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3 Annoying Problems With the Medium Partner Program 2022 and How to Fix Them

Should they be fixed?


#1 Gaming the system

What does ‘gaming the system’ mean? I’ll give you a couple of examples.

In the distant past, Medium used to pay writers based on claps. The glaring issue with this approach? A clapping-frenzy all over social media outlets like Facebook groups. Claps for claps. I’ll clap if you clap.

Obvious solution: Medium ditched that approach and instead pays writers based on member reading time now.

Present-day problems

A more recent but very similar example? The follower problem.

You need 100 followers to be accepted into the partner program. What happens? The follow-for-a-follow game. I’ll follow backFollow me and I’ll follow you. (Wait, isn’t that a song?)

The fix

Instead of basing the entry on followers and therefore making it completely obvious how to game the system, Medium could base entries on other criteria. I’ll give you a couple of ideas:

  1. Views: Easy solution, right? Instead of followers, use views as the metric for entry into the MPP. For example, how about a minimum of 5000 monthly views to get in?
  2. Reads: An even better solution? Let’s take reads. Views can be hacked or ‘gamed’ as well. Just ask YouTube. There’s a whole market around buying views for YouTube channels. It’s a thing. We don’t want that on MediumReads are a little tougher to crack, as those don’t just mean clicking on a page but actually staying there and performing some measurable actions like scrolling, breaks, time spent on the page, and click events. A minimum of 1000 monthly reads could be the solution.
  3. Member reading time: My favorite of the three is this one. Let’s base it on member reading minutes. These are even harder to hack than reads. YouTube does that too. You need 4000 watch hours to get monetized. How about 10 hours of member reading time for the MPP for example. Why is this preferable over reads? Reads can be external and thus can be hacked too. Member reading time, on the other hand, can only be ‘hacked’ by paying members which will at least put $5 in the writers’ tip jar.

#2 Clickbait

The second issue is one of the most frequently mentioned ones I feel like. Clickbait. I wrote an article about clickbait just recently. Clickbait is generally considered a bad practice. And is discouraged by Medium through their distribution guide which mentiones clickbait as one of their excluding factors.

The problem with clickbait is that it’s hard to pinpoint. I would characterize clickbait as a headline promising something that is not actually covered or answered in the story itself. That’s not always true but it covers most clickbait variations I think.

Wikipedia describes clickbait as follows:

Clickbait is a text or a thumbnail link that is designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow that link […] being typically deceptive, sensationalized, or otherwise misleading.

The fix

Fixing clickbait on a platform like Medium is tough because it requires some human intervention. It’s hardly manageable by an algorithm alone.

One obvious fix for this issue is our responsibility of just not clicking on clickbaity posts. The obvious issue with that? We typically don’t know if a post is clickbait without reading it.

Another fix would be human intervention. Medium would need to scan through many stories and penalize clickbait, for example by not distributing it or even excluding those pieces from the partner program.

They could also give strikes, similar to NewsBreak, whenever they find something clickbaity. And once you get 3 strikes, you’re out of the MPP for a while. Could be a solution, right? Then again, it requires a deep understanding of what clickbait means and it might lead to some vicious email conversations with furious writers.

Do you have an idea to fix the clickbait issue? Should this even be fixed? Or Is clickbait totally fine?


#3 Pay for external views

The most annoying part of the MPP for many writers is the fact that external views are basically useless. In terms of earnings that is. For reach, they’re good. But they don’t pay a dime. This sucks because Medium with its high Domain Authority score of 95 (a metric that helps rank high in search engines) can lead to a ton of external views. I have multiple pieces with thousands of external views.

Screenshot of DA checker by moz — https://moz.com/domain-analysis

The fix

Fixing this problem is tough as it would require Medium to pay a lot of money out of their own pockets if they decided to just pay for external views, for example. They could do that, maybe at a smaller rate than member reads. Vocal Media does it like that.

Another possible solution would be ads. And yes, I can already hear many of you screaming. Ads suck. I agree.

But what if ads were only shown to non-members, meaning external views and free account holders. Members won’t get ads. That could actually drive a few more people to pay for Medium as a nice side effect.

And it would fix our problem. External views would drive in dollars by showing ads. This money could be distributed among the author and Medium via a 50/50 cut or something like this. That way, external views could easily add up to be paying $3–5 per 1000 views like with Google Adsense, or even more.


The bottom line

To recap the three annoying issues with the MPP:

  1. Gaming the system like with the follow-for-a-follow game right now
  2. Clickbaity headlines
  3. The external views

The three solutions to these issues:

  1. Basing the MPP entry on another metric like views, reads, or even better member reading time
  2. Penalizing clickbait and/or giving out strikes
  3. Showing ads to non-members

How do you feel bout these solutions? And what other problems do you see with the MPP right now?

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