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“I give you my word, as a Spaniard.” “No good. I’ve known too many Spaniards.”

This was the exchange Inigo and Wesley said to one another after Inigo had cut the rope and Wesley continued climbing up the Cliffs of Insanity in the movie “The Princess Bride.” Inigo wanted a chance to fight the man in black, and he didn’t want to wait. But Wesley did not want to be betrayed by a Spaniard. I joined Ninja Writers, a group of writers who are going to write a post on Medium every day. I joined thinking that instead of writing on Medium, I would write here on my own site and reap the benefits of writing practice as well as some possible publicity if the other writers deigned to read any of my posts. But then I learned that the group has a rule that you can only publicize Medium posts. So I may be dropping out of the group, or not publicizing anything I write for the challenge. Because I am not going to write for Medium.

Medium is a Great Site

The content is interesting and I enjoy reading things on it. The design is beautifully minimalist with some really nice features, such as:

  • starring favorite posts
  • highlighting specific sections
  • noting what sections are most popular for highlighting
  • comments that really do reflect the content of the post
  • reactions, allowing people to respond to posts that move them

Shaunta Grimes loves Medium and says:

“The best part about Medium is how well it’s set up for sharing and interaction. As a result, even without a large personal following, it’s possible for a good post to get traction and attention… …Medium has a built in audience.”

This is very true. I have been reading more articles on Medium in the last few months than I read on any other site, including Reddit and Digg. It’s a great place to read content that is interesting, timely, and fun. But I don’t want to write for them.

Been There, Done That

You may not know, but I wrote for About.com for almost 18 years. I started as the Guide to HTML, added XML, and ended up taking over the Web Design site for them. I grew the Web Design site to nearly 2 million page views a month at its heyday. I helped them design and build one of the first all digital ecourse systems using email lists to send lessons to students. I worked with their developers to help build and install two CMS systems that managed the content on all the sites they maintained, not just my own writing. I became friends with both the staff and other writers, many of whom I am still close to today. Then on June 30, 2014, my access was terminated. I received a letter that same day from someone on staff I’d never heard of before telling me that my services were no longer required and that this served as my 15-day notice of termination. I would be paid my full pay through July 15, 2014 and after that any remuneration would be based on contractually agreed upon rates paid quarterly. However, as I was paid based on how many articles I posted per month and my access had been removed, I would only receive about 25% of what I would normally have been paid for July. And after July 15th, they would pay me some tiny fraction of my original royalties.

This is the Wages of Digital Sharecropping

While I own some rights to the writing posted to About.com (now ThoughtCo.com and other domains), they pay me essentially nothing. They are contractually obligated to pay me quarterly royalties based on page views, but as they control the reports on how many page views my content gets, I am at their mercy. I also cannot get my name off their site, even when what they are publishing I do not endorse. They are a big company (part of “the IAC family of websites” it says on their About Us page) and I am small time compared to them. They can afford high priced lawyers and I cannot. They are benefiting from my 17 years of tireless work, and I am not. Because yes, even three years later, if you head over to the Web Design content on ThoughtCo you will find articles written by me—with my by-line—often on the front page, and definitely in the search results.

What is Digital Sharecropping and Why Won’t I Write for Medium?

Nicholas Carr describes digital sharecropping as this:

“One of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few.”

That is exactly what happened at About.com. And I wasn’t writing for them for free, so they had double the incentive to kick me to the curb. I’m sure that the new writers they’ve hired to flog web design topics are great, but they probably also cost a fraction of what I was being paid every month. And Medium doesn’t pay anything. As mentioned above, they offer a large built-in audience with many attractive design features for reading on their service. And as more and more writers flock to Medium hoping for at least some publicity and name recognition, even that dubious benefit will be harder and harder to achieve.

The Medium Terms

According to the March 7, 2016, Medium Terms of Service, I would own the rights to content that I create and post there. That’s good. But I also owned the rights on About.com. More importantly, it says: “By posting content to Medium, you give us a nonexclusive license to publish it on Medium Services, including anything reasonably related to publishing it (like storing, displaying, reformatting, and distributing it). In consideration for Medium granting you access to and use of the Services, you agree that Medium may enable advertising on the Services, including in connection with the display of your content or other information. We may also use your content to promote Medium, including its products and content. We will never sell your content to third parties without your explicit permission.” This essentially says that if I post my writing to their service, they can place ads on my content or even use it to advertise Medium products. In other words, they own the platform, so they’re keeping any money that is made from it. I can delete my writing from the Medium site and they can delete it. Both of us can do this for any reason. Of course, they then say that while authors can delete our Medium content and accounts, “Processing the deletion may take a little time, but we’ll do it as quickly as possible.” And “a little time” is not defined. Plus they may (which usually means “will” on the Internet) keep backup copies of the deleted content for up to 14 days.

These Terms are Decent, But…

As I’ve mentioned, these terms are decent. In some ways they are better than my About.com contract. But in one crucial way they are much worse. Medium doesn’t pay authors.About.com, at least when I wrote for them, paid writers. Some were paid extremely well. I was willing to give up some rights to my writing in exchange for that money. I’m not sure if the remuneration Medium is offering (nothing but the platform) is worth it. I have yet to find an electric company that will accept “publicity” as a form of payment.

I Write for Pay and For Myself

These days, I write for paying projects and for myself—usually with the hope of turning it into a paying project. If I post to Medium it will be as an adjunct to somewhere I’ve already posted. And not because, as Shaunta says:

“Medium is a blogging platform designed by one of the guys who brought us Twitter.”

I’m sorry, but I have known too many Spaniards. Or in this case, too many digital entrepreneurs like the guys who brought us Twitter.

Did You Enjoy This Post?

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There’s always more where this came from.

Jennifer Kyrnin is a writer and web designer. She lives on a small farm in Washington state with her husband, son, dogs, cats, horses, and goats. She’s on Twitter as @htmljenn, and has written several books on web design and development.