Response to a Question about 100 Medium Posts

The question from Bruno Vilela is:

For the amount of work you’ve put into it, has the amount of value you’ve received — in dollars— been proportional to the value that went to Medium with quality material being pumped into it’s servers over the last 3 years?

I am reading a book called “Who Owns the Future” by Jaron Lanier that argues that the scales are tipped in favor of big servers to a degree that is socially and economically devastating.

The short answer is— no. The long answer is— it’s complicated.

In the sense that any content that goes onto any open-publishing internet-connected network/platform at this point in time will probably make everyone else more money than it will make the creator— do you get paid for your tweets or your Facebook posts?— I have taken an incredible loss by writing this much.

In a very narrow, somewhat juvenile but often practical way of viewing things, time is money and I’ve spent a lot of it here.

I want to be clear, though. I have been a paid professional writer and editor for a decade, and my work can be found in many other places. Medium does pay me for the contributions I make to Cuepoint, and if I were to write for any of the other publications— like Matter or Backchannel, for example— I’m sure I would be paid for that stuff as well. In general, they have been super receptive, super supportive and super open to working with me.

And I also want to mention, before I started writing on Medium, I never met anyone at Medium in my life. I had absolutely no previous relationships with anyone there. And although Cuepoint editor Jonathan Shecter and I have a few mutual friends, prior to us working together, we had never talked before, didn’t know each other, and really just weren’t connected in any serious type of way.

Has Medium gotten richer as more and more content— much of it my own— made its way onto their platform? Sure, but they’ve also spent a ton of money, too. They developed the CMS that the entire thing runs on, put in a lot of other features to try to help writers out and make sure that links actually work when you click on them. That stuff isn’t as cheap as people tend to think it is.

It’s kinda like YouTube. YouTube is this great thing, but the people who make the content there don’t make a ton of money doing it. And a lot of blame gets put on YouTube for that. But, well, hate it to break it you— it costs a LOT of money to keep something like YouTube running.

For what YouTube is, though, it’s remarkably efficient. That efficiency doesn’t come without cost, and it’s maybe worth more than whatever money a person feels they deserve for uploading a video of their cat playing the piano.

But I think, generally speaking, the whole system for getting creators paid is kinda broken, and everyone knows this. However, I’m not an engineer and though I’ve played around in the startup space before, I’m not really an internet entrepreneur— so I’m at the mercy of the market here.

And I’ve been paid for writing that nobody reads, and I’ve been not paid for writing that everyone reads and I’ve been paid for writing that everyone reads and I’ve been not paid for writing that nobody reads.

So, there is no formula for doing this, and I can’t say that sitting around worrying about the money someone else is going to make off of my essays or odd thoughts is really going to help me in the long run. And I’m not sure that real value is something that can be clearly measured in dollars and cents.

At this rate, I probably can’t afford to do this forever— just typing this out made me absolutely ZERO money— but there is value in our exchange here and there is value in us discussing this and there is value in exposing people to it. How that pays off down the line, who knows?

If what I’ve put here is forgotten and Medium, with its multiple servers filled with my writing, goes on and becomes a company with a billion dollar valuation, that’s just life. I suppose I’ll live, and they will too. Much richer than me, sure; but hey, what are ya gonna do?

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.