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Is Medium Selling Our Eyeballs?

  • 5 min read

Medium definitely is a content mill. But it does things differently.

Recently, Top Writer and Medium veteran Tom Kuegler asked Ariel, Director of Publisher Growth from Medium:

“…WHY we need a boost. Substack doesn’t have a boost system. Youtube doesn’t have a boost system. Instagram doesn’t have a boost system. Facebook doesn’t have a boost system. LinkedIn doesn’t have a boost system. TikTok doesn’t have a boost system. They have algorithms that work and give people the content they naturally want and need”

Together with her colleague Buster Benson, Product at Medium, she explained that all these platforms he mentioned do have Boosts: Ads!

As a marketing professional, I know that ad-driven platforms are fighting over our most valuable assets: our attention, our eyeballs, our time, and energy.

We’re just a number.

A view on the Stats Page.

Medium Doesn’t Have Ads (Thank God!)

With its new Boost system, this platform wants to incentivize personal, original stories — no misinformation, baiting, or doom and gloom.

“We want to be an antidote to the engagement-obsessed information economy, so we have to do it differently”, Buster added.

Engagement and Time vs. Quality

Ariel summed Buster’s response up and stated that other platforms are “in the business of selling your eyeballs”.

Medium is not.

It’s not about engagement and time; it’s about high-quality content.

“At Medium, we’re not in the business of selling your eyeballs. Here at Medium, you retain full ownership of your eyeballs. You pay us to ensure we bring you stories that delight your eyeballs (…and your mind).”

This sounds great but is this really true?

What’s True?

Is Medium already a platform for high-quality writing or is this just Medium’s vision?

You’re probably going to hear the phrase “content mill” at some point in your writing career here on Medium.

What exactly are “content mills”?

Online platforms known as “content mills” produce or market large volumes of content.

These businesses rely on volume.

They pay their writers relatively little so they can set low prices or produce a lot of content and turn a huge profit.

Content Mills Are the Writing Industry’s Sweatshops

Consider content mills as the writing industry’s sweatshops.

They don’t pay writers a living wage.

In general, quantity is more important to them than quality.

The ongoing need for new and unique stories has made content mills a very lucrative industry.

Based on this definition Medium definitely is a content mill. Why? Read on!

When You’re Writing on Medium You’re Part of the Internet Publishing Industry

Here are the characteristics of Medium as a content mill:

  • publishes a ton of content by multiple writers — 75M stories to date
  • in general, writers create cheap content
  • publish a lot of content for little money — only 6% earn $100 per month
  • often writers are not experts in their fields
  • there are also a lot of AI-written stories based on poor prompting simply to earn some pennies and pump out tons of content

Medium Is a Content Mill With All Its Cons but Also With All Its Benefits!

Writing for a content mill like Medium also has its benefits.

It offers many opportunities that you often don’t know about.

  • You can build a reputation online
  • You can inspire others
  • You have creative freedom
  • You can write around other commitments
  • You learn to be productive
  • You can earn quick money
  • You learn what your audience wants
  • You can get freelance gigs
  • You can publish your own book or course

Why Medium Needs Human Curation

If you’re reading this and nodding your head, then you probably would agree with me that Medium by definition is a content mill.

I think that’s exactly why Medium needs curation and the Boost in the form of human beings recommending your stories. If they want to become a platform for quality writing based on the mission “write less, add more value”, they need human curation to bring good writing to the surface.

Let’s come back to Tom’s initial question: WHY does Medium need a Boost when others don’t?

Tom Kuegler is referring to the simple model of ad-driven social media platforms that are based on algorithms.

They prioritize which content a user sees in their feed first by the likelihood that they’ll actually want to see it. Sounds good, am I right?

However, often clickbait articles and doom-and-gloom posts win because they get a lot of views and engagement and signal the algorithms: this story is relevant!

In addition, the business model is based on paid ads.

The platforms get paid for showing people relevant ads that make them buy things (they don’t need) in combination with showing them relevant content.

On Medium, the new curation model with the Boost Beta Program is 100% human-driven.

There is no (recommendation) algorithm deciding whether a story will be shown to more people based on specific keywords and engagement metrics.

Why Should an Algorithm Know Better Which Stories Are Worth Pushing?

Tom stated that other platforms “have algorithms that work and give people the content they naturally want and need” Is this true?

Publication editors from the community work together with Medium’s internal Curation Team and Boost high-quality stories.

So Medium’s Boost isn’t ads, it’s good stories.

We as Medium members pay the platform $5 USD to show us the most relevant stories based on our interests — without any distraction or backlinks to other products or services.

Somehow you could also say Medium is *advertising* or *promoting* good stories to us.

With the money we’re paying Medium, the platform rewards Boosted stories with extra views and earnings by pushing those stories into our feeds.

In addition, Medium is rewarding Boost Nominators. If 100% of their recommended stories get Boosted, Nominators can earn up to $900 extra cash.

Here’s what Ariel from Medium says:

“At Medium, we’re not in the business of selling your eyeballs. Here at Medium, you retain full ownership of your eyeballs. You pay us to ensure we bring you stories that delight your eyeballs (…and your mind)”

What Do You Think?


***Learn more about Medium’s Boost and 38 Boosted publications on Medium***

If you enjoy reading stories like these and want to support Kristina as a writer, consider signing up to become a Medium member.

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