Medium's made another change. Let's talk.

published5 months ago
7 min read

Good morning Reader,

So - Medium made some changes. On August 1st, they're rolling out the new Medium Partner Program (MPP). Medium's Buster Benson talks all about it here:

Quick reminder: The MPP is how writers get paid. You join the MPP, then every time a Medium member, AKA someone who pays the $5 a month to read unlimited stories on Medium, reads your story, you get a small portion of that membership fee. More members reading your work = more money from the MPP.

BTW: long article coming up. This is going to go through all the changes, my thoughts on the changes, and what I recommend writers do. TL;DR? These changes are 98% positive, with one small fly in the ointment.

I've made this newsletter into a Medium article, so if you'd like to join the convo, scroll to the bottom to post a comment about what you think!

Here's my breakdown:

They're opening up the MPP to 12 more countries.

This is AMAZING. I am SO happy that writers from Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Hungary, India, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates will now earn money for their writing. All writers deserve to get paid! And I'm even more excited that Medium will be rolling out to 50 more countries by the end of the year.

New requirements to join the MPP

Previously, you needed 100 followers to join the MPP. This has always been a positive for me. YouTube has a similar requirement -- I needed 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours before I was allowed to monetize my videos. That took a year to build up, by the way! It made sense that Medium wanted to reward people who took the time to build a community and cut down on the get-rich-quick writers.

However, it was always very easy to spam this requirement. You could just join the follow-for-follow groups, get 100 meaningless followers, and join the MPP with no issue.

Now, they've changed: you don't need 100 followers, but you DO need to become a paying Medium member to join the MPP.

Full disclosure: I was mad about this at first! I have always loved that on Medium, you don't need to pay to play. You can 100% write stories and earn money without needing to pay Medium a penny. Now, new MPP members will need to pay $5 a month before earning any money.

But after chatting with other writers, I've come around to this. It makes sense to me for these reasons:

  1. A community-building mechanism. Now, only people who put into the pot are going to be the ones who can earn money from that pot. If you're not ready to contribute $5 a month to help the platform, Medium, continue its mission and help the other writers on the platform, then maybe you're not the right writer for the platform.
  2. Reward commitment. Remember that YouTube requirement? I had to make so many videos and really learn my craft before I started earning ANY money for it. The result is that YouTube is full of people who are really dedicated to YouTube. It's not just a casual whim to earn a few bucks. If you want to make money on YouTube, you have to dedicate yourself to trying really, really hard. I think adding a paid requirement accomplishes a similar thing on Medium. Now, I think more people who are serious about writing -- who see that $5 as an investment -- will go on the platform.
  3. Spam/AI barrier. Before, it was very easy to get 100 easy followers and churn out AI nonsense (or regular human-written nonsense) and randomly go viral just by accident, or because you wrote something crappy and inflammatory. Now, just by adding a small point of friction, it's harder for people to set up spam/bot systems to crank out content and make money doing it. It's still possible, but it's harder.
  4. It's not mandatory. I have waxed poetic about the many reasons I love Medium, and only one of those reasons is the MPP. I have made friends here. Freelance writing clients have discovered my work here. I have developed a free portfolio of my articles here. I've built a free audience here. In short, I'd be on Medium even if I wasn't part of the MPP. If you aren't sure if you want to pay the $5 a month? You don't know if it's worth it? There's nothing stopping you from just writing a little, in your free time, trying it out, building a community, reaping all the other benefits, and then joining the MPP (and paying the $5 a month) when you see it's a worthwhile tradeoff.

The earnings algorithm is changing

In short: before, if lots of people clicked on your article, it would be more likely to go viral. Viral == money. Now, it's more complicated. Longer read times are rewarded, along with if people who already follow you choose to read that article, and if they clap, highlight, or comment on a piece. You also get an earnings bonus if that article was Boosted (read my article on Boosts here).

Basically, it's now engagement == money, not clicks == money.

