For at least half a decade, Medium has felt like a paradise for writers, readers and content creators everywhere. Launched by Twitter founder Evan Williams in 2012, Medium was announced as “a new place on the Internet where people [could] share ideas and stories that are longer than 140 characters and not just for friends.” Laden with a significant range of stories — ranging from manifestos to personal tales — Medium quickly built up momentum and became a place for writers to “find the right audience for whatever [they] had to say.”
This ease of access, combined with the ability to quickly and efficiently post content, has made Medium a favourite by many authors and companies seeking a publishing or content marketing platform. However, the company has also been heavily criticised for restricting how writers can monetise and publish their work, despite marketing itself as an open platform.
Mirror.xyz, the first instance of a decentralised writing platform, was newly launched in December of 2020. What are the benefits of a decentralised publishing platform and how might its mechanisms change how writers are compensated? As part of our ongoing “vs” series, let’s take a closer look at the business models of both Medium and its new Web3 counterpart, Mirror.xyz — and highlight how Web3 technology is helping writers to gain better control over their revenue streams.
Medium: effective messaging
As a hybrid blog and publishing platform, Medium enables both amateur and professional writers to share their work without any alleged limitations to their content. Currently accounting for over 54 million users and over 100 million users per month, it now sits as a leader in online blogging and publishing. For a decade now, Medium has aimed to host the best articles from various different fields. At the time of writing, the platform is heavily used for both unique and republished content.
Medium’s original mission has been to give writers from any corner of the world the opportunity to publish their writing — obscured only by a soft paywall of $5 a month or $50 a year. If we take into account the site’s current user base and $600 million valuation (including a recent raise of $30 million USD in late 2021), we can see that this model has been met with great success.
Writers on Medium are given the opportunity to freely publish their work on the site — however, those who want to earn money from their content are restricted to the site’s Partner Program. While top writers and publishers can earn upwards of $50,000 per month, those starting out on the platform are likely to see much more meagre earnings (we’re talking closer to $25). Writers are also given bonuses if they reach the platform’s list of top creators, meaning that an author’s success on the site largely hinges on how well they can grow their following and push out consistent content.
The trouble with Medium
While Medium has offered writers, journalists and publications a seemingly more unrestrained platform, it still comes with its fair share of cons.
As is the case with all Web2 platforms, writers no longer own their content once it is published to Medium’s grounds. Should the platform ever decide to delete a user’s work, shut down an account or ban a user from posting, there’s very little wiggle room for them to fight back. Of course, this raises the potential for authors to lose all control over their work and their audience should they land on the wrong side of the platform.
And while the possibility of this happening may be unlikely, this dynamic still highlights the futility that we have previously seen on other large social media platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. In 2018, we also saw Medium abruptly cancel the memberships of 21 of its subscription publisher partners.
Another common complaint about Medium is the number of restrictions associated with the site’s Partner Program. With the Medium Partner Program, writers can make money on the platform using two methods: a) to monetise their work based on total member reading time or b) to earn money by referring users to become paid subscribers. Payments are calculated based on the total time that paid subscribers spend reading articles, as well as on per-month subscriber revenue. This means that only writers with higher member reading times will be paid more generously.
Another downside to this business model is that only users with paid stories get any sort of promotion on the site. Given that it can be difficult for writers to get enough attention that their work actually makes them any money, it presents an uphill battle for writers to make a sizeable income from publishing on Medium in general.
On top of that, writers on Medium are also not allowed to promote anything inside their paid posts. This means that other forms of monetisation (such as adding links to products, adding affiliate links or embedding subscription forms to grow an online following) are strictly prohibited on the platform. Couple this with the fact that a writer’s posts no longer belong to them once they’re posted on Medium — and we can easily gather that the mechanisms of the site are strictly designed to benefit the platform, not its publishers.
While Medium also promotes itself as a platform that accepts content from all ends of the spectrum, this is also not necessarily true. Authors of content that doesn’t make it to the platform’s front page will find it challenging to gain significant traction on the site — especially those outside of Google or large tech firms (such as YCombinator and Hackernoon), which are responsible for referring the most traffic to the site. It’s also notable that the only SEO control that users have over their work is content-based — making this system largely disadvantageous to those looking to publish work about niche industries or topics.
