Never Forget Who Owns The Land You’re Building On

I own my house. OK, the bank technically owns it for several more years, but you know what I mean when I say that. I can do what I like on that land and with that house, as long as it complies with the guidelines of the city it’s located in. I can paint the house any color I like, plant as many trees as the law will allow, renovate the kitchen and so on. Again, within the confines of the law my hands are pretty free to put my stamp on it.

If I were to rent a home or apartment I wouldn’t have that kind of latitude. Any interior changes would have to be cleared with the landlord or management company. And I have zero ability, outside of deciding what kind of grill to put on the back porch, to personalize the exterior. This isn’t my place, it’s someone else’s and the dynamics are designed to make my whims secondary.

The same philosophy applies to where you decide to setup your blog or personal website.

There are some good points made by the author of this piece where he celebrates how Medium has hastened the death of the traditional blog. Setting up that kind of outpost, he says, isn’t worth the time, effort or money because it’s not easily-monetized in an age when people are primarily consuming content from within the curated feeds of one social network or another. Better to setup a blog on Medium, turn on its payment program and let the money from your thought leadership roll in.

He’s right. Medium is much easier to immediately get revenue from than a WordPress blog. The former involves a couple of toggle switches and the acceptance of a TOS. The latter could take years to grow and you have to do all that pesky design work yourself.

(side note: I will never understand the “I won’t use WordPress because a default theme doesn’t look good and I don’t want to invest in a better one” mindset that almost always comes with a complete acceptance of the generic presentation offered by Medium and which offers 10% of the customization. Let’s move on.)

So here’s my question: What happens when the terms change?

Even putting aside the five different business model pivots Medium has executed in the last three years, it’s a platform you don’t own. They can change the rules with little, if any, notice. It could decide to double the number of “claps” needed to earn any sort of significant payout. It could drastically alter how it surfaces content. It could make any of several dozen other shifts that all result in the individual publisher receiving less revenue.

Are you willing to put your future in hands with whose motives are not only unknown to you but which could change at any moment?

Are you completely comfortable knowing it could announce it’s shutting down due to lack of funding?

What’s your plan for when you find your own future in doubt because instead of spending your time building out an owned channel on an open platform, you chased the buzz of the network effect?

Also, are you considering indirect monetization in your thinking? Sure, Medium pays you for the articles that wind up getting a decent amount of audience engagement. That’s great, and certainly beats the crappy advertising model used elsewhere. But does Medium allow for any kind of conversion path that would be beneficial for freelancers or others? My experience says no.

Blogging succeeded because it was open and not constrained to one platform. In the early days we had Blogger, TypePad and a couple others. WordPress came later, then Tumblr and so on. Medium is part of that ecosystem and is a perfectly viable choice, but it’s not the end-all-be-all for a number of reasons. At least, unlike some tools, it supports RSS feeds, which is how I read the story that’s gotten me all riled up. That too was an important element of what made blogging so powerful, a role it continues to enjoy to this day.

If you want to go all-in on Medium, great. I’ve chosen not to do that, though I do still want to use the site for some purpose. It won’t be as a replacement to this blog, though. There’s too much at stake to put my future solely in hands I can’t see and have no voice in influencing.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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