, and they are the connecting glue between your writing and the readers who most want to read it.

I’m going to start with a story about how Medium connects readers to writers.

I’ve put on screen a post from a writer,

. Her post is about a decision point that a lot of people reach in their career: Should you become a manager or not? I’m using this post as an example because it’s great, and also because it got a lot of readers. There’s been 41,000 total, so far.

I want to tell you the backstory of where those views came from.

Sivan is a leadership coach who has worked at Google and has an MBA from Columbia. So she is writing from a place of both experience and expertise.

In the past, she has written for several different publications on Medium, but recently has been submitting a lot of her pieces to a publication called Code Like A Girl. This is a great publication that’s been active on Medium for a long time.

The editor for this publication is

. Just so that we are all clear, this is Dinah’s publication. She doesn’t work for Medium; rather, she’s part of the community, just like the writers and readers are.

Dinah is also one of the subject matter experts who nominate for Medium’s Boost program. The Boost is for bringing readers to the best of the best of Medium. It’s one of — but not the only way — Medium brings readers to writers.

We rely on Dinah as one of the nominators in the Boost program because she knows a lot about her subject. That comes both because of experience as a practitioner and because of experience as a long-time publisher here on Medium.

So when Dinah read Sivan’s post she thought it met the bar for being Boosted. I’m going to show you a part of the Boost program that most people have never seen. The point of the Boost is to help make Medium a place where substance is more important than attention. As a result we put a lot of thought into getting every Boost decision right.

The part that most of you have never seen is that when something is nominated for a Boost, that nomination includes a note about the nominator’s thought process. The note explains why a piece is meaningful, important, and helpful.

This is an important internal artifact about how thoughtful Medium recommendations are and how they actually work.

Here’s how Dinah described the importance of this piece when she nominated it. She said:

This article is a fantastic look at figuring out if you should move from an individual contributor role to a management role. Most people assume that is the right career step, when in many cases it isn’t. I love this author’s set of questions to ask yourself to figure out if it really is for you or not.

So that’s Dinah making the case for why this is an important story for people to read. Our curators agreed, and after submitting that nomination, our curators Boosted the story.

The readers for this story didn’t come out of nowhere. Rather, they come as a result of the curation and care of a publication editor. This story had zero views when Dinah first curated it. Now it has 41,000.

Medium helps writers find readers.

There is a lot that Medium does differently and that’s because we take our mission seriously. Real stories deepen people’s understanding of the world.

The key words in our mission are deepen understanding.

In order to achieve this mission we have to encourage you to share true, authentic experiences and expertise. Every one of you has a story to tell — many of them, in fact.

Then we, at Medium, need to build a system that connects your experience and expertise to a reader that needs to hear it. When our system works, your life experiences transfer to the reader and the world is smarter and wiser as a result. This is what I would call a worthy goal. This is why we come to work.

That system we’ve built is a system of humans working together. There are writers and readers, and today we are shining a light on publication editors. Doing this right takes all of us.

What’s special about Medium in this moment in history is that our system puts humans and substance first. When you build your system around machines, people end up writing for machines. When you build your system around humans, people write for humans. Medium is a place for humans.

Right now, that means we are an antidote to AI content. Humans spot it instantly, and we are doing everything possible to reject it so that Medium can remain a place for your human stories.

And also, it’s within our mission to be an antidote to the clickbait and cheap content of the attention economy. When we’re judging an article, we don’t claim victory when someone clicks on your story. We claim victory when someone reads deeply and their understanding of the world changes for the better.

This mission requires a massive effort.

Every month, Medium recommends your stories eight billion times. We do that through email, through the For You feed, through read more sections, through our list feature. The Boost is an important vehicle for recommendations but it’s not the only one. We definitely aren’t Boost or Bust.

Out of all those recommendations, 45% of what people read was published in a publication like the ones we are talking about today. Publications are the curators here. They aren’t promoters, they’re curators. We’ve built a recommendation system that trusts their curation.

This massive scale of recommendations is backed by a lot of human effort. In the same way that you write with passion, publication editors curate with passion. They are constantly looking to find the right story for their readers.

Last month, 9,000 publication editors were active on Medium. These people edited across 4,500 publications and their work helped 82,000 stories find the right readers.

We’re not going to meet all 9,000 editors today but there are more than a hundred here at the event that you could meet. I hope that today inspires you to find one or more publications to write for.

There are publications for new writers.

There are publications for all sorts of writers and so I’m going to start with a type we’ve all been: new writers.

There are many publications on Medium specialize in welcoming new writers and helping them get started.

One of those publications has the, I think you’ll agree, has the perfect name. It’s called New Writers Welcome.

is one of the many editors for the very, very, aptly named publication.

Here’s how she described their purpose:

“The pub was created as a soft place to land for new writers. When people begin on Medium, they can feel a little lost, and some of the top-notch publications on this platform may feel intimidating for newbies.”

This word intimidating stood out to me. Yes, sometimes writing is hard, it can be competitive, it can require weeks of research and revision.

But sometimes you just want to write, to get an idea out of your head or to exercise your writing muscle. This is what’s so great about blogging. Sometimes you just write to write.

So the good news is that wherever you are in your writing journey, there are publications on Medium that want to hear from you. That’s true even if you are a brand new writer.

Find a publication that matches your topic

Most writers, though, look for publications that have a focus that matches the experience or expertise that they are writing about.

If you are a geologist writing about geology, then find a geology publication.

Here’s how

who is the editor of the Fanfare publication views it:

A great publication is a signal: it says this is the good stuff. I’ve found tons of amazing writers simply because they publish at a publication that I like.

