Our story and the problems with new media
This article is free. You can read it at any time from any of your devices. You can do so as many times as you want, whenever you want, as long as you have an internet connection.
But it was not free to write this article. Hours were put into researching the topic, building the audience, creating a relationship with the publishers, and managing and selecting the topics. And this was all done before writing the article itself.
But this article is free.
In fact, it is true that most content on the internet is free. We don’t pay for the blogs we read, the videos we watch, the podcasts we listened to. But someone is paying for it.
YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and some blogs, rely on advertisement for monetization, and as a result we are all manipulated by algorithms to buy things. Audiences click on content expecting truth and learning, but end up being persuaded to buy something. This is how most content gets made on the internet in 2018.
“The current system causes increasing amounts of misinformation…and pressure to put out more content more cheaply — depth, originality, or quality be damned. It’s unsustainable and unsatisfying for producers and consumers alike….We need a new model.
Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.”
— Ed Williams, CEO at Medium
Medium differs from most other platforms because it does not have ads. However, the truth is that a big portion of the money made on Medium is still generated through sponsors.
In fact, all the money that this blog ever generated came from cryptocurrency companies that wanted us to write about them. We have always had a love/hate relationship with monetization because we always wondered “Is this adding bias to our articles?” and the answer is that it probably did.
The reality is that we want to have a tight relationship with our audiences much more than with our sponsors, and part of that is monetization. We want to attract people to read our articles, and not companies that want articles written about them.
I was so bothered by this that over the last 6 months I stopped writing articles, quit my job, and instead created a new way to monetize content. Before we get into what we built, let’s talk about content monetization: past, present, and future.
A Brief History of Internet Monetization
20 years before Medium blogs, there were RSS feeds. People could go to websites that effectively allowed them to subscribe through content aggregators. Effectively, you would download a program and that program would ask your subscriptions if they had new content. If they did it would send you a notification, similar to receiving an email.
Articles were free, and this was not out of charity. The internet was very new in 1999, and people did not trust putting their credit cards on it. After all, PayPal was not even existent, and nobody knew how it would develop. This was the beginning of an era of free content.
Around the same time, a search engine company called Google was born, and it had a crazy proposition. It would pair up things that people searched with advertised content that would match what people were searching. The highest bidder would see their content first; and so, a gigantic internet revolution started, and searches were free.
5 years later, a small social project called The Facebook quickly learned that people are eager to share their personal information with other people on their social circles. This information could then be sold to advertisers which would then use it to give ads with an extreme level of demographics customization. Another revolution started, the monetization of social media, and social media was free.
Over the next 13 years, these companies learned everything about us and created artificial intelligence that would target and sell us products at a scale that was hard imagine when it all started. The CEO of Medium (and founder of Twitter) knew the monster we created, and started a blog that would not show ads.
Medium’s mission is a simple one — to create a platform that focuses on quality articles.
Medium and its publishers are not evil corporations taking all the profits away from content creators. In fact, Medium has struggled to monetize so much that a year ago they let go of a third of its staff.
As of today, we are reducing our team by about one third — eliminating 50 jobs, mostly in sales, support, and other business functions. We are also changing our business model to more directly drive the mission we set out on originally.
— Ev Williams, CEO at Medium
If you read a paragraph like that you would assume that this company is failing because people are not using the product. But it may surprise you to discover that this happened while Medium grew the fastest its ever grown.
In terms of momentum, 2016 was our best year yet. Key metrics, such as readers and published posts were up approximately 300% year on year. And we witnessed important stories published on Medium — from world-famous leaders to unknown individuals — on a daily basis.
— Ev Williams
How is it possible to have a company that keeps growing and being used, and yet has to let go of a third of its staff? Those are clear signs that people are not incentivized to pay over the internet.
How can we engage audiences in a way that they are willing to pay for content?
