Jokes Aside, I Hope Medium’s Clap Micropayment Strategy Works

In late August, Medium, a well-funded media startup on the hunt for a business model, announced that it would divvy up revenue from its membership program based on reader response. The more “claps” that an author picks up, the larger a cut of paying Medium members’ $5 monthly fee they can expect to receive.

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Here’s The Verge on the matter back in August:

A couple weeks ago, Medium replaced its “recommend” feature — a little heart button at the end of each article — with a “clap” button that you can click as many times as you want […]

Now, those claps are actually going to mean something. 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.

The piece goes on to note that the setup certainly feels abnormal and that the payout mechanism is opaque. Fair enough. But I have to admit that I hope Medium figures out something useful with this new experiment. The Internet needs it.

After the Medium news dropped, I opened a cluster of tabs with the intention of writing something serious about the topic. I founded a company with some friends back in the day that did something similar (we hyped, launched, and died in record time), so the topic is near to my heart. And as a regular reader of as much stuff as I can get my face in front of, not to mention a writer who is useless in nearly every other way, I want online writing to make economic sense so that there is more of it.

But time flew by, and I missed the window on getting that piece done. A Chrome crash cycle wiped out my tab cluster and, alas, the moment passed. Until today.

Here’s Some Ads With Your Yext Earnings Report

Yext, a company that we’ve covered here at Crunchbase News a few times, reported earnings yesterday. To gain some more context on its earnings, I did what any other writer would do and researched.

However, to find out why Howard’s company was taking a ding despite strong numbers, I had to riff through the shitty underbelly of online content. To make it through, it was necessary to fend off popups and requests for permissions.

Even though I adblock but unblock liberally, no defense was enough. And then this happened all at once:

That is a request for permissions to send me notifications, an email sign-up request, and some other trash on the right.

Staring at that particular mess, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is where we hoped the Internet would get to by 2017. I doubt it. Who wants 1997-style Internet clutter to be our forever normal?

Enter Medium

The above example — you have your own, I am sure — highlights why I nearly want to wish Medium well. Doing so would break my habit of not wishing companies that have raised $132 million luck, but if Medium can figure out a better way to get more people to help fund journalism and other online writing, I won’t cry.

Even if it isn’t enough to save Medium, per se, or its valuation, the Internet isn’t doing so well, despite some success at publications of the highest profile’s ability to garner large subscriber bases.

Meanwhile, the vaunted hated pivot to video won’t work for most publications. Pushing slightly-related videos that autoplay with sound is anti-reader and will eventually implode as a strategy. It’s also not a move that is led by reader demand.

Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall had the best and most-correct argument on that point:

Is your favorite website laying off staff or ‘pivoting to video’. In most cases, the root cause is not entirely but to a significant degree driven by the platform monopolies – in this case, Google and Facebook – taking a bigger and bigger slice of the advertising dollars. It’s going to their profits and being taken away from publishers who of course are also trying to maximize their profits but do it through paying for journalism.

So that’s not going to last. (Not to mention that video is incredibly hard and expensive. Hi, Felicia.) Presuming that the pivot to video fails, publications that have been happily cutting off their noses to delight ephemeral ad budgets will still have to figure out how to make their online writing make money.

Medium, Pls

If Medium fails to monetize and eventually shuts shop, its demise would just be another startup’s failure. That happens all the time, and it is simply part of the creative destruction that powers what’s next.

But if Medium does manage to grow paying for reading stuff online—especially in a way that could foster new talent, support small publications, and the like—we’d all be better for it. Medium is hardly the first company to try content subscriptions, but as a platisher — remember that word? — it perhaps has a unique shot at financing all sorts of writing.

Or it might not. What’s good is that this question will keep being asked until it is answered. My little company was a quick failure. Medium may be a slow success. But, eventually, there will be a way in which micropayments work for online content.

I tweeted that I had just joined the Medium subscriber pool while writing this and the response was mostly snark. We’ll see.

iStockPhoto / siraanamwong

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