Will clap for food: Medium rolls out a payment model for writers based on engagement

August 22, 2017
Category: Tech & Tools

At the beginning of the year, Medium announced a big change: 50 staffers were being laid off as the company shifted away from what founder Ev Williams called the “broken system (of) ad-driven media.”

At the time, it wasn’t clear how the company planned to solve the broken economics of internet publishing. Today, that vision is a little clearer.

This afternoon, Medium announced a new way for creators on Medium to receive money from people who appreciate their work. In a blog post, Medium Head of Product Michael Sippey announced that the company is beginning to give a small group of creators the ability to publish their stories to a members-only section and receive payment based on engagement. Here’s how it works, according to Sippey:

For the creators in the program, each month you will be paid based on the level of engagement your stories get from Medium members. Essentially, we look at the engagement of each individual member (claps being the primary signal) and allocate their monthly subscription fee based on that engagement. This is one of the reasons we love Claps  —  it helps us measure the depth of appreciation that a member has for each individual post. (For our members, we’re excited to give you more meaningful control over the stories you support. The more claps you give a locked post, the more share of your membership fee that author will get.)

The new strategy calls to mind two big questions: How much will creators get paid? And does Medium have enough members to support a community of creators? Through a spokesperson, the company declined to provide specifics on either. But Sippey, who joined Medium in July after the company acquired his “texting-in-public messaging app,” acknowledged that “there is a lot we need to figure out to make this work right.”

These are just the early days of what we consider a grand experiment. 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. There is a lot we need to figure out to make this work right. But we are convinced that by joining forces, we can make a new economic model for quality content. We hope you’ll join us in this experiment.

The most important unit of engagement that Medium will use to determine how much publishers get paid through this program are called “claps.” Introduced by Medium earlier this month, claps are a clicky way for users to show appreciation for content that they like. Readers can give unlimited claps, but the claps are measured relative to the number of claps that a user typically gives, according to Medium.

The philosophy behind claps (explained at length here) gives a behind-the-scenes look at how Medium is rethinking the business that underpins publishing on the internet. Rather than a simple “like,” Medium wanted to give readers a way to express the true depth of their satisfaction for a piece of content. By doing this, Medium hoped to come up with a better representation of actual value than pageviews and unique visitors, which still control the business of internet publishing:

Since day one, Medium has had a goal of measuring value. The problem, as we saw it, with much of the media/web ecosystem is that the things that are measured and optimized for were not necessarily the things that reflected true value to people. For example, a pageview is a pageview, whether it’s a 3-second bounce (clickbait) or a 5-minute, informative story you read to the end. As a result, we got a lot more of the former.

To make its new pay-by-engagement initiative work, Medium needs to get enough people to shell out the $5/per month membership fee. To do that, Medium also announced this afternoon a tweak to its subscription paywall, which was announced in March. The paywall will now be metered, mirroring similar paywalls at The New York Times and The Washington Post, allowing non-members a limited amount of locked stories each month.

Also new today is a rebranding of Medium. The old Medium logo, the three-shaded “M,” has been replaced by a more straightforward “wordmark” consisting of the company’s name. That change will be accompanied by a new, expanded, color palette that’s being rolled out across the company’s portfolio of products. A branding statement from Medium shared with Poynter says the new wordmark and branding system “reflects the unique and dynamic nature of the ideas you can find on Medium without compromising the voices and stories shared.”