As you look for a publication, I want to make the case for finding small, focused publications to write for. You might think the biggest publications deliver the most readers. But this is not actually true. Our recommendation algorithms factor in affinity as much as they do number of followers. So a small publication with a loyal readership will often deliver as many readers as the largest publications here.

For a lot of writers, affinity is what you are after anyways. A thousand anonymous readers aren’t worth nearly as much as a comment from one reader telling you that your writing changed their life.

This is the thing that I asked you to be open to. Medium can bring you a lot of readers. But also, Medium wants to bring you the right readers, and most times that’s more important.

This is especially true for a category of writers who write on Medium to advance their career. This could be coaches, it could be consultants, it could be all sorts of professionals. If you are writing about your professional experience then the most valuable thing Medium can do is bring you the right reader who will hire you for a consulting contract or hire you for a job.

Whatever you may have heard about the creator economy as a way to grind out a living, I assure you that other writers are having more fun and making more money by writing for the expert economy. The writers who make the most on Medium are using writing to build and demonstrate expertise. Period. It’s not even close.

I’ve seen people land multiple half-million dollar consulting contracts. I’ve seen them go from unknown personal trainer to trainer of the Hollywood stars. I’ve seen them land VP-level jobs. One time, I even saw a writer here get promoted to CEO.

I want you to trust that Medium is a place where you can write what is authentic to you. We are a home to so many different interests. Let’s face it, Medium readers are curious and multi-dimensional.

Last month, publications published stories in across 33,000 different topics. That’s how broadly interesting and broadly curious our community is.

And if you’re wondering about the boost, then yes, we’ve Boosted on 28,000 of those topics which says that we are confident that there are readers for every single one of those topics.

That means as a writer, you should feel confident writing what you want to write about, what you know about, what’s important to you — rather than wondering what’s popular. Be yourself; your writing is going to better for it.

Publications level up your writing, which, you guessed it, helps bring in readers.

Most publications give some form of guidance and suggestions. Look, I’m a writer and so I know the writer ego. Sometimes we don’t want guidance and suggestions.

But when we do want to level up as a writer, publication editors help. Even just the act of accepting or rejecting your submission to their publication is a helpful signal about what level of writing you should shoot for.

Editors also give their guidance in their style guide. Those style guides almost always capture important lessons about what sort of writing will connect with readers.

Many publication editors give their guidance directly after reading your pieces. A writer,

, told us that getting feedback from his editor made him a better writer and for him that was actually the best part of writing on Medium.

“Probably the most important thing I’ve gotten from Medium is becoming a better writer.”

It was simple stuff, to take into account readers who aren’t ready to read the whole thing. And in that case, put the interesting stuff up front and give a short summary of the main findings near the top of the story — this is what the editor had learned through experience.

To give credit, the editor that he was working with was

from the Wise & Well publication. The reason editors like Rob give advice like this is because they know from experience what connects with readers and what doesn’t. Their experience is worth leaning on, and it’s a big part of how you can level up here as a writer.

That level-up is yet another way that editors and writers work together to reach readers.

Publications Boost your writing to even more readers.

Last, I want to talk about our Boost program. We introduced this program last year as a way to add human expertise as a signal in our recommendation algorithm.

We are the only platform that does this, and that’s because of our mission. Everything about us believes that substance is more important than attention.

Since we’ve launched the Boost, readers have definitely noticed the change in quality of what they read on Medium.

I’m going to sneak in a Medium business update here, because it’s good news. Before the Boost we were losing subscribers every month. At our darkest moment, we’d shrunk to 680k subscribers. But the Boost turned that around and today there are 990k members — knocking on the door of a million members — who pay to read writing like yours. What we’ve learned is that readers pay for quality, and the Boost is one of the ways we’ve delivered that.

We’re even knocking on the door of being a profitable company.

In case it’s not obvious, a healthy Medium is also good for writers. More subscribers means more readers for you, more money in the Partner Program, and, most importantly, that you can count on us. The direction we are going works and the work we are all doing together, as Medium, as writers, as readers, and as editors, it matters.

Given how well the Boost works, you can count on us to keep expanding it. Over and over today, I’ve given examples of the incredible scale of Medium. We make 8 billion recommendations. The community has 9,000 editors. Publications span 32,000 topics each month.

In comparison, the Boost program is still relatively small.

The way we’ve designed the system is to have publications act as nominators. Those nominations then go to an internal curation team here at Medium.

This combination of humans in the loop provides a mix of subject matter understanding and high standards. After a story passes through both of those steps, Boosted stories go to our algorithm. Unlike most platforms, our algorithm only acts as a matchmaker, not as a judge of quality.

In our Boost system right now, we currently have 110 publications acting as nominators. That leaves gaps and our internal curation team currently fills those in by looking for stories that aren’t in that set of publications. But long term, and I don’t want to put exact dates on what long term means, we will continue expanding the number of publication editors in the Boost program.

As a writer, this doesn’t mean that you have to publish in those publications. There are lots of ways to find the right readers for your writing. And not all writing is even meant to be Boosted. I certainly write plenty of silly stuff that I don’t want shared across all of Medium. But that writing is how I keep my writing muscle strong. It’s about finding the right publication for the piece you’re working on right now.

Find a publication to write for so that you can find your readers.

So far I’ve talked mostly to writers. But we have to end with some words of appreciation for publication editors. You are the heartbeat of this community. Your passion for connecting smart writing to the right readers is admirable. And you’ve done this even when Medium wasn’t supporting you. Before I was CEO here, I was in your shoes running publications, so I remember what that felt like.

I just want to underline for you: You have our full support. We understand what you do and how important it is to the community.

If you’re a publication editor, hopefully you see today as an appreciation for how much you matter, and that by the work we’re doing to connect more writers to you, that we’ve done something helpful for you.

Thank you to all the editors.

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