Why I’m Going All In On Medium’s Membership Program
In 2012, I read my first blog post ever. It was James Altucher’s ‘How to be THE LUCKIEST GUY ON THE PLANET in 4 Easy Steps.’ In it, he outlined a simple philosophy for life:
My Only Three Goals in Life
A) I want to be happy.
B) I want to eradicate unhappiness in my life.
C) I want every day to be as smooth as possible. No hassles.
Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Thinking about the last point, I wondered what that could potentially look like for me. I didn’t have to dig much deeper, though I did anyway. Whoever finds the time to read a few hours a day, write multiple articles a week, and still get enough sleep is doing fine in my book.
In my young naïveté, I thought a prolific writer’s job was to consistently produce quality work about what he or she cares about. That from good writing, good money would follow.
I could not have been more wrong.
Writer Or Marketer?
I have rearranged letters on a page almost every day for the past 1,000 days. Over a million words into the journey I’ve learned a few things, one of them being that online, every writer starts as a marketer. Like Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is shit, so for readers, it’s a good thing to not have to pay bad writers to learn their craft. The education is free and the curriculum is all about capturing attention.
Yet, once the writer is ready to graduate and make however modest a living, the crowd’s expectations around the status quo, much like our actual schooling model, don’t change. The writer is now at a crossroads: He or she can enter the dangerous jungle of figuring out their own business model, or double down on their skills as a marketer.
In a world of dwindling attention, where everyone always ‘reads a book,’ but hardly anyone ever finishes one, where people pay thousands of dollars to join Mastermind groups, lose weight in 12 easy steps, and get motivated, choosing the path of the marketer is a very tempting option. Content marketing sure has its place. What better way to convince people of your $300/month CRM software tool than to showcase what it can do in thorough guides and then let the product make the sale in a free trial? Medium, however, was never meant to be that place.
Where this choice really gets confusing for the aspiring writer is in that we now also considers marketers to be the better writers. A good marketer can generate more clicks for Forbes than a good writer. A good marketer can clickbait more people on to his email list than a good writer. And a good marketer is more likely to write a New York Times bestseller than a good writer. That’s just wrong.
This isn’t an indication of corrupt marketers, but of a broken system that provides the right people with the wrong incentives. And that’s what Medium wants to address.
Historically, the way we’ve paid writers has switched back and forth between one-off payments and subscriptions for almost 250 years. While it’s not perfect, great journalism has most often been rooted in the stability of predictable, recurring revenue. And at no point in history has great journalism been more important than today.
“The internet is amazingly well tuned to give you what you “want” — whether you want it or not. If you can’t look away from a car crash, it will surmise you want more car crashes and will create them for you. If you can’t stop eating junk food, it will serve you up a platter.
Is it any wonder we’re at a nadir of truth, understanding, and trust in our media?”
Most of us work with our brains, not our bodies, yet we’re adamant on spending little to none of our money on the former, but happy to part with a large chunk of it to take care of latter. Because it feels more immediate. But it’s not.
With its Membership model, Medium isn’t just giving you an affordable solution to bridge this gap and providing an incentive model that aligns writers and readers. It also turns the platform into one of the few magical places where people can fund other people’s dreams.
All revolutions start as minorities, but a few pioneers are already embracing the change. Like Coach Tony, who left behind the world of content marketing, in favor of providing the world’s most trusted advice in self-improvement at Better Humans:
“The culture that Medium is trying to build here represents the pendulum of trust on the Internet swinging back to side of good. […] 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.”
In order to support this mission, I’m now following suit. I choose the path of the writer. From here on out, all of my posts will be part of Medium’s Membership program.
This means you can read a few of my articles for free each month, but once you hit a certain threshold, you have to pay $5/month. It also means there will be no content marketing, no sponsored ads, no calls to action and no hidden sales pitches in my posts. Ever. Lastly, it means I will get paid directly based on how much Members choose to engage with my content, as your $5 fee is split according to whose stories you clap for.
Here are three things I hope to achieve with this change.
Since we’re currently in a period where writer payments are mostly calculated based on one-off page views, there is a huge hole where trust in journalism used to be. It is impossible to restore that trust if I’m stuck in a conflict of interest between eating lunch and bringing you the best information and stories I possibly can.
Inside Medium’s Membership, the article is the product. So it better be the best the writer can muster. When Better Humans changed their guidelines, it forced me to really question my own expertise before talking about a topic. If I didn’t have enough, I’d need to go out and get some more first.
Series like AntiTech are only possible when the writer can trust that they have the time to become the person they need to be to write the piece. In turn, you can trust that what they’ll deliver has a real shot at changing your life for the better.
What direct payments also enable is the vision I first saw when I got into blogs. Writers can be themselves, choose topics, and write what they actually care about, rather than what’s popular.
For example, I’m not a very ‘rah-rah’ motivational guy in real life. I’m an optimist, but a rather realist one at that. But if Elon-Musk-against-the-world-posts are the flavor of the month, I’m out of luck in generating much buzz. Cutting myself lose from that allows me to be creative with less pressure, and in turn you’ll get content you won’t see anywhere else.
I’m not a CEO, world-class performer, or superstar scientist and I don’t want to pretend I am just to hold your attention. I do a little coaching, some self-experimenting, and a lot of writing. What I do well is read, sit, think, and stare at a blank screen.
You let me do that and I’ll surprise you time and again.
While the pressure to write about what ‘works’ is reduced, Medium’s pay-for-performance model increases reader demand for transparency, and rightfully so. You’re more likely to call me out on questionable assumptions and I’m more likely to listen.
I also think this move is a great way to discern who really wants to get paid as a writer and who allows themselves to be pushed into the path of least resistance. My original vision may have been naïve, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seriously pursuing.
Of course I want to be paid to write and paid well. I’d love nothing more than to make myself a public case study for all writers who don’t believe making $10,000/month or more writing about what fascinates you is possible.
At first, I was skeptical about focusing 100% on Members. But I realized that if I’m serious about being a writer, it’s not only a logical choice, it is the only logical choice. I’m excited to write more, write about new topics, and rearrange old words in new ways, all free from the constraints of dealing attention.
I’m sure the path won’t be easy, but I can’t wait for the day that a Medium Membership becomes a no-brainer for the masses. Then again, I’m a hopeless romantic.
Maybe that’s why I chose to be a writer.