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A Shiny Content Farm is Still a Content Farm (medium.com)
118 points by Brajeshwar on July 11, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



Reading this

By furnishing your User Content to Medium, you give Medium a broad license to use and exploit your User Content as it operates and evolves its business.

Gave me the creeps. What follows, I realised, is even worse.

"Business evolution," there goes a clear-cut concept.


I wonder if they could've left off the word 'exploit'. I feel like 'use' in this case essentially means 'potential to exploit'...


They probably realise that few people will read the user agreement. That they may as well claim the heavens and the deep-blue sea despite only wanting to have the entirety of the the landmass, that way no one can successfully sue them later saying they "exploited" them. Medium can just respond "that's what you signed up to".


I give medium credit for being up front about their intentions in their agreement.

The author comes up with what I think of as a very 21st century problem, building a brand as a writer. When we read about Louis CK doing his own comedy show and making plenty of money by offering it up DRM free for $5. There is push back that "well everyone already knows who he is." So clearly the exposure can be a good thing.

I suspect that writers, like coders or painters or sculpters may find that much of their early work is given away or benefits a patron rather than the artist more as part of the 'dues' of becoming 'known.'

I don't agree though with this : "Gathering an audience when you don’t have an audience is wicked hard work." though. I think of it as just being "work" and perhaps most importantly it takes "time". Time for people to get around to reading your stuff, time for people to tell others its worth reading, time for folks to both find your stuff when they need it and to retain it. It sucks that if you're the next Hemingway or JK Rowling starting today, you probably won't be recognized as such for 10 or 15 years from now. That isn't because of some painful gymnastic maneuver you have to do, it is that information diffuses slowly for the general case.

For nearly everyone who you know now who is "famous" you can go back and see that they have been practicing their art for many years, often several decades. It is a painful reality that finding an audience is a fickle thing, and finding your style.


The difference is that I know Louis C.K. because his content is all about Louis C.K. On Medium, I never remember who wrote the article since the author information is always just delegated to a blurb and circular portrait in the sidebar.


A similar way that I look at it is that Louis's content and work increases his identity (brand, in some circles), where putting work on content farms like medium.com only reduces identity. Sure, it's "exposure," but, y'know, we all know about "it'll be good for your portfolio."

Full disclosure: I watched "Tapeheads" just yesterday.


Hemingway and Rowling also had editors. People at publishing houses who found their work, took a chance on it, and put it out there. People who worked huge distribution pipelines and promotional angles. Granted, the work had to be good, and it had to find a fit with an audience large enough to support the mass publishing business. But publishing did quite a bit of legwork in helping these writers break out.

What I find most interesting about today's writing scene is that it's simultaneously easier and harder than ever before. In theory, it's much easier. You don't have to have the capital to own printing presses and distribution pipelines, nor do you have to pitch to someone who does. But that's still the best way to go if you want to get big. For the time being, at least, the "well, everyone already knows who he is" critique is largely valid. The biggest acts in self-publishing -- be it music, film, television, or books -- first made it big the old fashioned way.

No matter how media evolve, I suspect that two effects will always be necessary: 1) reach, and 2) tastemaking. Traditional papers, publishing houses, and magazines have long held a monopoly on both. Their ownership of the former is slipping away (more slowly than we imagine, but it is). Their ownership of the latter is still holding firm, though the precedent for disruption in that space is growing.

What currently makes publishing "harder" than ever is that we're in a muddy middle ground. The old titans are dying, but they're not yet dead. The new titans are rising, but they haven't yet risen. So we're seeing a strange mix of success stories coming out of both camps, and the progression doesn't appear to be linear or neat or orderly.

"For nearly everyone who you know now who is "famous" you can go back and see that they have been practicing their art for many years, often several decades. It is a painful reality that finding an audience is a fickle thing, and finding your style."

True. Very true. This even true for the self-publishing wunderkinds we keep hearing about. There are no overnight success stories. Behind every "overnight" breakout are many years of preparation for it.


