Sam Holstein

The New Medium Partner Program Changes Are Awesome

The New Medium Partner Program Changes Are Awesome

Medium announced some changes to the Medium Partner Program today. They are, for the most part, completely awesome.

Allow me to quickly summarize them here:

  1. Writers can now refer readers. If a reader signs up for a Medium membership with your referral code, you get 50% of their membership payment (minus payment processing fees). That’s $2 a month for every reader you refer.
  2. There are now minimum requirements to join the MPP. You need at least 100 followers and one published story. Current MPP members who don’t meet the requirements have until 2021 to meet the requirements or they will be removed from the program.
  3. You must stay active to stay in the MPP. If you are enrolled in the MPP but haven’t published in 6 months or more, Medium reserves the right to disenroll you from the MPP.
  4. They will implement a minimum payment soon. To get paid from the MPP, you need to make at least $10. If your MPP balance doesn’t reach $10, they will roll over the balance to the next month. You won’t lose the money, but you will have to wait a little longer.

Most of Medium’s attention in the announcement went toward the new reader referral structure, and that’s what most people are most excited about, but I actually care about it the least. I think it may even become problematic down the road. I’ll discuss possible pitfalls at the end of this article.

What I love, love, love are the new MPP eligibility requirements.

The New Partner Program Eligibility Requirements

When I first read the announcement, I glossed over the new eligibility requirements. After all, they don’t affect me. All I thought was “Man, that’s a bummer for new writers!”

But then I realized they are not a bummer for new writers, not really, and they affect me (and other active Medium writers) a whole hell of a lot.

For every MPP member, Medium has to…

  1. Calculate monthly earnings (done automatically, but still requires processing power)
  2. Disburse payouts (done automatically, but payouts incur transfer fees on Medium’s side and, of course, costs Medium money).

Nearly every Medium member is a member of the MPP right now, but most of those MPP members aren’t writing or earning. Remember the statistic that only 7% of writers on Medium earn more than $100? I’ll bet a double-digit percentage of them earn less than $5 each month. But regardless, Medium calculates their earnings, pays the payment processing fees, and disburses payments every month.

I don’t know what their payment processing fees are, but for payments of $1 to $5 a month, they probably represent a painfully large fraction of the payment itself. Even the mere act of calculating the earnings of so many writers probably has an impact on their server costs. When you run a business serving millions of users, server costs and payment processing fees can add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars each month. So while these are small amounts for the members, they are not a small amount for Medium.

Imposing an eligibility requirement of 100 followers will eliminate a staggering number of low-earning, low-activity writers from the program — and save Medium big bucks on paying the costs associated with serving these accounts. Further, imposing a minimum payment amount of $10 ensures the remaining low-earning accounts don’t continue to crush Medium with overhead costs as well.

These are tiny amounts for the MPP writers who will lose partnership, but taken together, they probably represent a sizable bottom-line gain for Medium. The writers who lose access to membership won’t miss the money, but Medium will appreciate having it back.

Remember when Medium laid off a bunch of staff writers in May? Whatever you may think about the ethics of that business decision, the June, July, and August payment bonuses have shown us that when Medium has money to spare, they reward their writers with it.

When Medium saves money by not servicing low-activity MPP accounts, active writers like you and I see our MPP payments rise every month. That’s great news.

But wait! It gets even better!

Everyone who’s kicked off the MPP will see their stories revert to unlocked. Visitors from all over the internet will be able to read them without paying a dime — and without cutting into their 3-locked-stories-a-month limit.

Visitors who can read more stories means visitors who are more likely to read your stories and mine. Visitors more likely to read quality work by active Medium writers are visitors more likely to become subscribers, meaning more money in the system, meaning more money for you and I… you get the picture.

Not only will we writers likely see more money, but Medium will likely see more platform growth as well, which means we writers will get more readers. Double-whammy. I love it.

But what about new writers?

The cold hard truth is that it’s not that hard to get 100 followers. It may take a month or two, but if you write stories with decent headlines, pick decent photos, and spell-check your work, you’ll gather 100 followers in no time. Those strategies aren’t enough to become a top writer, but they are enough to meet the new eligibility requirements.

Every new writer I’ve ever worked with who’s struggled to gain even 100 followers struggled with these basics. And if you’re struggling with the basics, there’s no way you’d earn more than pennies on the MPP anyway.

All in all, I don’t think these minimum eligibility requirements are difficult to reach at all.

