New Partner Program incentives focus on high-quality human writing

Changes are coming in August to the way we pay writers for great stories and which countries we support. Here’s what’s happening, why, and what it means for you.

Buster Benson
The Medium Blog
Published in
12 min readJul 18, 2023

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Medium is committed to remaining an open platform where anyone and everyone can read and write stories in a beautiful, ad-free interface. Since 2017, we’ve had a revenue share in place — the Medium Partner Program — that allows writers to earn money for their stories. Now, we’re making changes to our Partner Program to take a stronger stance on distributing and rewarding the stories we feel most proud of bringing to our members.

Over the last few years, our members have told us in no uncertain terms that they are tired of clickbait and content mills, want ‘get rich quick’ siloed into a constrained area, don’t want stories that are generated by AI, and, in particular, want to read human stories that deliver actual human wisdom. The rest of the Internet is filled with cheap, attention grabbing content. We are most proud Medium can deliver our members something different. One of the keys to doing that is how we incentivize and reward the authors here.

We’ve also heard from many authors that they don’t like how the Internet incentivizes quantity over quality. They are tired of the creator treadmill. The changes to our incentives below are big, and we hope that they give authors an alternative to the opportunities they get on the rest of the Internet. Tell your story rather than churn out content. Take the time to go deeper, research longer, edit more. We will always be shifting our payment and distribution incentives for this type of writing.

This post is long, so it needs a table of contents

  • Why are we making changes to the Partner Program?
  • What are the changes? When will they happen?
  • Why all this talk about quality?
  • How exactly will my story earnings change?
  • Why are we sunsetting referral bonuses?
  • Takeaways

Why are we making changes to the Partner Program?

Let’s start by clarifying the purpose of the Partner Program:

  • We want to incentivize more original, high-quality personal stories, hidden life wisdom, and deep knowledge that’s locked up in our collective lives. This is ultimately what members tell us they have come to Medium to read about.
  • We don’t want to incentivize attention-grabbing clickbait, formulaic derivative or AI-generated writing, misinformation, hate, and other forms of polarizing negativity.

We want the incentives of the Partner Program to encourage writers to take that extra bit of time to weave more meaning into their stories, to tune those words, to land that ending, to ultimately make the story better for readers.

Here’s the main message: writing fewer stories with more heart and soul poured into them will perform significantly better than the strategy that tends to work on more attention-grabbing platforms (writing lots of stories that are cranked out based on formulas). Great writing is meant to do a lot more than merely grab attention.

What are the changes? When will they happen?

The following changes will roll out August 1, 2023, and the first payout reflecting the new changes will be at the beginning of September.