Mirror.xyz: a decentralised counterpart
Launched in 2020 and founded by Denis Nazarov, former partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), Mirror is a DAO that is both built and run by its contributors. Adopting a similar functionality as Medium, Mirror allows publishers to monetise their work with cryptocurrency, rather than typical transactions. As a decentralised and crypto-based platform built on the Ethereum blockchain, writers are able to crowdfund their projects by selling them as NFTs
When Mirror.xyz first launched, writers were required to obtain the platform’s native $Write token — which could be earned by partaking in the platform’s “$Write Race”, a weekly contest that helps determine users’ membership. Once users were in possession of the token, they could begin crowdfunding their projects and rallying support from backers. However, in late 2021, Mirror’s team announced that the platform would be open to anyone with an Ethereum address and wallet.
Mirror’s team has also further commented on the benefits of a blockchain-enabled publishing platform: “Through a decentralised, user-owned, crypto-based network, Mirror’s publishing platform revolutionises the way we express, share and monetise our thoughts.”
Like Medium, Mirror offers an important component to the online publishing world — an engaged community. As noted in one of the company’s official blog posts: “There are many DAOs with vibrant communities and significant treasuries, but they are not recognised as first-class entities by the Web2 ecosystem of creative and developer tools.” As a solution, “Mirror bridges a Web3 entity into Web2 distribution of ideas.”
Since its launch, industry leaders (such as Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin) and a series of successful DAOs have used Mirror to publish their content. One such example of a successful crowdfunding campaign on the platform includes a documentary about the development of Ethereum, where a total of 1036 ETH was raised (the current equivalent of over $2 million USD).
What’s even more notable is the monetisation strategy offered by Mirror. As the platform is built on the Ethereum blockchain, it provides native support for any crypto-native business models around tokens and NFTs. The platform’s Entry Editions feature, for instance, allows for different works to be sold at different price points — all while also allowing writers to sell their work without having to put it behind a paywall.
Will Mirror.xyz enable greater ownership and security for writers?
Unlike larger, more commercial platforms like Medium, content on Mirror.xyz is stored on a decentralised blockchain, rather than a series of company servers. As such, publishers are able to wield greater control and security over their content. Writers who publish their content on the platform also become co-owners of their work, ensuring that contributors’ interests are placed at the forefront of their roadmap.
Instead of logging in with a username and password, writers can sign up to Mirror using their Ethereum wallet. This means that they hold full ownership of their account, which will live on an open blockchain as opposed to a centralised database. Anything published on Mirror is also cryptographically signed by users and housed on permanently decentralised storage, meaning that any data is protected from corruption or modification from malicious parties or faulty service providers. Also, because this storage is permanent, the longevity and integrity of any content are ensured via blockchain technology.
What’s even better is that cross-functionality has been introduced to those who do use Medium, Substack or other Web2 publishing platforms — with the added option for writers to import their blogs from other websites with ease. Should writers be hesitant to transfer their work onto a Web3 platform, the outlet has already been created with this transition in mind.
While Mirror is still a relatively new platform, we’ve already seen several examples of how Web3 platforms are empowering those in creative industries. Audius, as we’ve previously spotlighted, has already helped several musicians sell their work as NFTs and rake in greater profits. Other platforms have also risen to the fore to help writers monetise their content, including Publish0x, Steemit and Bounty0x.
With the goal of helping writers share their stories, securely monetise their work and build a community around their content, Mirror has the potential to revolutionise the process of digital publishing. Authors can have more control over how they monetise their work, as well as more leeway to publish exactly what they want inside their posts.
Like many Web2 platforms, Medium isn’t hesitant to place restrictions on small accounts, ads inside content or content that it doesn’t like. If the platform doesn’t make money, it seems to have no issue with making further changes to make money — even if said changes disadvantage its authors. In a creator’s economy, platforms like Mirror are continuing to show how writers and creators can thrive when they are not beholden to their mediums — and where users can truly read, write and own.