What about writers who meet these requirements but who haven’t written in 6 months?

One of the things Medium said is that if a writer is an MPP member but hasn’t published in six months or more, Medium “may” remove them from the MPP.

We may disable monetization for writers who haven’t published for 6 months or more. We’ll send you a notification before we take any action and share resources to help you get back on track.

Evolving the Partner Program, Medium Blog

On the one hand, that’s great for us as a whole. More unlocked stories means more traffic and more money for the payouts of active writers.

On the other hand, if I’ve written a large backlog (which I have) and then I either voluntarily or involuntarily am not writing anymore, I want to keep earning on my backlog.

I used to be an app developer on Apple’s App Store. I quit development in 2015, but I continued earning decreasing amounts on my app portfolio until 2018, when the payments from Apple were finally so small they weren’t worth it for me and I closed the account. For those three years, I benefitted immensely from earning on app royalties even if I was no longer actively developing. I would hate to deprive Medium writers of a similar opportunity to continue to profit from their own hard work.

But Medium did say may disable. Maybe they will only disable earnings on inactive writers if those inactive writers are earning small amounts or their traffic has fallen off a cliff.

How will they enforce this policy? Time will tell.

The Reader Referral Program

It’s early, but everyone seems to love this announcement. I don’t totally hate it, but I don’t love it as enthusiastically as some other people.

I see why they did it. It’s a good business choice. I wondered why they didn’t do it earlier, actually. Medium has always struggled to grow its platform, and referral programs are a killer way to drive growth. With all the money they’re saving on the new eligibility requirements, they can afford to pay people a ridiculous 50% commission on new writers they bring in.

There are a lot of writers here who are kind of small writers on Medium but big internet personalities elsewhere — plenty of Instagrammers, YouTubers, and other people have low-traffic Medium blogs. The prospect of earning money for referrals will surely inspire these people to return to Medium and drive reader subscriptions, which will be good for writers like you and I, because more subscribed readers means more people reading our work.

On the other hand, the incentives seem tilted against writers in the long term.

Say you have a reading, paying Medium member, Writer Susan, and Writer Dave.

  1. Susan refers the member. Susan now receives 50% of their membership fee. The member reads Susan’s work for a while and Susan gets both her cut from the referral and her share of the read-time earnings. Great for Susan!
  2. The member loses interest in Susan’s work. They become a regular reader of Dave. They become a fan of Dave. They read all of Dave’s stories and comment on Dave’s work. They email Dave personally. Dave gets practically all of the member’s read-time earnings — but because Susan still gets her 50% share of the referral fee, that means Dave’s only getting $2 instead of the $5 he would otherwise be receiving.

Readers don’t normally keep reading the same writers over and over. As we mature and progress through our lives, our interests and reading profiles change. The writers whose work we enjoy most changes. But the referral earnings never reflect this change. Whoever got you to subscribe gets half of the revenue generated from your subscription. Forever.

The people who make the most money in the long run now aren’t necessarily the writers, but the people who are best at recruiting subscribers.

I do know this program will be manipulated by writers like me. I may ask my newsletter subscribers to cancel their memberships and re-sign-up with my referral link once their membership expires. I’m also going to put a permanent line in my newsletter requesting people sign up with my referral link.

My newsletter readers are people who would sign up anyway, so Medium’s not exactly getting new readers from that.

This will line my pocket, which is cool, but that money is just coming from Medium, not from outside the system. Medium will lose money when writers like me do that (and trust me, plenty will).

There Will Be a New Medium Meta About Converting Subscribers

The meta used to be about how to increase your earnings on the MPP. Story after story after story about how to write in a way that games the system and increases your MPP. Most of these stories are written by people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

Now the money-chasers will chase selling readers subscriptions as well. And you know what? With a staggering 50% cut, they may be able to make a handsome sum for themselves.

As a dedicated writer, it kind of grinds my gears that huckster salesmen will be able to make handsome sums as “writers” doing nothing more than repping Medium subscriptions. But I’ll get over it. At least this type of huckster will be helping to grow Medium’s platform at the same time.

I like the referral program. I’ll probably like it even more once it starts making money for me. But a handful of aspects do trouble me. 

I’ll probably get over it once the money starts hitting my bank account.

In Conclusion

I’ve been waiting for about a year (as has everyone else) for Medium to do something that will kick writer earnings back into the stratosphere like they used to be. I can’t say what the future holds, but this is a strong step in the right direction.