Medium.Com, Content Ownership and Other Pros and Cons (Review)

11 minute read.

As promised in my last post, it’s time for a post about my experiences with Medium.com.

I’ve been curious about Medium for a long time. That curiosity has only grown as more bloggers and writers seem to migrate there. My investigation was hardly In-depth, but I managed to do enough digging to uncover the major pluses and minuses.

The Big Drawback:

I’m not one to bury the lead, so I’m going to lead with what SHOULD be the biggest drawback for creative types, and explain what it could mean.

That big drawback is that Medium claims ownership of your content from the get go, right in the Terms of Service:

Rights and Ownership

“You retain your rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through the Services.

Unless otherwise agreed in writing, by submitting, posting, or displaying content on or through the Services, you grant Medium a nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, and sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your content in all media formats and distribution methods now known or later developed on the Services.

Medium needs this license because you own your content and Medium therefore can’t display it across its various surfaces (i.e., mobile, web) without your permission.

This type of license also is needed to distribute your content across our Services. For example, you post a story on Medium. It is reproduced as versions on both our website and app, and distributed to multiple places within Medium, such as the homepage or reading lists. A modification might be that we show a snippet of your work (and not the full post) in a preview, with attribution to you. A derivative work might be a list of top authors or quotes on Medium that uses portions of your content, again with full attribution. This license applies to our Services only, and does not grant us any permissions outside of our Services.”

On the surface, the explanation for the shared (“nonexclusive”) ownership seems reasonable enough. Especially if one considers how legally complicated the world has gotten today. People will sue over anything, and distort even legitimate business practices IF it means there’s a chance at making a fast buck.

I’m overly-suspicious after being defrauded by everyone from the moving company to our real estate agent, contractors and lawyer in the last couple of years.

Exaggeration, but it makes the point. πŸ˜€

Here’s where *I* start to get suspicious. Two paragraphs down from that quote is this:

“We may stop providing the Services or any of its features within our sole discretion. We also retain the right to create limits on use and storage and may remove or limit content distribution on the Services.”

Google at least USED TO include similar language and ownership rights in their TOS for all their online services (Gmail, Google Docs, Cloud Storage, etc…). Essentially the first part gave them permission to data mine the *bleep* out of you via going through your online work. The second part holds them harmless if they lose your stuff due to a server crash or whatever: “We said we owned it and could dispose of it as we saw fit”.

Last I looked, Google had either buried their similar TOS language even deeper or eliminated it. I”d bet on the former not the latter. The point is, I’d bet Medium has the same rights set up for similar reasons.

Data mining… It’s unavoidable. Everything you do online or near an online connected device is tracked. THAT is not an exaggeration. So, it doesn’t matter where you post whatever you do.

Data Loss & lack of responsibility for it… That’s easy also. Just cut and paste your posts to M$ Word, Libre Office, or some similar program and keep a backup copy. Given how much they hold nowadays, you can keep YEARS of posts on a single thumb drive. You SHOULD do this regardless of the platform you use.

Beyond that, there’s the POTENTIAL of what I see a greedy company with crooked lawyers being able to do with those permissions.

Yes, still trying to have a little fun there. I really can see how that “nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, and sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, publicly perform and display your content and any name, username or likeness provided in connection with your content in all media formats and distribution methods now known or later developed on the Services.” COULD be twisted by a halfway decent lawyer to give Medium permission to do whatever they want with your content though, right down to running it through a content spinner and / or just reselling it for their own profit.

Crazy? MAYBE. Does Lexus (as an example) need to give a TV or Radio network ownership of their cars to advertise them though? Even with the modest understanding I have of the law, the “sub-licensable” term is a wildcard for potential misconduct: “No, it wasn’t in our direct ‘services’ to sell your script for Bambi 3 to that adult film maker”, BUT it was within the range of marketing services of that company we subcontracted… and therefore within the Terms Of Service you agreed to.”.

Am I being a bit paranoid there? Yes. They’re probably not going to care much about the content posted by more people. None the less, I think the potential for abuse is clearly there.

