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Why Medium’s Writer’s Bonus Was Underwhelming and Should Have Been Fifty Thousand Dollars

Five hundred bucks aren’t enough to motivate this cowboy

Our government-owned electrical utility has a heart of gold. Most of us have endured many more hours than usual at home this last year. A by-product of all that additional time at home is increased electrical bills. Thankfully, our local utility recognized this and generously gave a rebate to all their customers earlier this year.

Great fanfare and hype surrounded the rebate. News stories and tweets touted how their customers would be left with a little more money in their pockets. Eventually, the size of the kickback was announced. For residential customers, the average rebate they would receive was going to be — better sit down for this — four dollars. Four dollars?! Yes, I was being a little facetious about them having a heart of gold. Our electrical utility totally missed the mark with their underwhelming rebate.

It would be an understatement to say that Medium’s recent writer’s bonus was also very underwhelming. What could have been a chance to make a big difference in the lives of their most loyal writers instead entirely missed the mark.

There’s been a lot of fanfare about the bonuses since they were awarded. I’m guessing it’s mostly because the recipients don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. Many of the writers who were fortunate enough to receive this little reward have sacrificed much to get where they are. Perhaps a reward of fifty thousand dollars to Medium’s top writers would have been a much better route. Why is this? I’ll share my thoughts in this article by discussing:

  1. How the bonus was a slap in the face to their writers
  2. Why a mega large bonus would shake things up at Medium
  3. What’s the driver behind the bonus

Let’s get started by looking at how the bonus was a slap in the face for Medium’s writers.

Something is always better than nothing

But five hundred dollars today doesn’t get you very far. The writers who received the bonus dedicate many hours each day to the writing process. For some, it’s their full-time gig. Some have quit good-paying jobs to focus on writing. They all work long hours. They’re diligent and faithful in regularly posting content on Medium. I hope for their sake that they are being compensated handsomely for the content they post on Medium. Judging by several of the articles I’ve read, it sounds like they are. So good for them. But five hundred dollars Medium? C’mon man.

Here’s your five hundred dollar reward. < SLAP!> Now get back to work!

The overachievers weren’t the only ones slapped

Medium’s five hundred dollar reward came out of the blue. There was no notice beforehand that a bonus was being handed out. No criteria or requirements were given. It just showed up in the winner’s account one day.

What about all the dedicated writers who didn’t get a piece of the bonus pie? Are they being told they aren’t good enough? Or perhaps their content doesn’t reflect the viewpoints of those handing out the bonus. A lot of questions, not many answers.

Here’s what Medium should have done — given out fewer bonuses but make them life-changing. Also, it would have been great if they had made it clear how to be eligible to receive a bonus. That would shake things up at Medium. Let’s move on to my second point.

Medium’s carrot was too small

If Medium wanted to get people writing, and not just writing but excited to write, they should have up-sized their carrot. Take that five hundred dollar bonus and multiply it by one hundred. Make the bonus fifty thousand dollars. Given a chance to make a huge difference in their lives, many writers, myself included, would have certainly stepped up their games.

Writers are akin to struggling artists. To have a chance at beating the struggle, a chance at paying off bills, and having some leftover, many of us would have jumped at the opportunity. Of course, the odds of receiving the bonus would have been smaller. But still, there would have been a chance. Also, a huge bonus would have had spin-off benefits. Medium and the winners would benefit, but not only them. All aspiring writers on Medium would benefit.

Handing out big bonuses improves the skills of many writers

Stephen King very clearly says there are two requirements to become a better writer — read more and write more. By dangling a very big carrot Medium would be encouraging their writers to write more. By writing more, Medium’s writers would improve their skills. The quality of Medium as a website increases as a result. And finally, a higher quality website attracts more readers. See — everyone benefits from the fifty thousand dollar bonus.

But I still have a couple of questions that have been plaguing me. Where did the idea of a bonus come from and how did Medium come up with a grand sum of five hundred thousand dollars to hand out? Let’s look at this in my third point — what’s the driver behind the bonus?

Are Medium’s writers being paid what they’re worth?

Medium is a private business and they can do whatever they want. They can compensate their writers as much or as little as they please. But for them to unannounced hand out five hundred thousand dollars? What was the reason behind it? Was the piggy bank too full? Was it tax time and they needed more expenses? It makes me wonder if Medium’s writers are being paid too little for the reads they inspire. I’m not coming at this from a point of bitterness. Honestly. I know I’ve been paid my worth in my short time on Medium.

I’ve earned a total of thirty-nine cents on Medium

I’m pretty proud of it. The fact that anyone reads my writing is an accomplishment for me. But the writers I follow are incredible. They’re very skilled and very good at what they do. I give them all the claps that I can. I truly hope they are earning their worth. Still, I’m left wondering — why the bonuses? Is it a marketing ploy? If you have a theory, I’d love to hear about it. Here’s a thought — what if Medium did the opposite of a big bonus.

How about fifty bucks for one thousand writers?

Would that have been better? Bonus more writers a smaller amount? Some will say yes, others will say no. I think the motivation to write increases exponentially with the size of the reward. Make the reward bigger and exponentially more writers will vie for it. Make the reward smaller and it becomes less appealing. Everyone will have an opinion on which route is better. It’s kind of like choosing what to eat for dessert. If there were six different desserts to choose from, what would you do?

Would you choose a small taste of each sweet treat? Or would you rather a big piece of your favorite? The problem lies in the lack of satisfaction. When choosing a small taste of each dessert, we’re more likely to come away unsatisfied. Dessert time is over but we still want more. Right? However, if you get a big piece of that heavenly delight, there’s a good chance it won’t even be finished. Medium dishes out a small bonus and we writers are left wishing there was a bit more.

Here’s to hoping Medium hits the mark in the future

As much as I don’t agree with how they handled awarding their bonuses, I do hope that it has a positive impact. Medium writers that have shared that they received a bonus have expressed gratitude. If nothing else, their membership is covered for the next ten years. That’s a good way to look at it. Still, it would have been exciting to see a couple of well-deserved individuals come away with fifty thousand.

Bonused or not, we soldier on

We writers will keep writing. Sometimes it’s because we love it. Sometimes it’s because we choose it. Writing is like the electricity in my house — I’m not about to quit writing or cancel our power. As small as the rebate was from the utility company, it won’t change how we use electricity in our house. A larger rebate would have been very nice. Alas, that is how the power company rolls.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I appreciate each of you and I appreciate Medium for creating a platform such as this. To my fellow writers, keep up the good work, and let’s keep improving our craft. Cheers.



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Steve Kehler

Sharing my experience in marketing. To a 2nd grader, a 4th grader is a genius.