The essential problem here is that publishers do, it turns out, actually fulfil some useful roles. Publicist is one of the major ones. (Editor and designer are two other important, undervalued skills that publishers traditionally take on.)

Having self-published video online for one and a half decades now, I've acquired quite a bit of knowledge of the publicity/marketing side of things (enough that I use it to fund my filmmaking, in fact). That knowledge how I gain an audience for my films - it takes time, sure, but it also takes knowledge, skill, and often, money.

I see a lot of filmmakers, comic artists and novelists attempting to self-publish without even realising they need that skill, let alone attempting to develop it or spending time practising it. That generally doesn't go too well.

Charles Stross has an excellent article on why he takes exactly the opposite route, being conventionally published, precisely because he doesn't want to have to be or manage publicists, designers, editors and so on: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/03/why-i-do...


"The essential problem here is that publishers do, it turns out, actually fulfil some useful roles. Publicist is one of the major ones. (Editor and designer are two other important, undervalued skills that publishers traditionally take on.)"

Exactly, and these roles are a lot more crucial than most would-be self publishing authors take into consideration before getting started. Amanda Hocking, one of the more famous of the self-publishers in recent years, decided to switch to a major publisher. Her rationale was that marketing, publicity, design, etc., had become 99% of her job, relegating writing to 1%. She wanted the reverse. She loves to write; she is less interested in running a publishing startup (which is, essentially, what a self-published author needs to be doing to be successful). I think it's a very interesting insight.


Relevant self-promotion: I recently did a statistical analysis of medium.com submissions to Hacker News. I discovered that while the number of submissions has hockey-sticked, being on medium.com is not a panacea, and most of the posts that make it to the front page (16% of all medium.com submissions) only get 10-20 points overall.

http://minimaxir.com/2013/07/medium-normal/


Well by my (and Wikipedia[1]) definition Medium is not a "content farm".

Try reading this article replacing Medium with posterous/tumblr/subvtle/Google +/Wordpress... The content publishing is a commodity, nothing revolutionary or wrong with it.

[1] (from Wikipedia) "In the context of the World Wide Web, a content farm (or content mill) is a company that employs large numbers of often freelance writers to generate large amounts of textual content which is specifically designed to satisfy algorithms for maximal retrieval by automated search engines. Their main goal is to generate advertising revenue through attracting reader page views[1] as first exposed in the context of social spam.[2]"


Most of those platforms don't demand to own the content you post on them, that's an important distinction.


See "Ownership and Licensing of Intellectual Property" here: https://medium.com/policy/9db0094a1e0f

"You retain ownership of all intellectual property rights in your User Content. Medium (and/or other third parties) retains ownership of intellectual property rights in all Content other than User Content."


It doesn't matter if you retain ownership if you also give them a "broad license" to re-use the content. Ownership gets you little more than a little bit of control over your name in parts of Europe.


> Try reading this article replacing Medium with posterous/tumblr/subvtle/Google +/Wordpress.

I've never played with Posterous, but Tumblr, Svbtle, and WordPress all allow you to use your own domain, which at least allows you to take your URLs with you if you leave.


Try reading this article replacing Medium with posterous/tumblr/subvtle/Google +/Wordpress

Yes, and? The point remains the same and remains valid, it just applies to more than just medium: if you don't host it yourself, it might disappear tomorrow, no natural catastrophe necessary, simply because it's the choice of people other than you.

The content publishing is a commodity, nothing revolutionary or wrong with it.

For me there is nothing right with it. We're not talking about the expensive and heavy printing presses of old; everybody should have at least one of them new-fangled ones, of not a dozen, just because hey why not.


I think there's a meaningful difference between publishing and re-publishing.


As I writer I know well the devaluation of our trade, especially with online content farms. It used to be that all texts were paid based on quality and intended use, such as for a print magazine and so on. Now, everyone pays by the word, and most people now expect to get content for $2 or less for a full article, because regardless how low they pay, someone out there will accept to write. I guess on the case of Medium, make the site look nice enough and people write for free.