  • We’re opening up the Partner Program to 9 more countries, with more to come. We want to be as open as possible because everyone has a story to tell. Expanding to more countries has been, by far, the biggest requested change to the Partner Program and we’re very excited to finally be doing this. As of today, we currently support applicants in 33 countries. On August 1st, we are hoping expand the Partner Program to accept applications for these additional 9 countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Hungary, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Malta, and the United Arab Emirates. In the coming months, we plan to open up to another 50 or so. (Oct 5 update: Support for additional countries has been delayed. Details here.)
  • We’re removing the 100 follower requirement. We initially instituted the 100 follower requirement as part of an effort to ensure member-only stories were written by writers that had some track record of writing to engaged audiences. We feel the changes we’re making today will do a much better job of that, without creating an artificial barrier that writers have to cross first.
  • Medium membership will now be a prerequisite for joining the Medium Partner Program. We believe it’s in everyone’s best interest when our writers participate in the member community they’re contributing stories to. The best way to get a feel for the kinds of stories that resonate with members is by being a member. In addition, this requirement creates a barrier for spam and AI-generated activities. Note: existing Partner Program writers will not be required to become members at this time, but if we do add this requirement at some future date, we’ll announce this intention with a generous grace period beforehand.
  • Earnings will be based on more meaningful metrics. We’re keeping member read/listening time in the calculation for earnings (which is the primary signal used in the Partner Program today) AND we’re now going to start including more engagement signals as well: claps, highlights, replies, and follows. For the purposes of earnings, only the first clap/highlight/reply/follow will be counted, and subsequent engagements by the same person won’t increase earnings. Our goal here is to get closer to identifying story quality by looking beyond its ability to grab attention. Sparking a discussion or inspiring highlights and claps are signs that it resonated with the reader in a deeper way. In the other direction, bouncing from a story before reading it for 30 seconds will prevent earnings from accruing from that member. We will also be taking measures to proactively identify and prevent fraud and attempts at gaming this system.
  • Getting Boosted results in both a distribution and earnings bonus. We are committed to incentivizing meaningful, original, constructive stories based on personal experience. Any story is eligible for Boost, regardless of number of followers, name recognition, topic category, or any other heuristic. You don’t have to be a Medium member or be enrolled in the Partner Program to get Boosted. However, when you are in the Partner Program, members-only stories that get Boosted will earn at a higher rate, in addition to receiving the usual distribution bonus. Read more about our Boost criteria here.
  • We’re discouraging clickbait by adjusting earnings based on read ratio. We use read ratio as a measure of how well a story delivers on the expectations of the reader. Going forward, reads and read ratio will be calculated differently than they have in the past. From now on, we will define it as people who read your story for 30 seconds or more divided by total views. You will most likely see your stories have higher read ratios after this update. High read ratios imply that the story’s title and preview accurately represented the content of the story. Low read ratios imply that the title and preview were perhaps a bit clickbaity. A story that gets 100 reads in a day with a 80% read ratio will earn more than a story that has 100 reads and a 20% read ratio, even though they had the same number of reads. We’ve tested the impact of this change on short-form writing (poems, comics, etc) to see if this 30-second constraint would negatively impact them, and the answer is that it doesn’t. If anything, the collective impact of these changes will increase earnings for short-form writing. The best way to maximize earnings here is to use titles, subtitles, and preview images that spark reader interest in a way that the story is able to fully deliver on.
  • Reads and engagements from followers will earn more. We believe that when authors feel connected to their readers, and vice versa, authors weave more nuance and care into a story, which sparks better discussions in the replies, and that all of this ultimately leads to deeper understanding and expression. To that end, we’re giving stories that are read by existing followers an extra bonus in earnings. We recently also added a distribution boost to stories from people you follow, to increase the chances that your stories will be seen by people who follow you.
  • We’re sunsetting the referral bonus program. The follower bonus described above will be replacing the referral bonus program. Over the last couple years we found that this program ended up degrading the reading experience and ultimately didn’t provide enough benefit to authors. More details on this change below.

Why all this talk about quality?

With the Boost Nomination Pilot, an increasingly diverse network of humans is nominating stories in their areas of expertise based on simple, and evolving, distribution guidelines oriented around quality. This Partner Program update builds on top of that by making each engagement on boosted stories earn more as well.

While it may seem like common sense to incentivize the good stuff — well-crafted, original, memorable, nuanced, deep storytelling, and knowledge-sharing — in this intentional way, in practice it’s not as simple as it seems. Many content platforms these days are incentivized to grab as many clicks, eyeballs, and moments of attention as they can. But grabbed attention is not a proxy for “the good stuff.”

Valuing grabbed attention makes sense when you’re in the business of selling as much attention as you can to advertisers. It’s not uncommon to hear this justified as: “It’s what the people want! Just look at the data!” However, we believe that’s a naive and short-sighted perspective. Content platforms make thousands of decisions about what the algorithms are maximized for. But blaming an algorithm doesn’t absolve platforms from the consequences that this approach has had on the quality of our attention and, honestly, on our collective mental health over time. Our members have told us this in many ways: by email, in comments, in surveys, and in the way they vote with their dollars.

When we decided to double down on prioritizing quality above all else it became obvious to us that we need to supplement our algorithm with the discernment and nuance of human curation. Quality is subjective and context-dependent, and requires a deep reading of each specific story. At the same time, we’re also aware that curators often have very narrow, and highly personal, definitions of quality. Scaling curation comes with constraints and costs, and it’s easy to end up relying on a small number of taste-makers and gate-keepers to be the sole arbiters of what counts as “good”. This also isn’t ideal… because bias. To incentivize quality curation at scale the way we’d like to, we need a diverse representation of curators with different kinds of relevant experience.

For all these reasons, our Boost Nomination Pilot is made entirely of people in the Medium community, and is designed to reward topical specialization. We can’t get around bias in any one curator, but by having a wide variety and diversity of curators in every different topic area, we can get closer to representing a broad swath of different perspectives. This approach to curation and recommendations is unique on the Internet. Even in its earliest incarnation, it’s clear that our new approach is successfully delivering stories to our members in a way that they are appreciating, and is generating new opportunities for authors.

How exactly will my story earnings change?

There are four factors that go into earnings in the new system:

  1. Engagement points: This is calculated based on read/listening time, the number of people who clapped, highlighted, and replied to your story, as well as the number of people who followed you for the first time after reading your story.
  2. Follower bonus: A multiplier on top of the engagement points when the member reading your story currently follows you or the publication this story is published in.
  3. Boost bonus: A multiplier of engagement points when the story is Boosted.
  4. Read ratio adjustment: The % of people who read your story for 30 seconds or more on the given day will adjust the value of all the points earned either up or down.

