Monetizing Medium

I’ve seemingly gone on a writing spree about monetization lately which doesn’t really fit into the Austin Startups theme. However, while the culture of California startups has always been to scale first, then monetize; Texas’ startup culture is money first, then scale. So there’s my reasoning with seasoning.

Blogging platforms, what a hell of a hard business to make money in. The internet’s very first offering was the dissemination of free information via text. Anyone could write anything. Bulletin boards, forums, chat rooms, then eventually personal publications. I still remember tinkering for hours with Greymatter then pMachine back in college building sites that didn’t really have content, I just liked the building part.

Then came the explosion of personal expression via your own brand with hosted blogs. There was no building of infrastructure necessary, just create an account and write your thoughts. The internet became one big opinion section where Google and Facebook made all the money in the distribution, but never helped in the creation or printing. Now the creators and printers of this content have no idea how to go about making any money.

There are a few truths to be self-evident

  1. People are willing to pay for great content
  2. People REALLY REALLY want great content
  3. Surfacing great content is hard

The answer of monetization lies in the above three facts. Having a runway of five years and spending $132M dollars to think about how to monetize seems truly ridiculous to me. The following idea is not perfect, but I’d be willing to bet that Medium never had a team dedicated to “innovative monetization.”

Vote with Likes and Quarters

Likes and hearts are a default feature of any social product. A new post is born into the internet with a click, then algorithms do their work to show the baby content to people that are likely to be interested. Sometimes the content flops, and sometimes it takes off like a rocket ship. The more likes you have, the more people the network shows the content to. Sometimes content goes viral and we end up with a Chewbacca Mom chatting with Ellen on daytime TV. But what if free hearts and thumbs only lasted for a limited time? All content is created equal until it becomes popular, then the network asks for a quarter for entrance. From there, each quarter is a next-level vote which propels the content further.

If kids paid a quarter 30 years ago to play a video game for a few minutes, surely it seems reasonable that someone would pay a quarter for a great article. I myself have purchased $7 magazines to read a few articles. The annoying part would be arriving at a paywall when all you want to do is read. The paywall fails so often because I am absolutely not going to subscribe to a publication for $7-$15 a month because I happened to think one article might be interesting. I pay $20 for a book, $7 for a magazine, $3 for a newspaper…it’s one article people!

Micropayment Platforms and Credits

Companies like Venmo, Paypal, Square, and Apple Pay already have my bank accounts or credit cards linked up. If I could purchase a $20 credit like a toll pass, then I could very quickly authorize a quarter payment in a few seconds and be along with my thirsty eyes. Medium could even partner up with Square to provide a white labeled version of this that could be embedded into other blogging platforms.

Now if i’m a writer, i’m not likely to get rich off of an article. Far from it. But if I happen to write a couple solid articles a year, I can score several bucks here and there to help pay for my personal consumption of content. This little nugget could even help motivate people with interesting things to say to create moar better content!

The massive gifting of Reddit Gold to and by strangers alone has proved that if people enjoy a piece of content, they will pay for it after the fact (even if it’s just a funny comment). We get our news from so many sources, people simply do not want to drown in $5-$10 subscriptions for Medium to think this is a solid route to take.


Monetizing Medium was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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