We learned during the Wells Fargo corruption debacle that stemmed from their bonus structure causing structural racism that we need to think through the ramifications of unrealistic goals and who really gets hurt when mid-level management is pushed beyond their ability to sell.
(of course, we didn’t learn that lesson in time for Microsoft not to set Satya Nadella’s bonus on LinkedIn engagement. Hello LinkedIn Stories and goodbye, employees! Good thing he fired that 1,000 people a few months prior to the announcement of how many millions his bonus will comprise!)
So you’d think that Medium might think through how it’s paying out its incentives.
But Medium doesn’t have a great track record of learning from other people’s mistakes.
When Grammarly wrote their legalese to sound like it required all users’ first born as a blood sacrifice, they did so because US law on what constitutes the written word was penned before server distribution, or really, before memes were the unholy glimmer in 4chan’s and Reddit’s eye.
But Grammarly didn’t warn their users that this rights-self-granting language was merely a work around within a broken system. And so many writers, seemingly unaware that their writing’s value will likely never exceed the value of one new Grammarly user***, ragequit, warning their writer friends that the service was out to steal all the bad poetry and smutty fanfic.
(***Unless their name is Stephen King. I am an average writer. I can attest to how little the average writer makes.)
So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Medium hasn’t learned to think through the long-term implications of their pay structure.
How people make money on Medium
What is the conclusion of every 6 Ways to Maximize Your Medium Income listicle? Publish more often. Write shorter pieces. Do less fact-checking. Just write more crap.
Writers know the pressure to publish more often — it’s a primary reason many of us are here, as traditional journalism outlets demand more and more pieces on ever-shortening deadlines. And now, due to the pay structure and piece-surfacing of Medium, we feel the pressure here, too.
What’s a Medium reader to do?
And as both a writer and a reader, I hate these incentives. When I come across an article that is outright plagiarism or contains incorrect information, I generally have good luck getting it taken down by contacting the non-Medium affiliated editors of the publication that is housing the P.O.S. piece.
Not always, though. After I realized comments and author contact were turned off, I reported this patronizing article about Cassava because although it wasn’t technically incorrect, it was stirring fear about a gluten-free staple many people with a limited diet are forced to rely upon, as well as contributing to the stigma against a rainforest friendly alternative to slash-and-burn. Yes, cassava kills 24 people a year when improperly cooked. But lightning kills 2–6,000 people a year. And cassava is ending starvation and environmental devastation in the poorest regions of the world.
The editor didn’t care that the author was fear mongering. In his reply, he suggested that I write him a pro-cassava piece that he could publish and profit from.
Um, no thank you.
This is why Medium needs to rethink their model. Quantity might beat quality in the short term, but Medium seems to not be considering the long term implications of the pay structure and content surfacing algorithms they’ve created.