Medium vs. Substack: Why You Should Do Both

Pros and cons of each platform (with real numbers!), and the benefit of giving your readers options.

Amy Colleen
9 min readFeb 26, 2024
Photo by Jodie Cook on Unsplash

Unless you’ve been writing under a rock (in which case you’re probably the type of writer to send out handwritten missives to your subscribers, and won’t need the advice included herein) you probably know that a freelance writer trying to make it in a digital world needs an email list.

I actually really wanted to start this with a variant of “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” in a little homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, because it’s fun for me to stick an Austen reference into just about everything I write, but I had to include a disclaimer about the writers who are currently huddled under rocks and thereby acknowledge that this truth is not, in fact, universally acknowledged. Inclusivity is very important.

Okay, let’s talk about the email list thing, though.

In the past few months several friends have reached out to me to ask about how Medium works, and about how Substack works, and if I have any tips for getting started on both. So I thought it might save time to just write up a somewhat-concise explanation of it all for the benefit of the aspiring Online Writer (and, I hope, for the benefit of the perhaps-confused Reader as well). I will publish this piece on both Medium and Substack.

Warning: I try to be concise but I’m packing a lot of information into this post and it’s gonna be long. You might want to bookmark and come back.


You’re looking at it! (If you haven’t yet figured out you’re reading this on Medium, leave a comment that just says “help” and I will seek out some assistance for you forthwith.)

Long long ago in a galaxy far away, any bucolic rube could haphazardly click a link for a story on Medium (it’s how I got started!) and read up to three stories per month absolutely free of charge with no strings attached. Nowadays, you have to create an account to read anything behind the paywall, and that gives some people pause.

I’ll get to the account creation in a moment but let’s give a moment of our time to the paywall. I know paywalls get a bad rap, and I’m sorry to anyone who has been frustrated by that system when trying to read my work. (For what it’s worth, all my stuff is free on Substack! No paywall whatsoever! More on that in a moment.) But the paywall allows people like me (part-time freelancers! Students! Stay-at-home parents with no other job!) to earn a little bit of extra cash from their creativity.

When someone signs up for a paid membership with Medium, they pay either $5 or $15 per month to get unlimited access to every paywalled story on the site. A portion of this membership fee goes to pay the writers who provide humor and pathos and information and poetry and stories and soulless dreck spat out by ChatGPT. (That last one doesn’t deserve a penny from any of you. Just Say No.)

The algorithm used to determine how much money a writer gets is too wondrous for our minds and cannot be dissected by mere human interpretation. It is based on a curious combination of time spent reading, amount of claps given to a story (did you know you can clap up to 50 times? Well, you can!), and comments. In the interest of full disclosure I’ll inform you that with nearly 1500 followers and an average of 300–600 views per boosted story, I earn anywhere from $30-$75 from Medium per month. It’s not exactly paying for retirement, but I think I could safely call it a side hustle.

“Boosted,” by the way, means that a real human editor on Medium selected this particular story for wider distribution (this used to be called “curation” in the olden times) and usually means higher earnings and more readers beyond a writer’s own followers. Only about 2.6% of stories on Medium get boosted every month. This sounds like a shockingly low number but you have to remember that there’s a ton of get-rich-quick schemes, meaningless life-improvement babble, and the aforementioned ChatGPT inanity muddying the waters. If you’re writing well-researched, thoughtful, interesting articles that are being accepted by publication editors, you have a good chance of getting boosted. (Seven out of my ten most recent Medium pieces have been boosted. This one probably won’t be, because it’s a “meta” post about how Medium works and it also may drive traffic away from Medium, which they don’t love. Que sera, sera.)

If you want to read stories for free on Medium, there is still a way to do that! You can create a free account like this. Start by clicking on one of my stories, and you will soon encounter this:

Screenshot by author (using a burner account, lol)

If you want to create an account, you can click through to sign up with your email address. You do not have to enter credit card information if you want a free account. You just have to make sure you scroll alllll the way to the bottom. Here’s a screenshot (it’s not a real link! Don’t try to click it).

See that little link at the bottom that says “or continue with a free account?” It’s that.

Once you’ve created a free account, you’ll be able to access any story that I link to via a Friend Link. (For instance, if you follow a link to a Medium story from my Facebook page, or from Twitter, or from my Substack.) You’ll see this little banner at the top.

When you read via a Friend Link, you can read as many stories as you like. But if you start clicking on related stories that show up as suggestions underneath the friend-linked-post, you’ll be limited to three per month. Use them wisely unless you want to upgrade to a paid subscription! Only publication editors and the author of a piece can generate Friend Links. So if you want to share one of my pieces with a friend who doesn’t have a Medium account… well, you’ll need to hand them your laptop. Or go to Substack.

