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Let's talk about the new Medium friend tier

Published 5 months ago • 5 min read

Good afternoon Reader,

Medium has recently introduced a new and kind of wild option: instead of paying $5/month for membership, you can choose -- voluntarily! -- to pay $15/month.

Quick reminder: Medium is a free blogging platform. Anyone can join and start writing immediately, for free. To join the Partner Program and get paid for your writing, you have to be a paying Medium member. As a Member, you also get to read unlimited paywalled Medium stories.

You can read the full blog post here:

Does being a Medium Friend earn you more money? No.

Does it get you access to any better publishing or writing features? No.

Does this signal Medium is broke and desperate for cash? Also no.

Being a Medium friend gets you exactly two benefits:

  • A little badge on your profile saying you're a Friend
  • The ability to create "friend links" on any story, allowing anyone you send the link to bypass the paywall. (The logic is that you're contributing 4x more to that reader just by reading their story, which makes up for the fact that you're sharing their work)

So what's the point of the Medium Friend Tier?

The point is to support other writers and to support Medium.

As a Friend of Medium, the authors I read get 4x more money from my membership than as a normal, $5 member.

And whatever is left over goes to Medium. Win-win for someone like me who loves supporting other writers and the platform I write on.

When I checked the comments on Alex's blog post discussing the new tier, I was shocked by the amount of negativity. Ridiculous theories abounded:

  • This was a way for Medium to untransparently grab money
  • This would benefit rich writers only (since they're more likely to have rich friends who can afford the tier?)
  • This would lower earnings for other writers (??)
  • It would be better for people to donate via Ko-Fi or similar -- sure, I'll believe that one when I see that particular commenter subscribing to 15 different Ko-Fis or whatever.
  • That if you're a Friend, you'll somehow get more engagement on your own posts? (Because people would see that you're a rich reader and engage with your content in the hopes that you would engage back??)
  • That's it's nothing but virtue signalling.
  • That Friend-Tier membership is not worth it unless there's something more in it for the subscriber.

I'm not going to break those all down because they are, at best, ridiculous. I'm just going to clear up a few Medium misconceptions and share my thoughts.

This is an opportunity to support Medium and Medium writers.

"This is just a way for Medium to make more money!"

Well, yes. It's not a cash grab in my view, but Medium is a platform. It does not host ads. It needs to make money to continue being a platform.

I love what Medium does for writers: it gives us a place to write with no pressure or distractions. The editor is beautiful and clean. You can use Medium to build an audience, write your blog, grow your readership, all for absolutely nothing.

You can take part in the Medium Membership if you want to earn money through the Medium Partner Program, but that's just one way to make use of Medium.

The Friend tier is a way to support a platform that does that. I personally prefer this model to Meta, X, or any of the other ad-based models.

And if you hate it, you can simply not upgrade.

Most readers on Medium are not writers.

I see this come up so often, normally in the context of beginners wondering what to write about and thinking that the best way to go viral is to write "This is how much I made on Medium"-type posts.

But the truth is the vast majority of readers on Medium have never published a single story.

In the context of the Friend tier, that means that I imagine most people subscribing to the Friend tier are benevolent patrons, not writers hoping to game the system somehow. I subscribed because I was excited, as a reader, to be able to contribute to my favorite authors more.

I also love, as a reader, being able to share friend links to awesome stories like this one that I just read:

Medium operates in good faith -- and you should too.

I find a lot of "devil's advocates" in the comments of blog posts like this one, where Medium announces a change of some kind. People say things like, "Well, I definitely am not going to do this...but don't you think this new tier makes it easier for people to game the system somehow?"

In the case of the Friend tier, detractors are referencing this specific part of the blog post:

"When non-members follow [the Friend] links and bypass the paywall, their read time is factored into the writer’s earnings. This means you can drive more earnings and reach for writers you love by sharing Friend Links to their stories."

I don't think they realize how telling comments like those are. To me, the people writing those comments are the ones trying to game the system.

When I read the post, it did not once cross my mind to try to cheat in some way. I was just excited about being able to help share my favorite articles and support my favorite authors and platform.

(For what it's worth, your monetary contributions to other authors are capped by what you pay for membership. If you pay $5 a month and engage with the work of one other writer, that writer will only ever get that $5 from you, not more. That's the underlying reason the engagement circles don't work. People might as well trade $5 bills.)

Medium has repeatedly proven to me that they have strict measures in place to prevent any kind of system gaming. Even back in October, when there was large-scale organized fraud, Medium caught the fraudsters, openly discussed it with the entire community, and gave the money we were "missing" back to us. This is so rare for a platform! I would love to see anyone mad at Medium for "transparency" try to get answers out of, e.g. YouTube!

Medium has ALSO proven time and time again that the best way for writers to succeed isn't by trying to game engagement. It's not by doing follow-for-follow or clap-for-clap. It's not by writing articles on Medium about Medium.

The best and easiest way to succeed is by writing quality articles for your audience.

So for anyone wondering if the Friend tier is somehow going to cause people to cheat the system, I would genuinely encourage you to take a breath and remember that on Meidum, gaming the system takes more effort than simply focusing on writing well.


Thank you, Reader, for coming to my little Ted talk here.

As you can probably tell, I'm passionate about Medium as a reader and a writer. I have experience with monetization through other creator platforms -- YouTube, which frequently caps earnings for no reason whatsoever; Instagram, which didn't even offer monetization for a long time; TikTok, don't even get me started; AdSense, race to the bottom for SEO spam -- and Medium is by far the best option out there.

Medium IS transparent with us. Obviously, they don't tell us everything, because they're a business with sensitive financials. But compare Medium's messaging with YouTube and see who comes out on top.

Medium IS built for creators to succeed. Compare that with Facebook creators, where Facebook is constantly changing the algorithm without warning, making people pay to reach their followers, and otherwise going to sh*t. (I love Ryan Broderick's take on why "[all Meta creators] eventually end up producing the same anti-culture nothingness that does well on Facebook or Instagram or, now, Threads.")

Of course the platform has its flaws, but I also think the Medium team is genuinely trying its best to improve. I work in good faith on Medium -- writing as best as I can, not trying to game or spam or anything like that -- and in return, I trust that Medium is working in good faith with me.

As a reader and a writer, I think that's the best I can hope for.

Happy writing,

Zulie

I help beginners make money writing.

by Zulie Rane

I went from 0-100k+ with freelance writing in two years. My job is to help you do the same. I offer digital templates, printable starter kits, and ad-free content. Check out my posts below.

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