Medium’s Time Stats Are Demoralizing
Here’s how I’m trying to keep myself from obsessing about it
Full disclosure: I’ve only been a member of Medium for about six months, and I’ve been a contributing member of the community for even less time than that. When I discovered Medium, it seemed like exactly what I was looking for: a place to share my writing with a receptive community and receive some feedback to improve my craft. In the last few months I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted from it, and more. My work has been fairly consistently curated, and I’ve been picked up by a few publications, including one piece I wrote that’s currently in Elemental.
While I had no real intention of making this a significant income stream, I managed to supplement my income far more in the last three months than I would have thought possible. Medium’s old model, based on reader engagement through claps and comments, suited me well because it matched my exact goal. I wanted people to actually read and respond to my writing, to engage with me in comments and through my social media accounts. And it was nice to be rewarded for the exact things I cared most about.
Under the new model, user engagement is still the goal, but it is measured in a very different way through read time rather than interaction. I have no problem with this in theory, and it hasn’t significantly impacted my earnings. However, it makes for a far less pleasant data analysis experience.
For one thing, claps, comments, and read ratios all feel like positive feedback. Someone clicked on your story and liked it enough to skim through it and maybe even clap or provide their own thoughts on the topic. Even if it doesn’t happen often, it still feels great to see those numbers and know that your work has reached someone out there.
The read time statistic, on the other hand, does not feel anything like celebratory claps. Learning that the people who are “reading” your work are only engaging for a minute or two on a piece that has a six- or seven- or eight-minute read time, and took perhaps hours or days to write, is demoralizing.
I post weekly on Medium and I spend a good amount of time writing and rewriting the pieces I choose to post. I carefully edit my work as objectively as I possibly can, occasionally seeking help from friends and fellow writers. I obsess about word choice and word counts. I consider the structure of my stories and the framework around which I tell them. So, when I learned that even my most popular piece, with thousands of views and reads under its belt, has only achieved an average reading time of 1 minute and 5 seconds, I felt all my happiness over what I thought of as huge accomplishment deflate a bit.
So, in order to keep from driving myself crazy and wasting time that would be far better spent actually writing, I’m trying to focus on the bigger picture numbers:
Views and Reads
Total views and reads are still valuable statistics that provide feedback on how engaging my topic, title, and introduction are. If I can convert a click into a read, I feel like I’m doing a good job. To that end, the read ratio remains my favorite tool for tracking how interesting my content actually is to the people who are seeing it in emails, social media feeds, and Medium’s topics pages (when I get so lucky).
Member Reading Time
The reading time averages can be hard on the ol’ ego, but the total member reading time is the boost I need when I’m letting anxiety about how my writing is being received take over my thoughts. Sure, an average reading time of just over a minute on an essay that should theoretically take eight minutes to read stings a bit, but knowing that Medium members have spent a combined total of nearly two hours so far in the month of November reading that essay feels really good. That’s so much time that strangers are spending reading my words and it reminds me to be grateful that anyone is reading them at all.
Traffic sources are an important piece of information that let me know how well my (extremely limited) marketing and social media skills are faring in promoting my work. I know that clicks from my social media accounts are primarily from family, friends, and acquaintances who are reading to support me, and I’m eternally appreciative each time those particular numbers climb. Internal clicks are helpful in determining how effective curation is for my work, particularly as I’m still building a base of followers here. It can also be helpful to track how well stories that I link to do in terms of referral clicks.
This statistic isn’t exactly useful in the same way the others are, but it lets me know that my writing is reaching the people I want it to be reaching. I mostly write about health and fitness, so I want those topics to be reflected in my readers’ interests. This lets me know that I’m having an impact where I most hope to have it, even if it doesn’t affect my Partner Program earnings or the number of readers who are engaging with my work directly.
I’m perhaps most grateful that these statistics don’t appear to be available to anyone else so that, unlike with claps and comments, I’m unable to compare myself to other writers, particularly the most popular writers on this platform, who I look to for advice and guidance, but who I also frequently find myself unspeakably envious of.
Ultimately, all this data is useful in figuring out what does and doesn’t work in terms of increasing user engagement on Medium. I am a strategic project manager by day, so I’m a bit of a data nerd. I don’t want all of these numbers to determine what I write or how I write it, but it’s still useful in figuring out what allows me to best connect with the audience I’m hoping to build.
The rest, I’m telling myself for now, is just noise.