Medium's Delusional New Claps Model

In January, Medium's Ev Williams declared that the problem is "ad-driven media on the internet."

He claimed that the ad model's dominance is why creators can't earn a living, and why the internet is overrun with junk.

He denounced the influence of corporations, who directly and indirectly fund most of the content we consume "in order to advance their goals."

Ev declared it his mission to save us from this corporate swamp of click-bait with a bold new model that promotes quality and fairly compensates creators.

It takes a special person to set out to improve a business model - and then deliver a solution that's worse than the original problem. But Ev did it.

The Claps Model

Medium has been coy in its presentation of the Claps model - full of lovely ideas, but light on details.

Reading between the lines, Medium's new Claps model is:

  1. Collecting subscription revenue from Medium members (who pay for access to "locked" articles);
  2. Controlling which content owners are allowed to make money (through participation in Medium's Partner Program);
  3. Controlling which content is allowed to make money (by being "locked");
  4. Deciding how much each piece of content will be paid (in Medium's absolute discretion)

Medium's vision is one where Medium stands between readers and creators, deciding who deserves to get paid and how much.

Claps-Based Payments? Not Exactly

Medium creates the misleading impression that writers will in fact be paid according to the claps of paying members:

"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 Verge explains:

"Medium pays authors by dividing up every individual subscriber’s fee between the different articles they’ve read that month. But rather than doing an even division between articles, Medium will weight payments toward whichever articles a subscriber gives the most claps to."

And from Motherboard:

"A spokesperson from Medium said that a person's subscription fee would be proportionally divided according to how many claps it gave out that month. So if you give out one clap each to two articles, the writers of those two posts would each get half of your subscription fee."

And from Inc.:

"The partner program fundamentally changed from Medium-funded writers to member-funded writers. .... Now, all invite-only writers are paid directly by members.
Medium, as a curatorial middleman, is cut out. And this is where it gets interesting. Members "pay" writers with their virtual "applause.""

Sure sounds like if you subscribe to Medium, your $5 will be distributed directly to the articles you value based on your claps, doesn't it?

But that's not how the Claps model actually works.

Medium is the sole decider of the "value" of content, and of payments to creators - Medium says so explicitly:

"you have the chance to receive revenue based on various performance factors, including reader engagement. Based on the performance of a post, Medium will pay you a portion of revenues received by Medium from subscription fees, as determined by Medium.
Medium reserves the right to adjust at any time the factors by which post performance and revenue are determined."

The claps help "measure the value" that readers place on the content...
but Medium is there, ready and willing to intervene in the name of "quality" when the members are wrong about what they value, and how much they value it.

Worse Than Both Subscriptions & Ads

Platform subscriptions traditionally pay out based on objective metrics like time viewed or plays; Medium eschews that quantity-oriented approach in favor of payments based on "value."

If claps were the definitive measure of "value" placed on content by paying members, that would at least be transparent.

Instead, claps are merely one of various unspecified "performance factors." This black-box approach to "rewarding" content based on its "value" cannot be predictable or transparent.

Determinations of value based on anything other than the objective, transparent metrics controlled by members will necessarily reflect the intentions, values, and biases of Medium itself.

By collecting money from readers and exercising absolute discretion in paying it out, Medium becomes exactly what it denounced as the problem:
a corporation funding content in order to advance its own interests.

In trying to fairly "reward" content owners without the challenge of simply pricing content, Medium somehow created a model that is worse than both existing subscription models AND ad-supported models:

  • it lacks the clear rules and predictability of the subscription model;
  • it eliminates the many corporations advancing their many goals, in favor of one corporation advancing its own goals;
  • it pretends that payments are from and controlled by readers, while payments are from and absolutely controlled by Medium.

Worst of all, this distorted, black-box of a "new" business model is wrapped in a pretense of fairness.

Medium Proudly Condemns Content Owners To Serfdom

In its thoughtless zeal, Medium has created a model that is absolutely unsuitable for professionals and businesses.

No creator or publisher can intelligently invest its resources into creating content when the expected revenue is "whatever some employees at Medium think it should be each month."

No creator or publisher can intelligently build an audience on a platform where the ability to monetize is a gift that Medium bestows and takes back as it pleases.

Professional creators and publishers need the ability to make money on predictable terms that they can depend on and plan around.

Medium's bold new Claps model is the opposite: a chance for them to make money on opaque terms that force them to choose between financial success and true autonomy.

Ev Williams's vision of quality condemns creators to perpetual serfdom - though perhaps it is unreasonable to expect a Twitter billionaire to appreciate economic realities.

"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."

That's a beautiful dream and Ev's intentions are surely good... but they don't make up for a bitter reality.


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