Three months ago, I enrolled in the Medium Partner Program. Since then, I’ve received $670.34 in estimated payments for my writing here. And I won’t receive another dime.
Recently, I made the decision to call it quits on the increasingly popular partner program. All my previous stories have been opened up to the public. No more paywall. No more monthly deposit from Medium.
In this post, I’ll unpack what this means, why I decided to go this route, and how you should be thinking about the Partner Program.
Overview of the Partner Program
Whether you know it or not, you’ve already experienced the Partner Program at work. You know the little grey star at the top of certain stories? Those are articles for Medium members only, with a few caveats that we’ll address later.
Just a few of the stories behind Medium’s metered paywall
When you enroll in the Medium Partner Program, you gain the choice to publish stories for members only, which allows you to earn money based on engagement levels.
How does this system work? Currently, Medium uses an algorithm to dish out the payments. The algorithm takes into account factors like reading time and applause before distributing each member’s $5/month subscription out to the writers they engaged with. Simple enough.
What made me buy in
It took some convincing. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of being compensated for my writing, but I was worried that my work wouldn’t reach as many people if I fully committed. Eventually, I caved and decided to go for it. A couple of factors ended up playing a part in this decision.
This idea has been adopted by digital publications everywhere. It’s clear now that people will pay for quality content. The Partner Program is largely an extension of that. Good content should be compensated.
“Our subscription strategy is based on a simple idea: By charging readers directly, we can make the experience and the content better, which creates a no-brainer proposition for anyone who values their time. By eschewing ads, we remove conflicts between serving our readers and serving those paying the bills.” — CEO of Medium, Ev Williams in Words Still Matter
When you publish behind their paywall, Medium provides you with a “friend link” that you can share out and enable anyone that uses it to gain access to the story, whether they are a member or not. This definitely helps, but I didn’t think it was quite enough.
In late February, Medium decided to lower the paywall for Twitter users. This was a big deal. In my experience, it seemed like much of the virality of my posts came from shares on Twitter. I thought that I might get slightly fewer views, but I was pretty gung-ho that this was going to help take care of my worries. Ultimately, it served as the final selling point to go all-in on the Partner Program.
What kept me coming back
When I clicked “publish” and saw that little grey star by the header of my post for the first time, it didn’t feel any different than before. I still enjoyed the act of writing. People were still seeing my work. Everything was largely the same. Then I got my first check from Medium.
Like most writers on Medium, I have a full-time job. A few hundred bucks a month was never going to move the needle for me. For this reason, I wasn’t too worried about a little monetary incentive cannibalizing my practice of writing.
But there was one thing I didn’t account for. I completely underestimated just how gratifying it is to get paid for creative work. It feels incredible to receive something tangible for your writing. Whether this feeling can be attributed to vanity, worthiness, or something else — it’s pretty great. It’s also borderline addicting.
At the end of the day, it feels amazing to get paid for something you created.
By this point, I was drinking the kool-aid. I noticed that my monthly views were definitely down, but between my newsletter (containing “friend links”) and shares on social media, I allowed myself to believe that it wasn’t making a real difference.
But of course, it was. There are thousands of readers that visit Medium every day without memberships and chances are, your work isn’t going to be one of their 3 free articles. This took up a little piece of real estate in the back of my mind for some time. Then one day, I made the call.
Goodbye, Partner Program
I really wanted to believe that the Partner Program was right for me. When I took a step back and reevaluated things, it became clear that it wasn’t. The Partner Program was limiting the impact of my writing.
I realize now that there’s an inherent tradeoff to consider. When you publish for “members only” here on Medium, you are essentially trading impact for monetary gain. Fewer people are going to see your work. Fewer people are going to experience your ideas. That’s just the way it is.
When I removed all of my previous posts from behind the paywall, I saw this happen in real-time. Daily views jumped 3x what I was seeing under the Partner Program. This was all the validation I needed.
For some people out there, this tradeoff makes sense. The Medium Partner Program empowers writers to be easily compensated and for some, even make a living doing what they love. That’s objectively awesome.
But this tradeoff doesn’t make sense for everyone. I’m grateful to be in a place where I’m one of those people. I write to share my ideas with the world. I want my work to be seen by as many people as possible, and I’m willing to leave some money on the table for that to happen.
When you publish for “members only” on Medium, you are trading impact for monetary gain.
I suspect that there are more writers out there like me. Writers that are publishing with that little grey star right now. Writers that might want to think twice about why they write and what’s important to them.
I wrote this article to share my ideas and experience, in the hopes that it provokes thought in someone out there. That it makes a difference for someone, no matter how small. That’s what’s important to me. That’s why it’s not behind a paywall. And that’s why it never will be.
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