I have been writing on Quora since 2014, but today is a big day.
I remember back in 2014, and 2015, and 2016 (and 2017, and 2018, and 2019, and 2020…) how this was the #1 question writers asked within the Quora community. “How do we make money?”
Quora’s first attempt at monetization was with their Partner Program in 2018, which rewarded users (modestly) for asking questions that went on to attract significant viewership and quality answers. At the time, I was a bit underwhelmed by their choosing to reward users who asked questions because despite the fact that I was one of the most-read writers on the entire platform (out of hundreds of millions of users), I think to-date I’ve asked less than 20 questions on the entire platform.
But now, in 2021, Quora+ and their rolling out ad-revenue splits and subscription payments feels like a much stronger step in the right direction.
Let’s break each monetization method down.
This is basically a replica of Medium’s paywall model.
On Medium, writers can choose to put pieces behind the paywall—meaning only users who are paying the $5/mo subscription to Medium will be able to read your content. Based on a blend of views, “claps” (engagement), and readers who convert into paying subscribers after reading your piece, you (the writer) earn a % of revenue. The best way to think of how this works on Medium is to draw the equivalent to how musicians make money off Spotify or Apple Music streams. Similar idea, but the number of writers who make more than a few thousand dollars per month on Medium is slim.
For context, I had been publishing *an article per day* behind Medium’s paywall for almost 2 and a half years, and earned more than $100,000 in total revenue. This averages out to around $2,000 (on the low end) to $8,000 (on the high end) per month.
If this sounds like a lot of money, it is, and it isn’t.
This only works on Medium if you are publishing something new every single day.
That level of output is not easy.
Quora+ is an ad-revenue sharing model that paywalls user content and urges readers to become paying subscribers for $5/mo or $50/year.
Writers and creators then earn revenue based on metrics similar to the way Medium measures engagement: views, upvotes, comments, shares, and most importantly, whether the reader converts and becomes a paying subscriber.
If you’re wondering why Quora (and Medium) operate this way, here’s the TL;DR.
Basically, think of every single writer/creator/user as a “promoter” of the site. Paying subscribers don’t really care about Quora or Medium, in and of themselves. What they care about is the *content* that exists on those sites. So, in order for Quora and Medium (and other platforms with this same model) to get paying subscribers, they have to let the creators get in on the action.
This is a larger trend that is happening all across the media landscape (creators realizing they’ve been getting the short stick, and platforms realizing if they don’t let creators take part in the upside, they’re going to leave). If you’re interested in reading more about this, I encourage you to give this article about the Direct-To-Creator business model from Category Pirates a read.
Think of Quora Spaces as Monetizable Facebook Groups.
In the past, a user could create a Quora Space (similar to the way you could create a Medium Publication) as a way of curating lots of different content from lots of different (approved) contributors. However, while Quora Spaces had the ability to grow very quickly (there are many Spaces on Quora with hundreds of thousands of followers in all different categories/genres), they never had a great method of monetizing.
Now, they do.
Quora Space Subscriptions allow Space Creators to choose whether or not they want to charge for exclusive access to their content.
For example, let’s say I want to create a Space dedicated to my own perspectives on writing advice. I can create a Quora Space, charge $X/mo (I can determine the amount), and then set permissions for subscribers:
This is very similar to the way OnlyFans started changing the way creators monetized their exclusive content. The opportunity I see here on Quora is that Quora Spaces can capitalize on the broader site’s traffic. With a tool like OnlyFans, the creator is responsible for bringing the traffic/customers to their OnlyFans page and converting them into customers there. On Quora, creators can answer questions on the site that introduce readers to their Quora Space.
The flywheel from “free reader” to “paying subscriber” is much faster.
This is where things get a little meta.
As a Quora Space creator, you can:
Which means you can make money BOTH on subscriptions and ad revenue.
It’s going to take some testing to determine whether you want to do both, or one over the other. But this is definitely an interesting mechanism for creators to play with.
Personally, I am really excited about these new tools.
First of all, it signals a broader shift happening all across social media. In the past, major content creation platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) made all their money off creators and chose not to share any of it. And for a long time, the trade-off was worth it.
Then, platforms like Facebook/Instagram, and even YouTube started to throttle your reach. Suddenly, you had to *pay* to reach the 3,000 people following you, or your Facebook group. This is what I consider to be the “exploitive years” of social media—where these platforms knew they had creators by the balls, and could take as much as they wanted.
Now, with the rise of platforms like Patreon, OnlyFans, and even Medium/Quora, these new monetization tools allow creators/writers to share in the upside, which is amazing. I remember, back in 2014, I was asking myself, “If video makers can make money from YouTube, where do writers write and earn a living?”
It has taken us 8 years to get here, but we made it.
Second, Medium has opened the door for monetization for writers/creators, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Quora is literally 10x the size of Medium.
It’s estimated that Medium has around ~30 million users.
Quora has north of 300 million.
I know many of the Top Writers on Medium, and I know most of them don’t make more than $10,000 per month (which means even the most successful writers on Medium are barely earning $100,000 per year). In contrast to what the top musicians earn via streams on Spotify (amounting to tens of millions of dollars per year), I still think the digital writing/publishing landscape has a ways to go before digital writers start crossing into the realm of true fame, stardom, and wealth creation.
Which means, in theory, it has the most earning potential for writers/creators.
If Quora is 10x the size of Medium, and even the most-successful writers on Medium barely earn $10,000/month, then it’s reasonable to assume there will be a handful of writers on Quora who (again, IN THEORY) reach $100,000 per month (or more) in earnings.
I have been writing online since I was 17 years old—more than a decade.
And I’ve never seen this achieved by a writer in a social environment.
I’ve seen these numbers achieved by SEO bloggers with massive websites that make money off Google Adsense. I’ve seen these numbers achieved by digital entrepreneurs who use written content to sell courses, products, etc. But I’ve never seen these numbers achieved by writers, in the most authentic sense of the word, in environments that reward them for their performance.
I cannot emphasize enough how big of a deal this is in the history of Online Writing—and I’ve written the book on how the online writing landscape has changed over the past 10 years.
I’m going to be experimenting with these tools with the cohort-based writing community I started with Dickie Bush, called Ship 30 for 30.
And I’m going to be experimenting with these tools with the weekly paid newsletter I started with Christopher Lochhead and Eddie Yoon, called Category Pirates.
If any platform is going to nail independent monetization for writers, it’s going to be Quora or Medium.
Now, the race is on.