Would you ever describe yourself as a content creator? I dabble in a number of different formats, and in a number of different mediums, creating content. But I would describe myself as a writer first, content creator second. I started wondering, was that right? Do I need to become more specific with how I describe my writing online?
And is there anything wrong with being a content creator anyway?
I’ve spent a bit of my recent time writing on Medium. And reading on Medium. It seems that there are a lot of people pushing content creation as a viable option to make some money. And rather than writing for other sites, or writing on blogs, I’m being increasingly told that I should be writing for Medium.
(By the way, I’m well aware that I’ll be posting this on Medium as well. The irony is not lost on me).
But would I still be a writer then? Or would I be a content creator? And if I am, is there anything negative about that?
How Medium is encouraging the content creator
It’s my opinion that some writers need to start describing themselves as content creators. This is a new role, an offspring of blogging and SEO and other online writing jobs. It’s not beautiful, it’s not aspirational, but it exists – we just haven’t embraced it yet. Blogs started the process, although they were difficult to monetise (read about why I stopped putting adverts on my blog here). Platforms like Medium are becoming more and more popular as the monetisation is done by a central ‘owner’. These platforms pay writers based on the number of views and the number of likes/claps/stars they receive.
The exact algorithms are a closely guarded secret. I can’t tell how many claps on Medium equals how much money, or how many page views I need to break $100. No one, other than those inside Medium Towers (assuming that they have a tower), could let me know that. That’s frustrating for me, but it must be especially maddening for writers who depend on the supplementary income that Medium provides.
Writers have adapted in a number of ways. Some are positive – writers are encouraged to look for topics that interest the readership, to stay topical, and to keep their writing easy to read and clear. Some are not so positive – every other article on some pages are lists, promise a quick fix to something, or are have borderline clickbait headlines that have no relevance to the article. The negatives and positives of these adaptations are up for debate, but I don’t want to touch on them in this post. Instead, I want to look at the only way that I can see of guaranteeing income from Medium.
The easy guarantee: write as much as possible
If I don’t know the algorithm, or the trick, to having a single successful article, the best way to maximise my chance for payment is to write as much as possible. Flood the system with content and I’ll start to play the averages game. Why spend three hours researching and writing one article, when I could spend an hour each on three, and have a three times as high chance of one of them going viral, or getting a certain number of claps, or appearing on the front page?
This isn’t a new problem. Amazon has it with their self-publishing platform – and in fact Amazon is playing the same game, just using other people’s time do the work. Where there are no barriers to entry, more is best. The best estimate I can find is that there are over six million books self-published books available on Amazon (source). More search results mean that more people will likely find something they like. When something does take off and become really popular, Amazon doesn’t care how many books fail alongside it. They get their cut.
As a consequence, there are dozens of posts on Medium about writers who have explored writing every day, or who give you hints to write every day. But if everything I am writing is a standalone, separate blog post, how well researched can it be? How strong can the writing really be?
Content is king
When writers are not thinking about the quality of their work as much as the amount they can put out, I argue that they should really be describing themselves as content creators. Their aim isn’t to write something that’s going to change someone’s life, or really discuss an issue (like I’m trying to do with this post), it’s to get as many views as possible and maximise revenue.
I’m not knocking writers that spend their time like this. Someone’s going to get paid for writing, and it may as well be them. I don’t think it’s for me though – and here’s why.
Being a content creator is not easy
I have a lot of respect for content creators. Being able to turn out 1,000 plus interesting and engaging words in a day is not an easy skill to master. Many people would love to be able to write this much. I have, in the past, dabbled with this level of productivity, but I often start to fail after a few days.
It’s not just the writing, you see. Good content creators are able to write articles that have something interesting to say about the time of year, relevant news of the day, or a hot topic. They look at things with a specific lens and are able to add their voice to it. The very best content creators often have a following who enjoy reading their updates, and without it would feel quite lost.
Sound familiar? It’s nothing new – it’s the blogging game, starting up again, with a centralised source.
I think there are some simple guidelines writers can follow, though to make sure what they’re writing adds value to the reader – and doesn’t just waste their time.
How to be a good content creator – three thoughts
I think there are three principles to follow when writing anything non-fiction, whether it’s on Medium, a blog, or anywhere else. I was going to call them rules, but I think they are much more strategic than rules.
- Respect the time of the reader. I won’t write for the sake of it, or to get my numbers up or increase the number of views that I’m going to get. Those writers are everywhere. Instead, respect the amount of time that a reader will spend reading my work and put together something really thoughtful and intelligent.
- Respect the source material. It would be really easy for me to take something that already exists and twist it so, on a superficial level, it seems fresh and new. In reality, though, it is nothing of the sort. Readers pick up on things like that, and will not return to me if they don’t think I have an original perspective to share.
- Respect my own time. Everything that I put together takes much, much longer to write than it does to read. This article has taken me a few hours to put together, but it’s taking my readers about 5 minutes to read. That’s fine. But it’s worth thinking about what I want from an article. Is it simply to receive a few more likes? Or is it part of a longer term market building strategy? These are the type of questions that I should be asking, otherwise my own time will end up seeping away, with very little to show for it.
Content might be king, and becoming a content creator is a way to make money, and even start a career, but I’m trying to make sure that I don’t get caught in some of the traps that seem to be built into the system. Hopefully, it will make others think a little about what they’re writing too, and steer them in the right direction.
Further reading (both free Medium links):We are all publishing way too often – Jonathan Greene
I was never trained to be a writer – now I make a living from writing – Tom Kuegler