Medium’s value for indie writers has gone down the toilet

Time for a Medium meta rant.

I’m a digital designer who writes about my freelance experience as a side-project. I’m not a professional wordsmith and don’t write to earn money. I prefer posting all my content for free. My goal is to share knowledge, and nothing more. I’ve been writing for 9 months. I submit my stories to a number of great publications like The Startup, freeCodeCamp, and uxdesign.cc. They’ve helped me build a modest following and the occasional semi-viral article.

All was well in my Medium world. I was enjoying writing, and getting satisfaction from the genuine engagement with my stories. But good things never last.

Medium’s hunt for profit has led them down a path which has suddenly stopped serving me. And I suspect many more writers have similar experiences.

Ever since Medium has been pushing hard for writers to publish everything behind the paywall (or no chance of curation), my stories have tanked. Ever since Medium’s feed has been dominated by stories from their own magazines, publications like OneZero, and member-only articles, my stats have plummeted.

I don’t live and die by stats. I don’t write for popularity — I aim for quality and genuine value. I can afford to do that because I don’t rely on getting paid based on how many people read and like my articles. It’s a yet-to-be-monetised side-gig, and my day-job carries on regardless of how many claps I get here.

I know there’s no rhyme or reason behind what’s popular and what’s not — it’s often what you believe is your worst work that takes off and your best work that languishes. So I’ve learned to ignore the stats and focus on delivering valuable content above all else.

But I don’t write for myself either, otherwise I wouldn’t publish it online. Sharing my experience is only valuable if people read it. So there’s a certain level of satisfaction that will forever be tied to how much engagement a story receives. There’s nothing more deflating than pouring your heart and soul into an in-depth article, only to have it struggle to get 100 views and 5 fans.

Yet that’s precisely what’s happening now. Since Medium’s algorithm and paywall changes, all of my articles barely see the light of day. Every. Single. One.

The ones that do manage to get some views receive them entirely from external sources. On Medium alone, they are distributed exactly…nowhere. It doesn’t even feel like my followers see them anymore. Medium has become a graveyard.

To paywall or not to paywall

I’ve had no choice but to experiment with publishing some of my writing for members-only — even thought it’s against my best interest. So far it’s been a failed experiment. I’ve had no luck with curation (despite content similar to my other stories that have been curated in the past), and no noticeable bump in views or engagement from stories behind the paywall.

Even if it did make a significant difference to the stats, I struggle with accepting that new reality. I want my stories to be widely available, not just for paying members. And many of the publications I contribute to feel the same way.

I’m left with a lose-lose choice. I can continue to publish free content for anyone to read (but nobody sees anymore), which makes my conscience and my publications happy. Or make my writing members-only — for the slim hope of curation — but then many of my potential readers lose access.

Am I the only one who feels Medium has funnelled us into this shitty maze that no longer serves our needs as independent writers?

Publication domination

Medium’s feeds have become less and less personalised with interesting content, and more heavily dominated by stories from their own publications, professional journalists, and super-popular paid stories. Uncovering unique voices and personal interests has become a chore.

What does this mean for smaller publications and independent writers? Where do we fit in now?

I write articles for some of Medium’s most popular publications, with hundreds of thousands of followers each. Yet since these algorithmic changes, even these established publications seem to have been cut out. Stories are getting significantly fewer eyeballs, which means they must be reaching only a small percentage of the publication’s followers.

Why are these publication not up in arms?

Medium wants to create heaps of its own publications, and feature that content above all others (or at least that appears to be where they are headed), which may be a good move to guaranteeing quality and originality of content. They are turning into a content creator as much as a content curator — trying to be the Netflix of writing, I suppose. But regular writers cannot contribute to these in-house publications. As these ivory towers grow, all other publications and independent voices shrink.

It can’t be long before the only things visible are journalism from the big national newspapers, and in-house member-only content.

If that day comes, Medium is dead to me. It feels like it’s already caught a cancer that can’t be reversed.

They justify these changes by saying that payments are up! Writers are earning more than every before! But that’s not why I’m here. That’s not why I write. I want a platform for writing that cares about me more than it cares for its shareholders. I thought Medium was that place. Now I’m not so sure.

I suspect a large number of paid Medium members are writers who want to support the platform. Medium are hunting for ways to further monetise, but if it’s at the cost of all their indie writers, who’s left?

Keri Savoca, Shannon Ashley, Jonathan Greene, Saar Oron⁦⁦👈 — you’ve recently published similar opinions. Am I crazy here, or is Medium alienating a huge core of its most passionate contributors?

Fabricio Teixeira, Dennis Hambeukers, Jamal Nichols, Jyssica Schwartz, Tim Denning, Jeffrey Harris, Tanner Christensen, J. C. McBride, Tiffany Eaton — I’ve been admiring your writing about design, business, and freelancing. Have you noticed some of the same trends affecting your stories on Medium?

Please 👏 clap if you found this valuable, and 👉 follow me for more writing like this, as I unfold 18 years of freelance business knowledge 🔥

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Benek Lisefski

Benek Lisefski

I’m a UX/UI designer from Auckland, New Zealand. Writing about freelancing & business for indie designers & creatives at https://solowork.co