Medium and the language of money
There is a German expression “ich brauche Kohle”, “I need money”. Kohl (der Kohl, plural Kohle) means “cabbage”. When I was young this made total sense. You can eat cabbage; my mother cooked lots of cabbage, mostly stuffed. Cabbage is green, money is green (I was reared in the US, not in a country with colorful money like the Dutch used to have before the Euro). The visual image of cabbages = money is kind of adorable. Clean, crisp, green. Unpleasant raw, tasty cooked.
And yes, I was “reared”, my teachers were adamant that children are “reared”, animals are “raised”, “kids” are baby goats, people are “hanged”, pictures are “hung”, the object you put cut flowers in is pronounced “vase”, not “vayce”. (I never accepted that “what” should be pronounced as if the “h” came first, though). Right. Enough digression.
I was bummed when I learned “ich brauche Kohle” actually means “I need coal” (die Kohle, plural Kohlen, but the plural is rarely used). Coal is black, dirty, unpleasant raw or “cooked”. Sure you can heat with it, but you can’t eat it. Sounds a lot like money. In my heart, if no longer in my head, “ich brauche Kohle” will always mean cabbages.
When I came to Medium exactly two weeks ago I wasn’t thinking about earning “Kohle” at all. I had two main reasons for joining: (1) I wanted to help other writers by talking about my own experiences, (2) I needed a place to “park” my blog. Like being on social media (box already checked), authors are nowadays supposed to have a blog. Now I have one. As to reading other people’s stories? I admit it, I didn’t take that into consideration either. I certainly should have. Over these two weeks I’ve read profound, funny, and informative stories and poetry — how tragic it would have been to have missed these!
When I was looking for what I still was thinking of as a “blogging platform”, my criteria were: free, no advertising, hosted, and most important not run by the evil empire. Medium checked all the boxes. I wanted an easy-to-use interface that looked pretty. Medium checked that box. I spent 15 years as a software programmer, but that was all behind the scenes, “business logic layer” stuff, and embedded systems. I’m not a UI person, I am not a visual artist, and I didn’t want to have to become either in order to write my blog. Medium fit the bill. And the people behind Medium seem genuinely ethical and nice. Good to go. The whole paywall and business model? I ignored it completely, I thought it was irrelevant.
Turns out it wasn’t. I was shocked when I went to read my fourth story and Medium wouldn’t let me. “Three stories a month” unless you pay. Yikes! I wasn’t expecting that but I should have, my bad for not doing my due diligence. But I liked the stories I had found, people were starting to read mine, I was getting some followers, so I didn’t hesitate a moment to begin paying the monthly fee. And I am really, really happy I did.
Do I expect to earn “Kohle” on Medium? I can’t yet. I still have to leap over the 100 follower hurdle. (Please follow!) It would be nice to at least cover the monthly fee.
And there is another problem: I am a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Capitalist. Capitalism cannot be fixed, it must be overthrown and replaced. Soon. Of course in the (hopefully brief) meantime, I still need “Kohle” to make the rent. I stopped working for the Capitalist overlords 14 years ago and switched to nonprofits. Turns out they were Capitalists in sheep’s clothing, and were more misogynistic and patriarchal than the for-profit companies! 5 years ago I took the plunge and started writing full-time. “Kohle” is really tight. I’ve had some success but certainly no breakthrough.
Could I, or should I, earn “richtig gute Kohle” (loosely translated, “actual good money”) on Medium? The kind of “Kohle” that pays the rent? I don’t know. I still can’t get a handle on Medium’s business model. With the paywall, it is essentially a closed-space, so it seems you earn money by taking it away from other Medium members, right? Maybe I’m totally wrong about that, I need to do my research.
But I know I’ll probably put off that research because I don’t like doing research about money. I mean I would, if it were cabbages. Unfortunately it’s coal.