Why We Were the First Publication to Move to 100% Medium Members
Our goal is to publish the world’s most trustworthy writing on human potential and self-improvement.
This giant switch to Membership, along with a few smaller steps, are intended to add trust to the world of human potential and self-improvement.
In our field, the payoff for doing good work is huge. Literally, any successful professional in this field has changed another person’s life.
Unfortunately, there’s also a dark side to self-improvement that preys on people’s hope. The result is that many of you are suspicious that you’re being hoodwinked. I think of all of these suspicious people as a giant missed opportunity. Within that group are thousands and thousands of people whose lives could have been changed if our industry had held itself to a higher standard.
With that in mind, we’ve made a few changes — all with the goal of making Better Humans the most trustworthy publication in our field.
The Article is the Product
(I believe) there is an underlying mission behind Medium’s Membership: to kill content marketing.
The status quo of free articles on the web is that they were probably produced to sell you something. The industry phrase for these articles is ‘content marketing’ and the intent is to either put advertisements in front of your face, or to tempt you to click forward into a sales funnel.
Have you ever been reading an article and had a popup offer to get a free e-book if you sign up for a newsletter? The article in that scenario is content marketing. The e-book is referred to as a lead magnet. The newsletter is most often a ‘drip marketing’ campaign, filled with emails leading up to a sales pitch. In this example, you aren’t a reader; you’re a sales lead.
Even the most well-intentioned authors are corrupted by this world. They’re tweaking their writing to appeal to Google’s search algorithms, editing their headlines to generate viral click bait, changing their endings in order to generate a call-to-action payoff.
The biggest change we’ve made is to fully embrace Medium’s Membership model so that we can abandon the world of content marketing altogether.
In the previous world, we were tempted by these corrupting influences. Our authors were mostly coming from a place of deep expertise. More than half of them are business, behavioral or skill coaches, and they’re sharing real lessons they learned from working with clients. They aren’t scammers.
We used to allow our authors to include little ads at the bottom of their articles. We weren’t paying them, so it only seemed fair that these authors have some way to keep their business going.
That need for you to click onward always created a split loyalty. Were our authors writing an article as a perfectly crafted end product for you to read? Our were they writing a lead-with-value sales pitch that was meant to leave you hungry for their paid product?
Medium’s Membership gave us a way out.
Now, we’re writing for paying readers — and that’s our only goal. Our articles are the product you paid to read. There’s nothing more to sell you.
To be specific about two elements of the Medium Membership:
- You can read a few Medium Membership articles for free every month. After that, you have to pay a $5/month subscription. Lots of publications are doing this now; for example, this is how the website for the New York Times operates. The industry term is Metered Paywall.
- The type of content marketing I described above is banned in the Medium Membership program. Authors can’t sell, write sponsored content, or even beg you to sign up for their email newsletter. I’m fully in support of these rules.
These two changes, which originate with Medium’s Membership program, rip out the marketing side of content. Now you can trust that the article you read is 100% the end product.
All Articles Have to Work
We’re not a motivational site. We don’t operate on headlines that excite you, followed by content that confuses you.
We never want to give you advice that you can’t follow and that doesn’t have an honest chance of working. I’m going to circle around to a practical definition of honest chance in a second.
But first I want to explain how insane the world of personal development writing is.
In the status-quo publishing world, writers get paid for virality and/or upsells.
In the case of virality, the article has to just look appealing. No reader is going to have time to test the advice before the article gets shared all over the internet. That’s how you get obviously untested articles, like “Ben Franklin’s Top Five Productivity Tips.” Here’s the reality check: the author never observed Ben Franklin. And if they’re just basing their post on notes Franklin left behind, then the skeptical reader should look for signs that the author at least tested the advice on themselves.
In the case of upsells, there’s no need for the author to provide complete advice. They are incentivized to stop short and have you click through to their paid product.
We want a reader to know that the article they’re reading is a self-contained vehicle for change. That means the advice is complete, tested, and known to work.
To reach these new goals, we are strict about publishing only authors who demonstrate the source of their expertise. We’ve banned third-hand “book reports” about what famous people supposedly did. Instead, most of our authors are coaches who are giving advice that they’ve tested with dozens of their clients. A few authors are academics. A few more are aggressive personal experimenters. All are being upfront about how they tested their advice.
Additionally, we require that all articles contain complete tutorials. You need to be able to follow the steps in the article — otherwise, all we’ve achieved is to get you excited about a destination without any means to get there.
As part of the switch, we did a huge revision of our style guide to help our authors to write a better article. Two specific style guide sections, ‘Demonstrated Expertise’ and ‘Empathic Tutorials’, give our authors a standard for writing articles that work.
This change is a matter of trust. As a reader, you should trust that the article you are reading could change your life.
There’s one last place that a savvy reader should be watching, and that is about the biases of the editors here.
I know that we bring many of our own biases to the process of selecting articles and guiding authors. I’ll list the ones I know about right here. If you spot any others, you can respond (unlike many people, we actually enjoy spotting new biases).
Here you go — our biases and beliefs:
- The success rate of any human potential advice is low, and that’s okay. Our rule of thumb is to expect a 10% success rate if you start the advice and 75% if you finish (most people won’t bother to finish). Most people will have to try multiple approaches, and so we are biased toward providing many options. More here.
- Good coaching is better than books or classes. In our view, you can read a self-improvement book like a work of fiction. You read and fantasize about who you might become, without ever actually changing. However, a coach is going to quickly become annoying if you aren’t serious about making a change. In our view, coaches are better because they are 100% focused on real change. You’ll see that bias in our selection of authors and in the stories that we tell.
- Although we tend to be science minded, we are also very aware that change requires emotional commitment. We’re biased toward tweaking articles to be more emotionally effective. The most regular tweak is that we try to frame articles positively to achieve a future goal, rather than fix a current failing. Is this manipulative? Yes. Is it manipulative for your own benefit? Yes — that’s what we’re aiming for.
If you want to discuss other potential biases, I’m happy to get into them with you in the responses.
The Pendulum of Trust
Mostly, I’m writing this announcement for the community of productivity, self-improvement, and exercise nuts who are our core audience.
However, I’m also hopeful that some other journalists, authors and publishers will read it and find some inspiration.
The culture that Medium is trying to build here represents the pendulum of trust on the Internet swinging back to side of good. With that in mind, I’ve tried to write about our story, our thought process, and our results.
One obvious-in-retrospect benefit is that this style of writing is more fun. If our authors wanted to write content marketing, they would have chosen careers as marketers. But they chose to be coaches, academics, or passionate hobbyists. This style of writing lets them just be themselves — and that’s a lot more fun.