I think another reason that readers don’t always clap is if they feel that the subject matter is very personal. Medium doesn’t yet have any way for a reader to show support for a writer’s story without there being a public record of the fact that that reader has read and responded to that story. Some people are self-conscious/anxious about having a searchable public profile with a record of the fact that they’ve declared that they’ve “liked” stories about stuff like mental health challenges, how to quit their jobs, etc. I noticed this pattern when I ran an old blog focused on New Age-tinted self-help: I had lots of people writing to me regularly to express their gratitude for my content and to ask me lots of questions to prompt new posts, but it seemed like most of these people preferred to do so anonymously. It might’ve felt too “embarrassing,” I guess, to have their names associated with a comment/question received on a blog such as mine. (Whether that was for the New Age part or the self-help part, I don’t know. Maybe both!) As you can imagine, when your loyal readers are hesitant to tell anyone that they love your stuff, it’s really hard to grow your fan base or your business.
Anyway, I think that the more personal writers get with their writing, the more it might help others, while simultaneously the less those others might be inclined to stand up and say, “Yes. I have read this article, and I like it.” Unfortunately, as you can imagine, this might create a slant away from claps and money for really “personal” content — even if it’s being widely read and enjoyed (and helping readers!) in reality.
It would be nice if Medium had a way for readers to support pieces anonymously somehow. I mean, that’s how it works in a bookstore: when you buy an actual book, you can put your money on a product without anyone anywhere posting a list of all the books you’ve invested in. If you buy it in cash, the transaction is even more anonymous. All of that is perfectly reasonable to expect from a literary transaction. And yet on Medium, nothing really facilitates anonymity for the reader at all — other than not clapping.
Sorry for the long-winded thoughts. I wrote a bit more about this here recently, if you’d like to read it:
Yes, Even Your “Flops” Have Value
My latest story on Medium “flopped,” by any measure of the word. In its first week or so, it received barely any…
Our “flops” have value too. :)