Medium’s New “Boost” Strategy Is Doomed To Fail
My long-time readers know that my loyalty to them extends to the platform they read my articles on — Medium. Having been around for over eight years, both as content consumer and creator, I have seen things change a good few times. Change, while humans tend to have an aversion to it, isn’t inherently bad. One could go as far as state that change is more often good than bad, and so far, that has been the case for Medium as well. Until very recently, when Tony announced the new Boost feature.
In eight years on Medium, this is the first time a change genuinely worries me.
Having read the announcement article several times, I have reached a few conclusions, all of which to me sound pretty easy to reach, and entirely within the realm of possibility. I am deliberately trying not to be alarmist, or read more into the latest change than necessary, but even past all that effort, I am left with a very uneasy feeling that this latest direction is taking Medium somewhere it should have never even considered going.
Don’t fix it, if it ain’t broken…
For the most part, Medium is a solid platform. It’s been doing fairly well for years, both writers and readers love it. That said, it always had its flaws. Certain niches always did too well, while others not well enough, but I would not blame Medium, but the readers. Clearly, people are a lot more interested in how to make money overnight than poetry and prose. Doomsday articles that regurgitate the same nonsense every week, using different words also seem to get higher readership than say interesting stories about everyday life or accessibility and diversity. Believe it or not, though, this is a universal case on every platform. That’s why Netflix is doing better than Curiosity Stream or YouTube doing better than Nebula. Nothing new. It has always been the case.
Content creators big and small have figured out over the years how to make money from content. Some exploit their audience, some target their audience, while others, like me and many more, we just focus on the niches that we care about and hope for the best. What’s common among all of us is that we retain control over our success. Yes, it can be extra effort and yes, it’s a slippery slope unless we keep ourselves in check, but the critical aspect of retaining control — full control — remains true.
This is now changing on Medium. As much as Tony would like us to ignore the fact that Medium is partnering up with publications to decide what’s meant to be Boosted and what isn’t, that’s a huge deal, and by far the most uninspired decision I’ve seen the platform’s leadership make in the past eight years.
If it were me, I’d kill all publications, and people would subscribe to lists instead.
The concept of publications, borrowed from traditional media, has no place on a platform like Medium. Its aim should not be to revive the past but to look at the future, and become the YouTube of written content. Publications on Medium have no tangible value, especially not in the layout they exist in, or an increasingly smart-phone centric world. The logistics around publications, the reliance on free labour of so-called editors who are anything but, curation that is entirely up to one’s mood and comprehension of the topic and good taste, is wrong on so many levels that it hurts every living brain-cell in my head.
You’re Overestimating The Value Of Publications And It’s Hurting You
Wanna get real about publications and what they do for your success? Alright. Let’s do it. Let’s get real…
And what does Medium do? It decides to give almost unlimited power over someone’s success, not to the author, but to publications. That’s neither fair nor sustainable. To put it succinctly, a Boosted article is just an article that the right person liked enough to make an argument for it.
You can write the absolute best Pulitzer Prize worthy article, and it will not get Boosted, because there was no one to argue for it getting Boosted.
But you can write a stupid listicle with a clickbait title about x things that supposedly nobody knew only to find the most boring copy-paste bullshit, and get Boosted (true story, but I won’t name and shame). Why? Because Medium does not have editors. Medium has volunteers who think they’re editors, but have no clue about quality content or even the basics of journalism. Those are the platform’s “editors” and “curators” who get to decide what gets Boosted and what doesn’t. Don’t believe me? Check out some of Susie Kearley’s horror stories. She’s being very nice, actually. She says some, I say most Medium “editors” have no business making decisions about other people’s content.
But suppose the platform did have actual editors, an entire army of them. It still wouldn’t be sustainable or scalable. Once you’ve written an article that gets Boosted, you’ll mistakenly think you found the golden formula. I bet you plenty of Medium writers will start selling that formula in bullshit online courses.
Medium Courses Are A Scam!
Use a bit of common sense. It’s cheaper, and you’ll gain a transferable skill.
Except you’ll find that regardless of what you do, no matter how much equally and even better content you throw out there, 90%+ will not get Boosted. Does that mean they’re not as good as the one that did? Nope. It just illustrates the flaws of the Boost system.
If all your content is as high quality as the one that gets Boosted, should they not all get Boosted?
Medium thinks too small
Medium, in the grand scheme of things, is tiny. A frog farting in a bucket would make a bigger noise. But it doesn’t have to be tiny. It could be big, it could be huge, if only it had a brave enough vision. But it doesn’t. Right now, as it stands, with the current direction, I think it’s playing it so safe, it will find itself blown to dust in just a few years.
Based on the information provided by its CEO to the public, the strategy is neither sustainable nor scalable. Most importantly, it’s not fair. It can’t be. According to Tony, established authors don’t have to worry about posting in a publication. But…
What does “established author” even mean? How is it quantified? Nebulous terms with no clear definition are something I usually call bullshit.
There is some evidence to support that articles of authors with as low as 5K followers have been Boosted already. But the same goes for 12K and 100K follower authors too. Does it go down as low as say 1K followers? At what point does one become an established author? I guess, only God and Tony knows, and perhaps the “algorithm” that at this point is probably seriously asking itself existential questions, finding itself bastardised yet again into something it can’t quite identify with.
This Is What Life With 4K Medium Followers Looks Like
The good, the bad, and everything I never really talked about before…
In its current state, Medium is likely in the most chaotic state it has ever been in. It wants to grow, yet it’s crippled by strategies that are tools for the diametral antithesis of that. Every writer eventually has nothing but to lose from the Boost system, and it creates a closed loop where the incentive of getting more readers and writers onto the platform, gradually disappears.
Control, unless you enjoy obscurity, is removed from authors and given to unprofessional editors, funnelled into an extremely tight bottleneck of Medium “curators”, who will eventually just approve anything, only to prove the system is working, turning Boost into what “Distributed” already was — mostly meaningless. Earnings will likely drop, loyal authors, like myself, will find reasons to pack up and leave, and the platform will be precisely where it was a year or two ago, full of new hopefuls to make $5 a month a rave about the Boosts they got that pushed them into the $10 tier! Oh, yeah!
How Much Does Medium Really Pay For 1 Hour Of Read-Time?
By the end of this article, I guarantee you’ll be more confused than ever before…
I can’t deny it, this is the least confident I’ve been in the platform’s direction since its inception in 2012, and true to my brand, I have no problem saying it out loud.
Remains to be seen whether Leader Tony performs just as well as Coach Tony did. For now, I’m skeptical, but time will certainly prove one of us wrong.
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Attila Vago — Software Engineer improving the world one line of code at a time. Cool nerd since forever, writer of codes and blogs. Web accessibility advocate, LEGO fan, vinyl record collector. Loves craft beer! Read my Hello story here! Subscribe and/or become a member for more stories about LEGO, tech, coding and accessibility! For my less regular readers, I also write about random bits and writing.