+629K Followers? I Call Bullcrap
For the sake of our writing, let’s wake up and smell the deception
I was inspired to write this story after seeing a particularly aggravating post to one of the Medium-focused Facebook groups I follow.
The post was a screenshot of one of the many invitations sent out by “Medium’s largest active publication” The Startup.
The invitation was an offer for this writer to submit their already published, already curated story to The Startup.
The invitation was quick to point out that The Startup had +629K followers, and that the story would enjoy a surge of viewership once it had been added to their publication.
The writer was asking the Facebook group for their opinion on what they should do next.
Should they submit the story? Would it be in their best interest? Or only in the best interest of The Startup?
What followed was a discussion about the history of The Startup and their (alleged) history of being able to curate posts themselves.
It seems that Medium-run publications do in fact have curation powers, but it also seems that Medium-adjacent publications once enjoyed the same privileges… but not anymore.
If curation was something The Startup was previously able to offer writers, it was probably in the early years before Medium had started their own publications.
Similar to how popular YouTubers called the shots before big daddy Google decided to make its own content and change everything.
There was probably a time when The Startup was important, run with passion, and had the power to influence the success of the writers they featured. If those days existed, they have long since passed.
Instead, they now ride on the backs of stories that have already been curated; but to what end?
Massive Pub? Or Rotting Corpse?
What annoys me about The Startup is what annoys me about every massive publication.
Pushing your huge follower count on me does nothing to boost my confidence; it only makes me feel that you’ve completely lost touch with what’s important.
A large number of followers is nothing when compared to an engaged number.
One thousand engaged followers are far better and more profitable than 60,000 apathetic followers and dead accounts.
For this story, I went through the accounts of all 109 writers I follow on Medium. What I found was that roughly 35% of them haven’t contributed to the platform since January.
The reason why the number is so high is the same reason why searching for a publication that suits your interests using the search bar will almost always lead nowhere; because old accounts and old publications aren’t removed once they die. They just sit and clog your search results.
There are hundreds of amazing publications I’d love to follow… if only they’d posted absolutely anything since 2017.
They’re still live on the site because we don’t have to pay anything to host our presence here, so when we leave, our publication stays active like a dead body left on the street.
It’s the same for our personal accounts; they stay active on the site long after a person has lost interest, and on until the end of time.
A couple of friends of mine volunteered to do a quick check of the people they’re following on the site, and I encourage you to do the same if you’re intrigued.
The highest death percentage found was roughly 50% of the writers this person was following.
I mean, what does that say about the “followers” system if you can keep reading day after day without having noticed that half of your prefered writers have left?
Extrapolating the Data
So what does this mean for a publication that’s as old as The Startup? It means that the “+629 followers” line that they preface absolutely all communication with should be taken with an enormous grain of dead salt.
A lot of their followers have presumably left the site, and the remaining followers aren’t engaged with the platform, and why would they be?
Yesterday (May 7th) they published 24 stories onto the publication. Think about what that really means for a writer.
When followers of The Startup open their app and see recommendations from the publications they follow and scroll over to The Startup, the reader only gets a few options.
If 24 stories went live yesterday and yours was one of them, how likely is it that yours will be one of the three that is recommended?
Your content is buried by newer stories within hours of going live. Not only that, but it’s also being buried with stories about coding, investing, home improvements, inspiring leaders, and dozens of other topics that have nothing to do with what you’ve written about.
You’re being buried by a mix of new stories, and those that have been submitted through invitation because someone at The Startup liked the fact that the story had been curated.
Why do they want curated stories? I have to assume that even they know that they’re unable to attract readers at this point, but they know curation works. So they take as many curated stories as they can, count the inflated reader numbers as self-earned, then call it a day.
What Do I Do Now?
For writers moving forward, I’d recommend that you take follower numbers out of your head when it comes to assessing the value of a publication for your writing.
Do the editors seem engaged with the stories that they’re publishing? Are they liking and commenting?
Do they actually enjoy reading what’s being put onto the face of their own publication?
Do other readers seem to know each other and discuss issues in the comments of articles featured on the publication?
Is the publication focused on one issue? Does it feel alive with other people who are passionate about what’s being discussed?
Engagement and passion are what drive royalties, not inflated numbers riding on the coattails of the past.
That’s why one of my highest earning articles of all time is also the one with such comments as “this article is so bad I’m quitting my Medium subscription right now.” Because love it or hate it, if an article inspires passion, it generates reads and royalties.
Seek out the passion, therein lies the gold.