Here’s the logic for calculating daily story earnings:

(Engagement points + Follower bonus + Boost bonus) x Read-through rate adjustment

In order to help illustrate exactly how earnings are calculated for each of those factors, we’ve published a new page in the Help Center that will walk through, step-by-step, how earnings accrue. Read all about it here.

We’ve modeled this new approach to payment calculation across past months. Looking at earnings in June across all authors, the distribution of earnings across authors will not be changing significantly, even though the kinds of stories that earn the most will change significantly. If we look at all authors earning $10 or more, about 65% earned between $10 and $100, 29% earned between $100-$1000, and 6% earned over $1000. When the new Partner Program logic goes into effect, these breakdowns will remain pretty stable, moving only a percent or so in any given bucket.

Applying the new Partner Program logic to the month of June, some of the top earning stories would have been:

Of course, these three examples don’t paint the entire picture of how the new incentives work. But hopefully these examples give you concrete stories to think about.

The average read ratio for stories (using the new read ratio logic described above) is around 70%. Anything at or above 75% is exceptional — this is the average read ratio for the top 100 earnings stories. As a rule of thumb, stories with a read ratio below 65% might want to consider a new title, subtitle, or primary image in order to improve earnings.

We’ve been speaking with a set of writers about these changes over the last few months and showing them how their earnings would change under this new model. One of those writers, Zulie Rane, had this to share, which encapsulates many of the ways we hope this new model encourages writers to do their best and most fulfilling work:

“I’m excited to be monetarily incentivized to write the kinds of stories that I want to write, that are interesting and fun for my existing audience. It looks like that means that my more crowd-pleasing, ‘viral’ ones will earn less, but those were never my favorite stories to write.”

Another writer, Christopher Robin, had this to say:

“It’s encouraging that the new program emphasizes meaningful, quality stories many of us enjoy reading and writing. Embracing the humanity of writing and our unique perspectives can keep us connected in a world that seems more fractured all the time. Boosted stories will earn more, but so will non-Boosted stories that garner plenty of meaningful engagement.”

Why are we sunsetting referral bonuses?

We’re ending the referral bonus program and replacing it (in spirit) with the new follower bonus, outlined above. The primary reason for this change is simple: it didn’t work the way we’d anticipated (as a way of drawing new readers to Medium), and it made writing and reading on Medium harder, not easier. At the end of the day, very few people actually became members through these links. So we are repurposing that budget to incentivize authors to write for their followers.

All member referrals made up until September 1st, 2023 will continue to be honored indefinitely. We will keep your custom referral pages up so that they don’t break your links in stories, but we will stop generating new referrals for members who sign up after September 1st.

Now that all story pages have the Author bio right after the story’s content, we recommend that you put any calls to action in there (links to your off-Medium properties, social profiles, etc), and that you remove the referral links from your stories sometime after September 1st.

Takeaways

We’re committed to being more transparent about the thinking that goes into designing the Partner Program, and listening to you about where we can continue to improve. Here are the main takeaways:

  • Stories that get Boosted based on these distribution standards — being original, constructive, memorable stories based on personal experience — will earn significantly more. The best way to guarantee that your earnings are strong is to spend more time on each story, even if it means posting less often.
  • Earnings will be higher for stories that are Boosted, read by your readers that follow you, and that have an above average read ratio. All stories will also earn more based on more explicit signals like claps, highlights, and replies.
  • The new application flow and eligibility criteria will launch on August 1st. If you’re already in the program, you won’t have to do anything new to stay in the program. If you are eligible and would like to apply to the Partner Program today, you can begin that process from here.
  • The new payout logic will also launch on August 1st, along with an updated Story Stats page that will help you break down your earnings on stories.
  • The first payout that uses the new logic will be at the beginning of September.
  • Referral bonuses will be honored for all members referred prior to September 1st. No new referrals will be counted after that.

All of these changes will go into effect on August 1, 2023. They’re in service of encouraging more people to write around the world, and making Medium the best place for high-quality writing that deepens people’s understanding of the world. We will continue to iterate on this based on your feedback. Please share your thoughts and questions in the replies!

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Buster Benson
The Medium Blog

Product at @Medium. Author of “Why Are We Yelling? The Art of Productive Disagreement”. Also: busterbenson.com, new.750words.com, and threads.net/@bustrbensn