I’m paying $5/month for membership right now and, like you, barely reading any members-only content. I mostly stick to the authors, publications, and topics I know I like and peruse new-to-me writers as time allows. So, while I’m paying to support Medium and see how this membership thing goes, I’m not really getting a lot out of it. Thus, this idea is intriguing — a way for the reader to directly reward the writers they enjoy.
However, if I intend to stick to a $5/month budget, that limits me to 5 recommends a month. Now that would make me contemplate more carefully what’s worth recommending. I could willy-nilly recommend all the things I usually would and spend my $5 in one or two days. Or, I could bookmark all my favorite things, wait to the end of the month, and recommend those 5 that really stand out to me. So my overall recommending strategy would change… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think you’re right that recommends would drop in quantity, but be a better reflection of quality (potentially). A part of me feels like I’d end up never recommending anything — not because something isn’t good, but because what if I read 5 really great things tomorrow!?
I think for this to really work, the reward rate would need to be lower. Say, 50 or 25 cents per recommend. Psychologically, its easier to part with smaller amounts of money even if over a month the total amount spent is the same.