The Positives:

First, there’s a HUGE plus to switching over to Medium.com for many writers: The amount of views and “claps” (ie Likes) you get are typically MUCH higher than on WordPress. One author I know who uses both Medium and WordPress and runs the same book ads on both sites. She gets less than a dozen views and maybe 2 likes on WP, while that same ad on Medium gets hundreds of “claps”. We’re not talking Stephen King here either. Just an average self-published author working off of Amazon, Smash Words and similar sites.

That’s a BIG difference in numbers, and people caring enough to actually give a “clap”

One former WordPress blogger also mentioned in one of her last WP posts that Medium also gives you stats on how long people are spending on your post. This can be a really helpful indicator regarding whether or not your posts are truly getting attention, or just “drive by looks”. The latter is likely to indicate you need to need to do something different than you did in that post.

Nominal Setup Required: A plus for the technology challenged, but perhaps a minus for those who really want to customize their blog or site is that Medium runs off a pretty standardized format. There’s not much website to set up beyond adding a few pictures and social media links and filling in the “about me” page, which is apparently required to help cut down on scam sites. The “about me” page can (by my limited understanding) be fairly general information however, and screen names are OK so long as they’re tied to social media accounts an “an active project domain” whatever the hell THAT is.

A Quality Editor / Interface: This next part is second hand information as I don’t have a full account on Medium, but multiple reviewers have said that Medium’s writing tools for composing a blog post are well designed, have reasonable depth and are very intuitive. I can’t remember anyone ever saying the same about WordPress. πŸ˜› πŸ™‚

Swimming with Big Fish: Medium has CEOs, major media outlets and other “thought leaders” (as one review described them) among it’s community of writers.

Making MONEY from Your Blog: Yep, paying members have the opportunity to make money off of their blog posts. How much is determined by your view count (and probably the time per view also). I have little knowledge of the system or it’s pay rate, just that it’s there as a possibility.

Also A Joke. πŸ˜€

Social Media Tie-Ins: Maybe a negative IF you dislike social media as much as I do, but Facebook and Twitter are both tied to Medium, making it easy to promote your posts on those outlets as well as scan to see if Twitter friends are on Medium as well. By my understanding, Medium is also in the process of connecting with Mastodon in a similar manner.

The Negatives:

Cost: Medium does have a $5 a month member’s fee. This might be seen as a negative to somebody who likes their free WordPress account. I’m going to outright argue it’s a good thing though. Why? Because it’s a minimal fee and keeps out of the picture the people who blog only to collect likes or troll or scam people… err sell stuff in their blog. For less than the cost of one Starbucks cup of coffee, you’ve increased the quality of the group tenfold.

You Don’t Control the Platform: In plain English, that means that Medium.com has content moderators. If you put up something that violates the TOS, they can gank that content. The general content prohibitions are fairly standard for hosting content:

  1. Nothing that’s a Trademark or Copyright violation. Also give credit to sources.
  2. No Graphic Pornography, although nudes are OK. No pedophilia also, but that SHOULD be common sense.
  3. No “Hate Speech”, and they do seem to have a pretty broad definition of the term.
  4. Nothing “promoting” (ie even mentioning) self harm in any form. I’m NOT sure if this includes depictions of drinking or drug use, but it covers everything else from suicide to cutting and other forms of injury.

There are also rules against any kind of harassment or cyber bullying, as well as pestering people for follows and claps.

Most of this is NO big deal for me. It’s common decency, AND the same restrictions are already in place here at WordPress.com. The same is true at most any other site you could use as well. My only concern is the “hate speech” ban.

Anything perceived as a negative portrayal of a protected group can potentially fall into that definition if it’s interpreted with enough bias. There’s a HUGE difference between some racist piece of trash neckbeard saying “I hate N words” and somebody else writing a post saying that Black Lives Matters’ rhetoric MAY be too heated at times and could actually hurt their cause. Yet both could be interpreted as hate speech by somebody with a severe enough bias.

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough inside information to make a valid determination as to how balanced Medium.com’s interpretation of that rule might be.

Bottom line though; it’s really not TOO much different than WordPress.com. The enforcement of things like copyright rules may be a little more vigorous however due to Medium being a more visible target for lawsuits nowadays.

