I think locking content behind a paywall is an incredibly tired model to begin with.
I like your story because you didn’t simply bash all the new changes, and instead offered cons AND…
Joel Nova

Perhaps, but it is an historically viable and valuable one. Since it costs money to run a publishing house (let us be honest and acknowlegde that Medium is precisely that), they have to get that funding from somewhere. You really have few choices and each makes a bold statement.

  1. Make the readers the product. This means advertising sprinkled liberally about the articles. Talk about a tired model.
  2. Make the publishing platform the product. This means charging the writers. Historically this has been the primary thrust of funding a publishing house.
  3. Make access to the content the product. This means you pay for membership and have a “paywall”. This is also an historically effective model.

These are the fundamental options, with nearly everything else being a variation of the above or a pipe dream. Curiously, models two and three were never proven to not work and their effectiveness established the footprint and reach now lamented as missing.

And, no, the Internet didn’t change any of that. What did change is that a) people demanded free content, b) cheaper content means lower quality, and c) lower quality means demanding it be cheaper.

Essentially publishing was commoditized or, as some like to say, “democratized”. What has been lost is that the actual act of publishing really involved a lot more than making the work available. There was quality control. The more you read on the Internet, the more you realize there isn’t much quality control any more. From inexcusable misspellings, poor vocabulary choices, and factually incorrect assertions in news to deliberately wrongheaded notions and ignorance in “personal reporting”, the fact that the overall quality is low is blindingly obvious.

Clapping, or even hitting a recommend button is a poor attempt at trying to replace quality control. Any similar mechanism suffers the same fate — witness the atrocities written on Facebook that get “a lot of likes”. It rewards poor quality emotional pleas over high quality intelligent pieces. Why?

Because clapping or recommending is monetarily free.

If we want higher quality in online writing, we need to actually reward those who produce quality content. Because real life is full of things not being free (nothing truly is), and because quality writing takes time and intelligence, and often research, the way to get more of it is to pay for it.

Say, for example, each clap actually triggered monetary payment from you to the author. Then you’d have something valuable. Say, for example, Medium let you assign a monetary value (with certain minimums) to each clap you make, and they as publisher get a cut. Then multiple claps make business sense, and would serve to boost the actual reward for the author, thus encouraging and aiding them to spend more time producing quality work.

Additionally the visuals for a non-author would count only a single clap from an individual. So if I gave 10 claps to a piece at 10 cents each, the author would get a dollar (minus Medium’s cut), but the article would only show one “clap”.

That is a change I could get behind. Maybe you go with a default of, say ten cents each, thus capping an article at default of $5.00. Perhaps of that Medium takes in 20% (gotta consider the processing fees they have to pay, for example). Then an additional avenue would, I think, be beneficial.

In addition to claps equating to paying the author, perhaps authors would benefit from being able to mark an article as behind a paywall with a price of their choosing. This would leverage the infrastructure and provide an avenue for quality writers to say “I think this piece is worth this much, minimum”. To make this work well you’d need to improve the reputation aspect of claps and show an author’s stats on them.

For example it might be useful to know when looking at a prospective piece, how many individuals paid for the author’s work, what is their average, their 90th percentile, etc.. I’d also probably toy with having the private content have a singular recommend count that a) did not cost the reader more money and b) make that count for each private article available. When combined with their “open” writings people would be much better informed about whether they want to consider paying a given amount for the priced content.

It would also represent an actual funding model that is based on historical reality rather than “Internetz must be free, figure it out later” model that is truly tired. It would also put a lot more meaning behind the hearts or claps. Which is something that the “up to 50 times” aspect removes. Going from zero or one to 50 possible devalues the clapping. It is essentially recommendation inflation.

Paying for content you read is actually beneficial to the reader as well. When you pay for content you pay more attention, and you care more about whether it is worth it. The price of the content is a proxy for your time. This is why places like Facebook are such cesspools: there is no perceived cost to reading the dribble, and none to putting it out there. If you realize the mantra “Ninety percent of everything is crap”, it rapidly becomes apparent that Facebook holds the lion’s share of that 90%.

The “trending” feed would benefit, leading to benefiting the reader. Particularly with “The Clap Inflation”, trending based on meaningless claps or some Medium employee’s opinion is really just a popularity contest in the former case and “letters to the editor” in the latter. However if, instead, it was based on the money earned by the piece, it would be more akin to the Best Seller Lists. Knowing people are putting their hard earned money into something is a much stronger signal that it may have value to you.