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Oct. 10, 2017, noon
Business Models

Starting today, anyone who publishes something on Medium can paywall it

How much they’ll get paid is another question.

Ready to connect your checking account to Medium?

In August, Medium started letting a select group of users — mainly people who’d frequently published content on Medium in the past — put their content behind a paywall. Around the same time, it rolled out a $5/month subscription program that would give paying members access to this paywalled content. Writers are based on engagement, and in the first couple of months of the program, some have reported what seems like surprisingly easy money — making a couple hundred dollars, for instance, on posts that they’d written a long time ago and decided to paywall.

Starting today, we’ll see what the pay is like when anybody can paywall a Medium post. Medium announced on Tuesday that its program for writers is now open to everyone.

When you join the program, you will have the option to publish your story to Medium members only (who pay $5/month) and get paid based on engagement. Your story will still be distributed to your followers, discoverable through search, the Medium home page, and our apps. (Note: We have recently switched our paywall from “no access” to a “metered” one, meaning non-members will still be able to read a limited amount of locked stories each month.) You can lock and unlock any post at any time, and you don’t have to be a paying member to participate. You can learn more about these updates here.

There are some minor content guidelines that you have to follow (no spam-y articles, no requests for donations/claps, etc.) The company also attempts to ban offensive content, though it remains to be seen how strictly this will be enforced and how much appetite Medium has for policing it. (The last one in this list! Yikes!)

The following are not eligible for inclusion as member-only content — posts or accounts that:

— Advocate or promote intolerance or prejudice against individuals or groups, including the use of scientific or pseudo-scientific claims to pathologize, dehumanize, or disempower others
— Gratuitously use profanity or excessively graphic language and images for the purposes of shock or incitement
— Glorify, celebrate, downplay, or trivialize violence, suffering, abuse, or deaths
— Exist mainly to target, shame, intimidate or harass identified, identifiable or anonymous people
— Dox someone, including by exposing personal information or aggregating of public information
— Review businesses or products in an inflammatory or abusive manner
— Consist of unsubstantiated, unverified, or misleading claims and reporting

Now, on to the stuff you’re really interested in. How much are people going to get paid? A few folks who got to participate in the pilot have tweeted about what they received.

The amounts were a lot larger than I would have thought. (I am still looking for a woman who’s tweeted about making $$$ on Medium, by the way.) Two things here. First, I’d been under the impression that Medium was seeding the pool of money out of which writers are paid. CEO Ev Williams seemed to suggest this when I interviewed him at the end of August:

Like any marketplace, we are going to seed it first. Usually, you need to seed supply before you have enough demand, so there’s something for people to come to. In the beginning stages, we’re not limiting the payouts to subscribers. We are investing more than the current amount of subscriber revenue to seed the market.

A Medium spokeswoman insisted to me, however, that all of the money that writers in Medium’s partner program are making is coming from member contributions only. In an email, she told me the following:

— 100% of the money that goes to writers and publishers in the Medium Partner Program comes from members’ monthly $5. Through the Partner Program, eligible content creators can publish stories directly behind our membership paywall to earn money based on the depth of engagement from members.

— For the month of September (the first full month since we expanded the MPP), 83 percent of partners who published at least one member-only story earned money — the average amount earned was $93.65 over the course of the month. The most a single author received for September was $2,279.12, and the most a single publication earned was $1,466.68. The most a single story earned was $1,599.83.

— In addition to the Partner Program, we acquire content that we think members will enjoy, working directly with those writers and publications. This includes some of the more high-profile writers publishing behind the membership paywall, as well as the leading publishers curating ad-free selections for members. This is the “seed” of additional funds that Ev was referring to.

Second thing: To be making these amounts of money, the successful posts have to be achieving a fair amount of visibility within the platform, and it’s not entirely clear how that happens.

Whether or not Medium is throwing in, a likely consequence of today’s announcement is that author payments are going to get much smaller; nothing has happened to increase the number of paying Medium members, so their money will have to be spread farther. (Yeah, Medium’s doing various things to entice them — including a news publisher partner program that I’ll write more about later this week — but it’s nothing that’ll move the needle that much in the short term.) Medium wouldn’t tell me how many paying members it has, though a spokeswoman said “early signs indicate that content is converting readers.” At the ONA conference in Washington, DC, last week, Note to Self host Manoush Zomorodi, as part of a keynote with Williams, asked the audience how many people are paying Medium members; a few hands went up.

“Whoever is paying for things, ultimately, is the one most benefiting from them,” Williams said in the same keynote, a line I’ve been puzzling over since.

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Oct. 10, 2017, noon
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