As a consequence of this broken monetization, Medium decided to charge users directly through the Medium Membership program. For $5 you can read unlimited premium articles (free members get 5). Medium then pays creators a fraction of those $5 based on claps from premium members. So if a premium members claps a lot of articles, you only get a small fraction of the $5, while a premium member that barely claps will bring you a larger portion of the money if the few claps he/she gives per month go to you.
Making membership-only articles restricts the visibility of your blog, which means that your audience growth will be severely reduced. So it could be a sacrifice between showing your article to your most loyal fans, and also creating a low visibility post that won’t get you new audience members.
The current state of monetization
I started writing articles a year ago, as cryptocurrencies started exploding. During this time I decided that a blog could be the best way to learn about the topic. There was no expectation to make money, nor was there an intention.
Eventually the blog started gaining more attention and joining more publications. It received the badge of Top of Finance and Top of Investment, which essentially means that people would read out blog for longer than other blogs in those categories.
At some point we started receiving emails from companies offering us about $1,000 USD to write blogs analyzing their consensus protocols, or cryptocurrencies. This was a nice validation for our blog, but also created a real way to make it possible to do weekly posts and analysis.
Let’s put things in perspective. The highest paid blog by Medium was $1,700 and about 90% of stories do not make more than $100. So for us to receive $1,000 USD per blog for a sponsor was just insane.
In fact, we found the following interesting trivia on an article by the writing cooperative:
The top story [on Medium] earned $1,744.21 that month. Against the 180 million stories that were published according to the rough maths above, that means you have 10 times less chance of making $1,744.21 on a story than you have of winning the jackpot on the UK Lottery.
Unfortunately, this meant that sponsors would be able to look and have opinions on our stories, which would heavily affect the truth of the conversation. We explicitly told users which blogs were sponsored, but that was not good enough.
In fact at some point we were writing articles that were either specifically for sponsors, or specifically attractive to new audiences, and pretty much nothing in between.
Truth and content
When people subscribe to blogs / content creators, they do so because they expect high quality content. High quality essentially boils down to being honest and informative. But how can we write something honest and informative when we receive money from sponsors?
More importantly, how can we provide you a better and more dynamic experience. We don’t want you to pay us (or Medium) $5/month because sometimes we will write more articles or less articles, and sometimes you will not like the articles we write.
What if we could create a system where you pay exactly for the stories you want us to write, and we decide together if and when to write them?This is why we started working on Bountey.
Bountey and the future of monetization
All the monetization solutions right now look like this:
- Receive money from sponsors and bias your content
- Ask audiences for monthly payments (or per article) regardless if they want the story
We wanted something that allowed us to:
- Write what our audiences want, not sponsors
- Let our audiences pay for what they want
- Feedback from our audiences about what we should write about
- Rewarding our most loyal fans, without affecting new fans
- Maintaining Visibility without making membership-only content
Why should you give someone a monthly payment, when they may not write anything that month, or what is the incentive for them to write more often than once? That’s clearly a suboptimal.
Bountey is a website where you (and also content creators) can offer ideas to your favorite content creator, and then you and others can deposit money into that suggestion. Content creators can then take the money and execute that suggestion.
Best of ICOs
We want to run an experiment. We want to see what would happen if we asked our readers to vote on the articles we will write. Specifically, to vote by depositing money. We would only take their money when we write the articles they want to read, and only then. It also doubles as a way for us to test the kinds of articles they want to read, and for them to suggest them to us.
For that reason, and from here on, we will post all our ideas for new articles on bountey.com/bestoficos
If you like our content, and would like to help us, please head over to that page and vote to let us know what you think.
We will no longer take money from advertisers, and we want 100% of our payment to come from the things that you want to read, and not from products and things people want to sell to you.
Conclusion — How to make money writing Blogs
You have 4 options:
- Take money from sponsors and try not to become biased
- Use Medium’s partnership and make ~$10 per story
- Ask for money monthly, and charge people like you charge rent
- Take a bet and join Bountey, and let your audience make suggestions
After all, the Medium is the message.
Looking to help?
Support us on Bountey! https://www.bountey.com/bestoficos
Thank you for supporting us.