I think the secret of using Medium is not to bet the farm on it, but to put a cow or two there just to see if you might get some milk out of the deal.

I feel like that's the point being missed in arguments like these. Medium shouldn't be your sole content hub, and I don't think it's trying to be—it should be a tool in your toolbox to stretch the reach of your main content hub.


Medium allows you to freely link to your own site(s) in your profile, which is featured next to all your content, so you definitely make a good point about this.

There's a happy middle ground that a savvy digital writer can find which will provide them with the advantages of a centralized platform like Medium without subjecting them to the risks of only using Medium.

If they provided an API that let you syndicate your content from your personal publishing site (Wordpress, etc) into Medium, then they would increase the incentive to publish there even more.


Yes, just like twitter/FB/new shiny thing, everything should be a spoke pointing back to the hub, a host (or at the least a domain) that you pay for, and therefore control.

You could make the same claim about email. What happens if/when gmail starts charging? All the folks who are using google apps can move, but the people with gmail accounts have fewer (no?) options.


Couple of months ago I remember HN rambling about "you should never trust a third party to host your content" when posterous.com announced that it would shut down.

How is medium any different from posterous?


Because something something twitter developers something pretty? I honestly have no idea about Medium hype. It's like Wordpress, but invite only, with one shitty theme. How awesome.

I'm working on something like Medium meets Flattr. Invite only . I want quality writers. Users that register can attach a "wallet" of sorts that they could put money into. The money they have put into their wallet will be divided by the number of posts they read and shipped off to authors.

Example: I have $20 in my wallet/month because I love reading and I believe in supporting indie writers. I read 90 articles that month. 20/90 = 0.22 per writer. I feel like if the service gets enough users, people can make a real living off it.


I admire your desire to pay writers, but why would I ever pay money to read your content when other places (including Medium, sorry) provide me with tons of content to read for free?

Unless you can line up very sought-after writers with name-recognition to bring in users at first, I think you may have a difficult time convincing enough people to buy into your model.

That said, I love the idea.. It's basically a magazine.


Honestly, I'm someone who makes a decent amonut of money and I don't mind pitching in to help others especially if I enjoy their content time and time again.

People with a little money to burn ;)


So if you don't want to write there, don't. Problem solved, no? It's certainly good to point out the license/copyright terms so that others know what they're getting into, but it doesn't seem like a big deal beyond that.


I gues the most import point is you can not be a succesfull "medium" writter but you can be a succesfull writter who someteimes publishes on "medium"


What if you are like me, and don't use Medium for anything other than a shiny, well-designed blog that I didn't have to configure? Writing is just something I use to keep myself accountable. If I wanted to make money on it I would absolutely want a host I controlled.


I think it's absurd that there still is no turnkey, dead-simple way for people to get their own domain name and setup a simple blog or website. I mean, dead simple, as in equally as simple as signing up for Twitter, Facebook, or Medium. The power lies in owning your own domain name and all the Google rank juju that goes with it.


I think much of J. Random Public that fancies themselves The Next Great Artist/Writer/Creator also want it to be so turnkey and dead simple that they also include "free" in that equation.

To make "free" sustainable and offer writers the chance to make money on their creations, I can only come up with the one solution: allow the site to make money however it can (using writers' content) and then divvy up the authors' cut based on popularity/views. This has many pitfalls, not the least of which is that authors will claim they're being fleeced (much like recording artists complain about record companies.)

Regardless, a blanket copyright assignment without compensation is unconscionable. I really hope those writers expecting to be professionals know to read the terms where they submit content.


Most domain sales companies I've seen, probably all actually, have a "sitebuilder" that allows you to add a website and hosting to your domain purchased through their service (eg 123-reg).

You go to the website, type in the domain name you want, go through the checkout and add the sitebuilder options and there you are 5 minutes later writing your own website on your own domain (but hosted on their server). Total cost is about £80 pa.

Similarly going the other direction from website/webpage creator, usually using a freemium model, you can purchase a domain as you create your site (eg Wix). Similar pricing to the domain registrar route.