Changing Trends: This is something I saw mentioned at least once; the idea is that if Medium is no longer trendy or goes under, you’re out of luck. Reality is, that’s ANY internet site or platform that you use. Social Media startups have come and gone like crazy the last 10 years. Facebook has lost popularity, Twitter is imploding, and yes WordPress is (in my opinion) slowly dying also. It’s a danger, but you’re no more at risk using Medium than anyone else.

There’s ALOT of Competition: What I mentioned about big fish up above can also work against you. There’s alot of quality writers on Medium, so no matter how well you write, it’s going to take networking on the site to get noticed. Like most of the negatives here however, the same can be said of ANY blogging, writing or social media platform.

The difference that I see at first glance is that Medium gives me more of an impression of writers who want to engage with each other. Where WordPress has a twitter style vibe of trading likes for likes (and who cares what you actually said), Medium FEELS more like writers wanting to boost each other up. Granted, that’s only a first impression, so I may be wrong. It’s the vibe I’m going with though.

Some of WordPress’s Metrics are Better: WordPress does track more data regarding your post than Medium does. Information such as what time of the day do you typically have the most views as one example. If you’re obsessed with numbers, WP might be a better bet. In my 5 years of experience in my other blog however, quality, consistency and networking count for alot more than statistics.

This next negative, I’m quoting directly from an article at elevenwriting.com:

You (Probably) Won’t Earn a Fortune: Although you may welcome the opportunity to earn a little extra income, it’s important to be realistic about your potential earnings even if your content is of an extremely high standard. According to data released by the company in September 2020, the highest sum earned by a writer in the previous month was $49,581.31, with 6.2% of its active writers earning more than $100 per month. Flip this around, and it also means that almost 94% of the platform’s writers make less than $100 per month.

What that author didn’t consider is that 100% of WordPress.com authors are absolutely ZERO directly from their blog content… barring Ko-fe or some similar tipping service. Medium has similar tipping and donation options by the way.

I’d LOVE to know who made almost $50k on their writing that month by the way, LOL.

Lack of Advanced, Code Based Options: Typically a concern for advanced writers with at least some coding background. There’s no A/B testing options, tracking pixels or custom code allowed with Medium. Options there are pretty limited on WordPress.com as well however, and you typically will need a more independent WordPress.org account to get all those technical options.

“Curation” is a Mixed Bag: Curation is a feature on Medium where the editors pick content they like and (theoretically) find exceptional, and feature it around Medium, and even in their newsletter. It’s great promotion IF you can get it. Reality is it’s fellow human beings with their own personal biases making largely subjective decisions about “best” content. Keep in mind my previous remarks about stiff competition as well.

Tracking and SEO: I’ve read that being under the umbrella of Medium’s vast array of content and writers mean that it’s hard to get noticed by search engines. In theory, the same should be true of WordPress.com, yet my sites both have turned up in searches without too much trouble. The reviews I’ve read on this are a couple years old, and Medium has supposedly been working to improve this problem for members. Realistically, I don’t know enough to comment here intelligently. My advice, consider it a possible issue, but keep a healthy skepticism.

Final Thoughts:

Personally, I’m a little uneasy about a few of the concerns I listed. Content ownership being the first one. I’ve seen a few articles that quote Medium as saying (much like Google eventually did) that “your content is yours and you own it forever”. The thing is, even if they really did say that in the company blog at some point, the Terms of Service carry far more legal weight, and the “we co-own everything with you” clause is still there on the web page.

POSSIBLE censorship is something else I worry about… a little anyway. Not so much about sex or copyrights, etc… I get the potential legal complications there. It’s the “hate speech” clauses in their TOS that bother me. The terms are broad enough that anything that offends anyone, no matter how sensitive they might be, can potentially be pulled. All I can say there is that I’m glad I’m not doing a political or social issues blog.

So is it worth it? I lean towards the advice I saw in another review of Medium: Use it as a secondary or mirror platform to increase your exposure. At the very least, it’ll give you an opportunity to judge for yourself how valid the pros and cons listed above are. If it turns out not to be for you, Medium advertises a “cancel any time” policy on their $5 a month membership fee.