When Medium Promotes its own Publications First
Everything changes for indie writers.
Some time in late June or early July, 2019 Medium executives decided to push their own in-house publications above all other independent content on Medium.
- Views declined by 50–150%
- Combo curations and their frequency were drastically decreased
- Curations no longer scaled stories easily (the boost was reduced)
- Independent or new writers have an even more up-hill road!
- You have to “fight” for every fan and every view that just wasn’t the case before this happened.
What it Meant for Me
I’m all about data transparency. In the Spring of 2019, I would average nearly 300 daily unique fans a day.
Views, Reads and Fans plummeted.
Now, today, nearing the end of Summer, my daily active fans are less than half of what they were in the Spring.
Then & Now: (ouch, Medium!)
I can respect Medium’s pivot to the paywall to help monetize writers. Now certainly they had a plan on how to monetize their own products and end game too. I’m sort of a bit sad to realize what the next phase of this actually is!
I’m really grateful for the opportunity to try and write-behind their app. I gather subscriptions are increasing and 90 million MARs sounds incredible! But just hold on a second!
However, with product placements (book exerts and interviews) on their in-house publications, I’m not seeing how that’s different from advertising and affiliate links. I’m disappointed because it becomes a game of being in the right publications and not the meritocracy I had anticipated.
What am I now supposed to tell new writers I try to help feel empowered on Medium? “Just try to get in their own publications, there you can get a guaranteed commission.” Um, yeah.
I love Medium for readers and writers, but this is not an upgrade of their product. Years ago LinkedIn had tried book marketing with its “pulse” product and it was proven not to work, it didn’t lead to book sales or clicks for authors. It’s not a viable product monetization scheme and, furthermore, it turns off readers and discourages indie writers.
While the summer lull may have impacted our stats globally, I do think changes in curation (curators on holiday) and Medium’s in-house publication strategy have made views a lot harder to come by.
Me? I no longer get curated on the weekend — barely — and when I do get curated on weekdays, it’s in the late evening, and then, only usually once a day. Hopefully, this is just me getting penalized, and not something others are experiencing.
Because of the drastic reduction in views, reads and fans leads to less motivation for new writers.
The work required to achieve ROI isn’t viable any longer with these new rules in place.
This essentially means that new writers to Medium will have to work harder as compared with writers like me who have been writing a lot for nearly two years. If my fans are dwindling, what does it mean for the new writer?
So what happens when your fans and views decrease by more than half?
- It will be harder to scale for new writers compared to Medium vets
- Life-hacking articles (life lessons, self-improvement, self) became back in style, often appearing on the popular section. Pretty much the only kind of content that could compete with in-house self-promoted Medium content.
- My earnings were reduced (by around 35%).
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Where to Now?
This forces a creator to join or die, it’s like a war. You either pivot to the topics that work and to submit in Medium’s own in-house publications, or fail to continue to grow at the rate you were before.
This makes all of your hard work of before a bit moot.
You haven’t changed, but the platform (algorithmic) has.
When my topics like cryptocurrency, blockchain, and technology no longer are thriving on Medium, what should I do?
Should I become a life-hacker as well, as I’ve seen some former blockchain writers? Write self-improvement listicles? Is that where my talent is best used?
Adapting with a Paywall and with In-House Algorithmic Favored Publications
We once had to bite the bullet and get used to working inside the paywall. That took me a while to accept, I guess this next phase will also take me a while. I don’t mean to be difficult, you know.
Now we might need to get used to working with the only publications that really matter now, Medium’s own in-house ones where it keeps hiring people to work in.
- Medium wants to monetize the 90 million monthly active readers for its own content.
- The era of peer-to-peer indie writers orientated towards being creative in their own modes of self-expression is in decline.
- Do you write more to try to cope with the reduced visibility and eyeballs?
- Do you completely change gears and start writing in the topics and styles that seem to work where Medium has molded the product (us)?
Someone like me only still thrives in the occasional business curation, not to mention my curation rate has also plummeted by around 25%. When I witness pieces in OneZero that I write about all the time (ByteDance), I have to wonder.
Somewhere Between Being a Product and a Writing Platform
Are book exerts, interviews or book summaries really what readers want? Medium is supposed to be reader-centric, or so I thought?
I have to take a step back and re-think what it means to be a creator on Medium’s paywall. If I cannot be allowed to be me and write the way I want — if the algorithms and Medium’s product changes to push down a writer like me — then where is the freedom of the experience going?
Medium doesn’t welcome real critiques on its algorithm or system, and the top influencers continue to write about how you have to be authentic, write about your own experience and be vulnerable to make it big here — but what if that’s not the kind of writer I am? Maybe I should have sold out and simply conformed.
Medium claims to be less about the eyeballs from advertising and click-bait but with life-hacking content and book marketing, that’s exactly what it's doing again. And the irony isn’t lost on most of us. I’m mostly trying to write objective op-eds and not subjective essays because that’s what I’m interested in doing.
While I’m super grateful to have Medium in my life — if compromising on my creative spirit is what I have to do in order to thrive here, I may have to write a bit more like everyone else — and a bit less like me. I might have to learn to let go of some of my originality and intent to impact my core audience.