This one is VERY exciting to me, personally. For me, I'm always oscillating between writing for my audience -- that is, people like you, reading this newsletter!

But on platforms, you're more encouraged to go viral, breaking containment, and writing articles that reach a LOT of people, who may or may not be the audience you've built up. I call this the audience-algorithm dichotomy.

Ideally, you manage to find a happy medium where you write about stuff you like, that interests your audience AND pops with the algorithm. But it's not always easy.

Since 2020, I'd say, Medium has leaned towards the algo side of things. That is why we've seen so much random, verging-on-clickbait garbage does so well. I'm not going to link to any here, but I'm sure we can all think of examples.

I was part of this problem, by the way! I don't love writing about money, e.g., but that's what performed well for me, so that's what I wrote about.

In short, Medium incentivized high-quantity, low-value articles, because that's the kind of stuff humans tend to click on. It's just what we're like!

It looks like that's changing!

Obviously, it's too soon to say 100%, but it looks like they are going to be rewarding stories that perform well -- that get clicks, AND reads, AND claps and highlights, and even more if you're writing for your audience.

That means you get rewarded for writing articles that your audience, people who follow you. But you also get rewarded for reaching new audiences who react well to the article.

All in all, I'm thrilled to see that the stories I write for YOU, for my readers, are going to do well, and the clickbait stories I used to write to try to make money, are no longer incentivized.

No more referrals

This is the one downside for me. 😢

You know I love the referral program. I love it for two reasons: I feel that it incentivizes community because I am encouraged to get more people to sign up for Medium, which grows the pot for everyone. I also love it because it's a fairly consistent amount of money that I can count on every month.

Welp, it's going away. Those referrals will still earn money as long as the subscriber remains a Medium member, but you won't be able to earn new ones.

Medium says this is because "[I]t didn’t...[draw] new readers to Medium... it made writing and reading on Medium harder, not easier. At the end of the day, very few people actually became members through these links. So we are repurposing that budget to incentivize authors to write for their followers."

Also, one of my favorite writers, Justin Cox, said this: "All of those dumb 'join here' links make Medium look like a pyramid scheme." Which I can kind of understand.


What should you do?

OK, that was a lot of changes! Here's my homework for you:

  1. Read the post yourself. This is mostly my take on Buster's excellent piece. Read it for yourself, and read the accompanying help doc on how earnings are changing.
  2. Read the Boosted guidelines. Every article is Boost-eligible on Medium!
  3. Become a paying Medium member (if you can afford it! If not, continue building your audience for free).
  4. Think about your audience. What do they want from you? How can you give that to them? Where does your expertise shine?
  5. Go through all your old articles that are still getting traffic and drop the Medium referral call to action. As of Sept 1st, they're no good.
  6. Let me know what you think! Pop on over to our Discord and share your thoughts on the #Writing channel! (This link should do the trick if you're struggling to find it: https://discord.com/channels/650503271248691240/1054719077773479946/1131619721557590046)

What you shouldn't do:

  1. Don't try to game the system. Look, Medium is trying hard to incentivize people to just write stuff they care about. I'm sure there are ways you can try to cheat the algorithm but at this point isn't it easier to just... write stuff you care about?
  2. Don't worry about ways other people are going to game the system. I know it's tempting to try to anticipate how other people will try to cheat, but honestly, it's a waste of time. There will always be cheaters. No matter how many obstacles are in their way, there will always be people who prefer to spend three hours devising a way to cheat than one hour just doing the job properly. Instead, focus on what you can control. You can write awesome posts! You can build an audience and get rewarded for it!

All in all, a big number of changes. Many people are often sassy about how much Medium "pivots," but I think Medium pivots just as much as any other social media platform. Medium is just more honest and transparent about when they do it and what they're doing, to their credit.

Here's the link to the article:

This is a friend link, so you don't need to be a paying Medium member to read and comment!

Happy writing!

Zulie

I help beginners make money writing.

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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