Years ago, I started writing on a website that a few friends of mine had joined. The site (which no longer exists) paid people for the blogs they posted there. To me, a person who makes their income from freelance writing, it sounded like an exciting thing to try!

While I did not expect that site to replace my existing gigs, it sounded like it had the potential to enable me to earn a bit more money per month. I’d never before seen a website that was not only seeking writers, but also promising the potential of payment for their work. So, I started writing and waited to see what happened.

That site had an interesting way of figuring out how much to pay writers. At first, it paid writers based on how much interaction they received. If I remember correctly, each post had something that functioned similarly to a “like” on a social media platform. Other writers could leave a comment on the posts they especially enjoyed — or the ones they wanted to complain about.

It was never made clear exactly how much a “like” or a comment was worth in terms of real money. All that the writers were told was that the money they would be paid would come from ad revenue. Each writer had to accrue (from memory) $25 before they could cash out. For a brief time, I was easily making $25 a month from a website that I considered a side gig.

But then, things changed. The website owners (for lack of a better word) realized that ad revenue wasn’t working out as they had hoped it would. Writers were now expected to make $50 before they could cash out. The site stopped paying for “likes” on a post, and restricted the ability to leave comments to people who had an account on that site. Outsiders could still read the posts, but the site didn’t pay its writers for those views.

Shortly after this change, the writers on that site were very confused. They immediately noticed a big drop in the amount of money they were earning. The site was, by then, notorious for ignoring questions from the writers. Once in a while, a “high-up” would make a short post that came across as an attempt to pacify the disgruntled writers so they would stay. Comments and questions left on those posts were ignored.

The site that started by actively seeking writers, and proclaiming itself as a place for writers to earn money, changed its tune. The owners were now writing posts in which they snarled at their writers, insisting that their website was “not your job”. The wording on the website eventually changed and it was now posing as a social media site. To me, it felt like the site no longer valued the writers it had been actively trying to attract not that long ago.

After that, there was another controversial change. The owners figured out that ad revenue varied based on what country an ad was posted in. For example, the ads shown to writers who lived in the United States were the most lucrative for the owners. The site owners decided to keep paying that group of writers the same — while significantly cutting the income that writers from other countries earned. The general opinion of this change was that it was unfair.

Things were looking dire. Many posts filled up that website from writers who were publicly disclosing the amount of money they earned each week. All of them showed a downward trend. Others started writing about their missing payment, that should have been sent to them a week ago. More and more writers were struggling to get the site to pay them what they had legitimately earned through the website’s rules.

One day, that website was gone. There was no warning at all.

This caused number of problems. The writers who were owed “back pay” (for lack of a better description) had no means by which to contact the site owners. Writers could no longer connect with other writers from that site. The worst part was that many of the writers, who eventually took to real social media sites to express their dismay, lamented over the loss of their writing.

My inspiration for writing this warning is due to the change that Medium recently made regarding how it will calculate writer earnings. I find the change to be troubling. I know how this story ends, and I’m not looking forward to it.

I got a Medium subscription shortly after I started writing here. At the time, it was my understanding that every writer whose work I “clapped” for received some portion of the money I spent on my subscription. It felt really good to be able to support other writers this way. It felt like a means of support that I had some control over.

The new writer earnings are based on how long a person spends reading a specific Medium post. Medium will calculate earnings based on the reading time of Medium members. It will include reading time from non-members, but not until those non-members buy a Medium subscription.

In short, posting your newest Medium post on social media isn’t going to do you much good unless you happen to have a bunch of avid followers who all have Medium subscriptions. Oh, and those people ideally need to be really slow readers who savor every word in order for Medium to calculate your earnings from the amount of time they stare at your writing.

It feels like Medium is going down, not the exact same road as the website that no longer exists, but a path that isn’t too far from it. It makes me feel sad.

The best advice I can give writers on Medium is to make sure you have a copy of everything you posted here. This advice would be valid whether or not Medium had changed how it calculates earnings. Put your blogs on your personal website. Don’t procrastinate, just in case Medium someday disappears from the internet. I wrote this post after making absolutely sure that all the work I put on Medium is on my personal website.

My plan for 2020 is to remove all of my Medium posts that failed to earn any money. Clearly, Medium does not consider those posts to be of financial value, so I’m certain it won’t care if I delete them from the website. The posts that made some money can stay (for now). As a person who makes a (very small) living as a freelance writer — I can no longer afford to write for free.

This blog was originally posted on Medium on November 29, 2019.

I read this piece of writing on Episode 052 of my Words of Jen podcast.

I Know how this Story Ends is a post written by Jen Thorpe on Book of Jen and is not allowed to be copied to other sites.

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