Squarespace comes close, you basically have to pick a theme and start typing, but it also doesn't offer a free version. I think no one is in this space because there's no legitimate way to make it happen profitably that users or readers will accept. A domain name is not free so that's already a non-starter for many. If Facebook or Twitter cost $10 a year, they might have 2% of their current user base.


In my mind, part of the definition of a content farm is that there are people "planting seeds". In other words, content farms have a tier of people (or a process) to orchestrate which content is created in order to generate revenue.

Without this tier, there is too much confusion between the definition of a platform and a content farm.


By this logic, Wordpress.com, Blogger.com, Livejournal.com, Thumblr, Flickr, and every other free site that allows you to post content is a 'content farm'.

I'd argue that we should use a stricter definition: content farms are those where the company contracts out for cheap content, writes it internally, or creates it algorithmically though markov chains and copying other sources on the internet. It's something where all the information within is directive, and no interaction is required by users except to simply consume and perhaps click on ads.

About.com and its ilk? Content farms.

Those sites that copy StackOverflow.com posts? Content farms.

Those SEO sites you keep pulling up when you search for your domain name? Content farms.


the irony of posting that on Medium... :D


Given that a large percentage of the intended audience is Medium or on Medium, I don't think it's particularly ironic.


It's definitely ironic to use medium as the platform to say why you shouldn't use medium, regardless of how much sense it makes.


She didn't say "don't use medium for anything at all", she said don't give away away the rights your writing, there is no need to.

Are you really thinking that article is some kind of valuable intellectual property she gave up? That this is her best work? Then there would be irony.


The article said you shouldn't use Medium?


Yes. If you didn't glean that, you didn't read the article.


it probably makes sense posting it there - but thats not saying it isnt ironic.


That's now the second article on there I actually enjoyed reading... the other one was about not posting on medium, too.


I think it's a dramatic exaggeration of "content farm" if your use of the term is so broad that it encompasses every type of web publishing that you don't personally own.


From reading the article, it seems that the TOS giving Medium a right to commercially exploit anything published on their platform without compensating the author is the key point under discussion.

"By furnishing your User Content to Medium, you give Medium a broad license to use and exploit your User Content as it operates and evolves its business...it is a perpetual, non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, sublicensable, transferable license to exploit all copyright rights now in existence.."


I completely agree with what this blog post says. I would never write for Medium unless they come up with a model where the writers get paid for X amount of revenue for their posts.

Ideally the revenue model of advertisements... 70 / 30 payout in favor of writer. If the went down this road and made it successful, then that would be something.

But even if they did that. Why not just host your own blog if your writing is doing so well and making money?


> But even if they did that. Why not just host your own blog if your writing is doing so well and making money?

It seems like they would be fulfilling the role of a traditional publisher in the print world:

* publishing on their site means you don't have to worry about drawing traffic * the aggregation of a bunch of writers means that you have broader topic coverage * aggregation also means you have more content, more likelihood of pulling in visitors

Just because your writing is good doesn't necessarily mean that your blog-marketing will be good and you'll be able to attract visitors.

And then there's the blog hosting and ad-revenue management that you've got to figure out. Sure, it's not that hard, and/or you can outsource it, but that's what the publisher does to earn their 30%.

(I'm not saying that self-hosting is inherently a bad decision, just that it's not the best thing for everyone.)


Given that Medium currently has no advertisements, one really wonders what step 2 could possible be except to display ads once momentum has peaked.


It could be selling digital copies on iBooks, Amazon, with B&N. It could be packaging curated collections as a paid periodical. It could be anything, and all without compensation to the authors.


Some ideas:

- optional domain names

- custom branding for companies wanting a blog engine

- sponsored articles linked from home page

- as others have mentioned they could create e-books based on popular topics


if they're ever going to do ads, you know it'll be in a fancy 48px font screaming at you...


Seems that it's still a fine place for successful writers to sometimes publish, but it's not the road to success for anyone.


So why the fuck are you on Medium then?




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