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Medium Is Ditching Its Referral Program — Here’s What You Need To Know

  • 8 min read

Medium is tossing out the Referral Program and it’s no loss.

I’m a Medium writer who loves to tell others how unique Medium as a writing platform is.

Not only on Medium but also on Substack, Quora, and YouTube.

As a heavy user of Medium, I also like to talk about the pros and cons of this platform and its latest changes.

A few days ago, I shared a story (Why Many Medium Members Are In Pain — Me Too) about how demotivating Medium’s Referral Program can be when you see your recurring income dipping because so many people are leaving the platform.

photo credit: Kristina God

In August 2021, with its Referral Program (as a way of drawing new readers to Medium) Medium wanted to evolve its Medium Partner Program (MPP) and make it more attractive.

I loved seeing my recruited member stats grow to 33 paying members, but sometime last summer I lost more members than I gained.

Why?

Medium couldn’t keep them!

Yes, you heard that right!

Most authors blamed themselves, but the Referral Program just wasn’t thought out properly.

Read on to learn more.

How Much Money Could You Make Through the Referral Program?

If a reader purchased a Medium subscription through your referral page, you would receive half of that member’s subscription charge for the duration of their membership, minus the customary 2.9% + $0.30 in payment processing fees.

This meant Medium took about 50%.

So, if you referred 100 readers to sign up for a monthly Medium subscription, you would earn $227 each month.

At first glance this sounds awesome, am I right?

But here’s the truth.

Most writers converted zero to no users to subscribers.

Most of my students have 2–10 referred members.

Even I only managed to win 33 in one year.

Of course, there are highly-hyped writers such as Zulie Rane who managed to win +63 referrals in one month…

photo credit: Zulie Rane website

But if you take a closer look at her Stats you’ll see that even a writer with 110K followers and a successful YouTube channel about writing online (primarily Medium) was struggling with winning new referred members!

One Sad Reason Why the Recurring Earnings From the Referral Program Were So Low

At some point, I found out that

  • NOBODY could become a referred member via the mobile app!
  • NOBODY = 50% of Medium’s readership (because 50% are reading via the app.)

I reached out to Medium and they told me:

(Your referral page) is not available via mobile apps!

photo credit: email conversation with Medium’s Help Desk

Throughout the last past two years, several people reached out to me telling me they couldn’t join via my referral link.

It wasn’t a bug.

That’s how Medium wanted it.

Medium’s CEO Tony Stubblebine once commented on a post written by me that if people had already joined the app, they knew about Medium and so the money would go to Medium, not an individual writer.

Medium Remains Tight-Lipped About Its Member Statistics

Back in 2019, Medium had 400,000.

In 2021, they hit 725,000 paid subscribers.

The 725,000 was presumably driven — at least to some extent — by COVID lockdowns.

Since then, Medium has been tight-lipped about its number of members.

With everything getting back to normal, I think the number definitely shrunk — even with us authors promoting Medium’s membership!

Maybe that’s why there were so many Medium job cuts last year and you can’t find any data about the number of paid subscribers.

The Explanation Given by Medium for Discontinuing the Referral Program Is Not Surprising

There were a lot of speculations that the subscriber bounty would probably be dropped soon.

In their official announcement, Medium explains the sunsetting of the Referral Program like this:

1 — it degraded the reading experience — “it made writing and reading on Medium harder, not easier.”

➡️Of course! If you linked to your referral page at the bottom of every story this could be annoying.

2— didn’t provide enough value to authors (Medium didn’t give any further explanation)

➡️ Don’t get this one. They could have made the Program more attractive. What does “value” mean? I think for most it’s money. One way could have been to allow people to become paying members via the app. Another one is to incentivize writers more and not take 50%.

3 — didn’t convert enough new members — “At the end of the day, very few people actually became members through these links.”

➡️Okay… it’s not us. It’s the Medium ecosystem. Many new members felt buyer’s remorse. Buyer’s remorse is a typical psychological phenomenon. You buy something… and then you regret it.

They regret joining the platform because their feed was filled to the brim with sh*tty content that was irrelevant to them. I talked to several of my referred members who left the platform and the reason #1 was: low-quality content and not the type of stories recommended they wanted.

How Will Medium Use the Money Now?

The good news is Medium wants to repurpose the referral budget.

“So we are repurposing that budget to incentivize authors to write for their followers.” Medium

This means, people who will write for their audience and share high-quality stories — especially personal stories, anecdotes, and memories — will get paid more, for instance via Medium’s new Boost system and new earning calculation.

What will happen with my Referral Earnings?

I know that there are some fellow writers who focused on winning referred members. Some even got 100 referred members.

What will happen to them?

Until September 1st you will still get paid for converting readers into paying members.

“Referral bonuses will be honored for all members referred prior to September 1st.” Medium

After that, no new referrals will be counted but you will earn recurring income until you lose every member.

“All member referrals made up until September 1st, 2023 will continue to be honored indefinitely.“ Medium

What Should I Do With My Referral Links?

Until September 1st, you can continue to put your referral link at the bottom of your stories or other socials to win more referred members and earn recurring income from it.

Medium will keep your personal referral page up.

Starting on September 1st, I’d recommend stopping sharing your referral link in your stories, on your socials, or in your short bio.

Deleting Links Across Hundreds of Stories I’ve Written Would Be a Laborious Task…

As far as I’ve concerned, I’ve published 1,700 stories so far.

Deleting links across hundreds of stories I’ve written would be a laborious task and definitely not one I want to do.

However, my tip is to check at least your best-performing stories and remove the link.

Change it and link for instance to your Substack newsletter and ask people to join it.

Why A Default Footer Would Be Awesome

Although Medium won’t send people to 404 pages, I wish we could have a default footer that is added to the bottom of every article.

This way we just have to keep that updated to be accurate across everything we publish.

Otherwise, articles look dated in terms of appearance and defunct call to action.

Especially if you own a publication with hundreds of stories and asked people to join Medium via your referral link.

Bottom Line: It’s No Loss

It’s no surprise that the subscriber bounty will be dropped soon.

As shown, it’s no real loss as most people only had zero to no.

Those who gained a nice number of referred members see a drastic dip in their Stats and felt demotivated because they couldn’t do anything about it. It was Medium’s fault.

By not giving their members what they wanted, Medium lost a lot of paying members after the pandemic and throughout the last past few months.

So it’s no loss.

Hopefully, with Medium’s new way to calculate our earnings (engagement, follower, Boost, and read ratio) people will see more dollars rolling in — without focusing and being dependent on recurring earnings from referrals.

Now is the perfect time to focus on your own work. Your own products and services (e.g. Substack or books) and promote them instead of the brand Medium!

So remove your referral links and use the space for calls to action for your own newsletter, YouTube channel, or eBooks.

© Kristina God

Tell me, what are you thinking about Medium sunsetting its Referral Program? Good news or bad?

➡️ P.S. Have you already heard about Medium’s new Rules?

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