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From Millions of Views to Thousands of Paid Subs: A Medium Success Story

Lessons from a Viral Phenomenon

Medium, the ever-evolving online publishing platform, remains an enigma in 2024. As we navigate the turbulent digital landscape, recent history has brought forth contrasting narratives – stories of soaring success juxtaposed with tales of declining fortunes.

Just last year, writers with formidable followings in the tens of thousands bemoaned dwindling views, their once-thriving audiences seemingly scattered. Simultaneously, revered publications found themselves shuttered when Medium withdrew its financial backing. High-profile departures of esteemed writers compounded the air of uncertainty.

Yet, amid the turmoil, beacons of hope shine through. Success stories abound, from authors pocketing over $19,000 from a single viral piece to the coveted $60,000 grand prize in Medium’s Writers’ Challenge. The platform’s allure endures.

One story, however, stands as a testament to Medium’s paradoxical nature – the most-viewed article of 2020, a saga that continues to captivate and inspire four years later.

The Viral Phenomenon: A 26-Minute Marvel

In 2020, author Tomas Pueyo achieved a feat that still reverberates today. His 26-minute opus, “Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now,” became a viral sensation, garnering a staggering 40 million views and 247,000 claps (Medium’s equivalent of likes).

Remarkably, this tour de force remained freely accessible, eschewing Medium’s paywall – a bold move that would later raise intriguing questions about the potential revenue left on the table.

The article’s subject matter, the then-raging COVID-19 pandemic, struck a chord globally. Pueyo’s meticulously researched and educational deep-dive caught the attention of medical professionals and healthcare organizations worldwide, earning him features across a multitude of platforms.

But Pueyo’s success didn’t stop there. Another of his Medium stories, an even longer 29-minute read, became the 4th most-viewed article on the platform in 2020, surpassing 20 million views. In the pivotal month of March 2020 alone, his cumulative readership topped a staggering 60 million views.

The Aftermath: A Multifaceted Empire Rises

Propelled by his viral Medium stardom, Pueyo has since assembled an impressive multi-pronged empire. His Substack newsletter, “Uncharted Territories,” now ranks #5 in the Technology category, boasting thousands of paying subscribers at $10 per month.

Leveraging his newfound platform, Pueyo has authored a book, penned a series on storytelling structure, and delivered a TEDx Talk on the subject. His transition from renowned Medium writer to a diversified creator with multiple revenue streams is a masterclass in capitalizing on digital success.

Lessons and Lingering Questions

While marveling at Pueyo’s trajectory, several observations and burning questions arise:

  1. The Money Question Had Pueyo opted to place those wildly popular COVID-19 stories behind Medium’s paywall, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest he could have garnered a staggering $2.04 million in earnings through the Medium Partner Program alone.

Of course, such a move may have curtailed the articles’ virality and reach. Nevertheless, the sheer magnitude of potential revenue from cultivating a vast free readership is a potent lesson for writers – one that underscores the value of strategic content distribution.

  1. Luck or Calculated Strategy? Was Pueyo’s overwhelming success a stroke of serendipity or a carefully orchestrated plan? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.

Undeniably, his content capitalized on the most significant global trend of 2020 – the COVID-19 pandemic. Had he tackled a different subject matter, the same level of interest and viewership seems improbable. Yet, Pueyo’s skill in identifying and addressing a pressing topic of universal relevance cannot be discounted.

The takeaway? While luck plays a role, aligning one’s content with prevailing trends and subjects of intense public interest can be a powerful catalyst for success on platforms like Medium.

  1. The Substack Effect Pueyo’s ability to parlay his Medium virality into a thriving Substack newsletter exemplifies the power of leveraging multiple platforms and revenue streams.

Not only does this highlight Substack’s (and newsletter platforms’) immense value, but it also reinforces the notion that Medium should be viewed as a launching pad rather than a final destination. By strategically cultivating an audience on Medium and expanding to other channels, creators like Pueyo can achieve sustained growth and financial independence.

The Bottom Line: Replicating Lightning in a Bottle?

As we ponder Pueyo’s remarkable journey, one burning question lingers: Can such stratospheric success on Medium ever be replicated?

The answer is nuanced. While the sheer magnitude of 40 million views may be a once-in-a-blue-moon phenomenon, the potential for Medium to propel writers to newfound heights remains palpable. Recent events, like the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, have spawned a wave of impactful and widely-shared stories on the platform.

Yet, the true lesson lies not in the pursuit of blockbuster view counts, but rather in Pueyo’s strategic approach to audience cultivation and platform diversification. By leveraging Medium as a springboard, he has established a sustainable, multi-faceted creative enterprise that transcends the whims of any single algorithm or platform.

In 2024 and beyond, the path to enduring success as a writer may well involve embracing the paradox of Medium – harnessing its potential for viral exposure while simultaneously building a resilient, multi-pronged presence across various channels and revenue streams.

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