Speaking of which, let’s go there.


Unlike Medium, which offers an experience similar to reading an online magazine (that has tons of smaller sub-genre magazines contained within), Substack is more like a personal blog, and allows you as a reader to never miss a post from your favorite writers. When you sign up for my Substack, every time I write something new you’ll get the entire piece in your email inbox.

As a writer, if you create your own Substack, you are gathering your own email list of interested readers. On Medium, you can amass followers of both the free and paid variety, and that’s great, but if you decide to leave Medium tomorrow, you’ll lose every single one of those followers (since their readership is tied to Medium as the host site). But since Substack gives you the option of downloading a file of all the email addresses for everyone who signed up to read your work, you can take that list of interested readers anywhere. (Don’t abuse the privilege and start selling people essential oils and Tupperware, though.)

My Substack is free. My Substack will always be free, because I want people to be able to read what I write without feeling like a customer or being held back by a lack of techno-knowledge. I will never require you to pay to access my work. That being said, I am going to launch a “support the writer” option in March 2024 for anyone who wants to contribute to the cost of my college classes. That’s a really cool thing about Substack — you can give people who want to monetarily support you the opportunity to do so, without closing off your work from people who cannot afford or don’t wish to pay to read. Best of both worlds!

(All this info only applies to my Substack though. I can’t speak for other writers who do enforce a paywall.)

Substack is also easy to access. You don’t have to sign up in order to read my work. When you go to, you’ll see this landing page:

…but you can click “no thanks” and proceed without giving Big Brother any of your information.

However, if you’re cool with Big Brother, and with me (I promise I will never sell your email address or use it for evil purposes!) you can enter your email address in that little box and be assured that you will always get an update when I write something new. (I write on Substack 2–3 times per month. And you can delete the emails when they come in if you don’t have time to read them! I’ll never know.) If you aren’t getting those updates, check your “promotions” folder.

You will have to create an account with Substack if you want to comment, but if you’re dying to share your thoughts with me and really don’t want to set up a username or any of that bother, you can just reply to the email containing my article and I’ll get a direct response from you. Don’t abuse that and try to sign me up for essential oils or Tupperware, though.

The other cool thing about Substack is that you can forward articles you like to anyone with an email address, and they won’t need to sign up or pay anything to read what I wrote. Yay!

Why Both?

This part is for writers. If you’re a reader, you can keep scrolling if you like (hey, it tells the Medium algorithm that my work is worth finishing, at least!) but I don’t have anything else that will be particularly helpful for you. Please accept my sincere thanks for reading this far, though. I wish I could give you what my three-year-old calls a “wollipop.”

The reason I publish almost everything I write on both Medium and Substack is because it’s the easiest way to get the best of both worlds. I have a large readership on Medium, a devoted readership on Substack, a chance to earn some decent extra money on Medium, and the potential to make connections on Substack.

I started writing on Medium in 2020. My presence hasn’t grown by anything approximating leaps and bounds, but I have over a thousand followers and that’s no small potatoes. (*Mr. Collins from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice has entered the chat.*) Of those 1.4K followers, maybe 30 of them will read my work semi-regularly. That’s not very many… but since a lot of my work gets boosted, it’s worth it to me to keep writing on Medium in the hopes of letting more people see what I have to say. Plus, with the Partner Program I can earn money anytime a paid member reads my work (whether they follow me or not).

By the way, you do have to be a paid member on Medium to earn with the Partner Program as a writer, and they can explain it better than I can, so I’ll just link you to the official guidelines here.

I started writing on Substack in 2022. I initially began my work there as a strictly defined newsletter that merely collected links to what I’d written elsewhere (mostly Medium!) recently. Since then, I’ve expanded my offerings and made Something Funny, Something True into something more like an essay column (with occasional links to my own and others’ outside work). Though I have a much smaller readership (at the time of this writing I haven’t yet hit 250 subscribers) those readers are all real people, not bots, and they are loyal likers and commenters. Getting eight upvotes (from people who enjoy my writing enough to get it delivered to their email!) on a Substack post warms my heart more than a thousand claps from virtual strangers on Medium.

(Although I’m grateful for all the strangers on Medium too! Please don’t unfollow me. And I’m especially grateful for the erstwhile strangers who have become friends.)

I think that’s all I have to say for now. Please leave a comment if you have any futher questions and I’ll answer to the best of my ability!

“I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on until I am.”

There, I stuck one last Jane Austen quote in before closing. Boom.



Amy Colleen

I read a lot of books & sometimes I’m funny. I aspire to be a novelist, practice at humor & human interest writing, and am very fond of the Oxford comma.