Paying By Read Time Is Wrong

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Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

I have read some revelations on how Medium is calculating who to pay. I have to admit I am not all that booked up on the matter, since I do not write for money. I write because I must or I may actually go crazy. To those who struggle to put the time in and are envious, don’t be. Writing because you MUST is a bit trying. Sometimes if I do not write I find myself very upset and unable to even be civil to my fellow humans.

Of course, I do put things behind the pay wall most of the time these days with the idea I should get paid if for some crazy reason what I wrote “went viral”. LOL Occasionally, though things do get shared out. I do get some traffic and it is nice to see a few pennies come from my compulsion to document the arc of MY experience. Still I think writing for money is a bad idea, because you are so tempted to tweak what you write to make more money.

I want to write what I want to write when I want to write it, so doing it for money starts to make it a job and less of an artistic endeavor. In fact, I came to Medium, because I felt I should support the artistic endeavors of others. I did not come here to make money, but rather to participate in the act of writing.

As I learned more about Medium and how it paid its contributors, I very much appreciated the idea of applause being the coinage. It is quite correct for writers to be paid on the applause they receive. I felt some algorithm which balanced the number of claps versus the number of unique clappers made sense. I would clap more for those articles I really liked OR those writers which wrote well about things that needed to be written about…specifically the human condition.

I did not like the fact that too many writers would republish the EXACT same piece with no real changes, but this seemed self-limiting. Writers I followed who did this lost me as a follower. I knew they were not writing for the art, but rather for the money. It is the art that matters and applause is how it is measured….in my opinion.

Paying based upon reading time may punish authors of shorter pieces unless a percentage of reading time of the piece is taken into account. Writers of longer pieces may also suffer due to the short attention span of 21st century humans, but there is always give and take in any algorithm. My specific objection is that I read a lot of things and I do not always clap for the piece.

I may read through something and find it quite crappy. Or I may dislike the ending message or conclusion so much that I refuse to clap for it. However, now it seems that click bait may be more encouraged by this payment method. A catchy title and pretty picture followed by pablum NOW pays on Medium. This simply cannot be good.

Now I am reluctant to even open up something that I feel MIGHT be bad or MIGHT be something I will not like. I enjoy competing points of view and sometimes I am even convinced that a different point of view is correct. Now I am reluctant to even look at something from a competing point of view, because if I don’t like it, the writer still gets paid. Reading time only seems to reward traffic and not appreciation.

In art, it is the appreciation which matters, not how long I stared at it. It grates me that some horrific piece of writing which somehow lures people into looking at it and scrolling through it is now rewarded. Yes, reading time matters, but not as much as applause. Since the Medium algorithm is proprietary and changes over time, it is hard to know exactly what they are doing to send money to different writers.

I would suggest Medium be more transparent in this matter. I also would like to know if “sharing” the content by others is weighted in the algorithm. If I share my own writing that is one thing, but if someone else, perhaps just a stranger shares it out to Twitter or elsewhere, I would hope this is weighted appropriately in the Medium algorithm. Additionally, I would suggest Medium reveal how much of the revenue they receive is actually plowed back into the platform, how much is given to the writers and how much is used for “operating expenses” etc., sort of the way charities reveal how they spend their dollars.

I really do not want to think about whether a crappy author is getting paid, because I decided to take the risk and read something I would not ordinarily. These algorithms affect reader behavior significantly, I think. Making me more unwilling to read opposing points of views or about subjects which I know little about is not good. I want to feel free to open something up, read it, evaluate it and decide whether some portion of my membership fee is sent to that author.

Paying by reading times discourages open-mindedness. I know we are all here on Medium trying to open minds, not close them. Paying by reading times encourages me to only read what I want to reward and keeps me in a box. Anyone who has sat and watched YouTube understands how circular these types of algorithms can become. The AI constantly reinforces biases instead of breaking them down. Perhaps this is what is wrong with the world right now. Everyone just stays in their bubble and the necessary empathy to have a country or a world together is diminished.

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