We often hear how every industry must disrupt or be disrupted in this progressively digital age. A reluctance to change or innovate is the fastest way to become the next Blockbuster Video.
Ev Williams, CEO of Medium believes the current system no longer works in an online publishing biosphere where content is meant to be king. Earlier, in a blog post, he discussed having to reduce his team by about a third — eliminating 50 jobs, an all-too familiar tale. In describing the current state, he said:
“It’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that.” – Ev Williams CEO of Medium
Mr. Williams, however, also revealed a plan for doing things differently and creating a new model that is more suited to the online ecosystem.
Around the same time, journalist Glenn Greenwald made similar claims against the Washington Post blaming the rise of embellished “fake” news firmly on publications spreading stories that were both sensationalistic and fabricated, while being ‘richly rewarded’ viral stories at the same time.
Deep down we all know the problems, and are finally searching for the antidote to clickbait. Medium recently stated in a blog post
” We firmly believe that quality content needs to be paid for by consumers — not advertisers — so creators can do their best work, and to align the incentives of everyone involved” - Medium
Medium has finally revealed what the new partner program will look like. But it still leaves more questions than answers. Writers on the Medium platform will be able to hide their content behind a paywall for a $5 monthly subscription fee. Medium will divide up these fees and reward writers that have the best engagement with their readers.
Measuring engagement via a virtual clap-o-meter to determine a writer’s compensation is something that will not appeal to everyone. It waits to be seen whether Medium can attract enough members to support this grand experiment and more importantly how much the writers will be paid.
“We are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.” – Medium
When publishing a post, the writers and creators will have the option of making it visible to either everyone, or available only to the platform’s subscribers. For articles behind a paywall, only the first three will be available for free each month.
There is no right answer here of course. Mr. Williams clearly has honorable intentions, however, the problem with rewarding engagement is it tends to encourage writers to spoon feed readers more of exactly what they want to consume, thus producing even more echo chambers and bubbles.
In a world of scripts and bots, it is only a matter of time before scammers learn how to game the system and obtain a cash reward. Anyone that has visited Flickr recently will know what a platform of bots looks like, and it’s certainly nothing to celebrate.
Many will also question the logic of amateur writers or bloggers hiding their content behind a paywall when they are trying to make a name for themselves. For anything to improve however, there does need to be a radical change.
“Imagine a day when anyone with the skills and willingness to put in the effort can write something useful, insightful or moving, and be compensated based on its value to others.” If Medium has anything to do with it, that day is today.” – Medium
It is true that digital media seldom promotes or supports properly researched and thoughtful articles anymore. Editors on some platforms clearly favor click bait titles, top 10 lists and sensationalist headlines that are only designed to secure a viral hit or get the user to buy something. The fact that Medium is at least attempting to navigate around bad media and do something different, should be commended.
The problem that virtual clap-o-meters and algorithms do not address, however, is that no person or platform should have the power to determine what somebody should see or read.
I certainly have first hand experience of this, because whenever my articles are featured or promoted by any of the platforms I publish on (Huff Post, Forbes, LinkedIn, Medium etc), the engagement with the audiences is terrific. When the articles are not featured or promoted, although they still engage well (likes-to-views ratio and the number of comments as a function of views), however, the volume of engagement is sparse, since not as many people get to read the articles. There simply are too many articles floating around the internet so most never get seen.
For someone that is neither a celebrity, or big on social media, or any presence on any television outlet whatsoever, it has taken me three years and over 400 articles across various publications, to have arrived at the point where I tend to get featured or promoted every now and then.
In categories such as tech, digital or leadership, nearly 95% of my articles now get featured or promoted, but until that happens, the posts remain buried in their coffins. It is an excruciating experience for a writer to see her articles completely get lost on the internet. Sometimes, one gets lucky with time, persistence and effort, but often, that’s not the case.
Many platforms are now designed to encourage writers to pay to promote their articles using services such as Facebook Boost or Twitter Advertising. Having posted hundreds of articles on my official Facebook Page that has almost 36,000 followers now, I have no doubt that the ones that receive the most volume of engagement are the ones that I have to pay (sometimes as little as $5) to “Boost” to those that like my page or their friends, or to new target audiences entirely.
I often get the feeling (and this may be untrue, but I feel it regardless) that my articles on my Facebook Page that are not boosted via a paid campaign, end up receiving fewer volume of views, likes or clicks, than if the exact same articles are posted on my personal Facebook profile, despite the fact that nearly all my personal friends on Facebook are also followers on my official Facebook Page.
This makes me wonder if Facebook actually wants me to “pay” to have my articles seen by my Page followers simply because it has provided the process to do so and wants to collect a bit of my money.
In light of this experience, I do question Medium’s new “engagement based payment model” simply because there is so much content buried out there, that if it is not promoted or featured by these platforms either on their own or via a paid boost, it usually remains in the proverbial graveyard, never to ever receive the privilege of engaging with its audiences.
We are a long way from fixing a broken system, but at least we are talking about doing things differently, and that is a step in the right direction.