A Few Thoughts on Medium

Before I say anything else, let me just say that I like Medium. I think it’s a great site both for reading and writing. The creators of this platform have clearly spent a good amount of time (and money) creating a site that is both visually appealing with a lot of great content.

My history with Medium doesn’t go back too far. My track here follows the same one that many people have followed—casual reader to regular reader to occasional writer to regular writer. I post about 2–3 pieces a week here. I like having a place where I can get stuff out there and people can read it. I have had some great interactions with people here, but I didn’t start writing here to get feedback. I just wanted someplace to write.

And in the past six months, as I’ve become more involved in the community (both as a reader and a writer), I see a company that seems kind of lost in the tall grass. It was just a few months ago when there was a big to-do because Medium let go something like one-third of its staff. And that only 8 months or so after their last funding round brought in $50 million.

And now they are rolling out a paid membership program and the community is kind of up in arms over it. Also, I think there is also a paid publication subscription program, too, but the details on everything are really vague. And that’s where my Spidey senses start tingling.

I don’t have a problem with subscription model websites. I subscribe to a couple of pay websites, so that’s not an issue. And while $5/month is not a lot of money, people who keep comparing it to ‘the cost of your latte at the coffee shop’ or whatever, they’re missing the point. You’re comparing two different things. Until now, it was all free. To suddenly create this $5/month paywall is going to throw some people because $60/year isn’t a lot, but it’s a lot more than free.

The cost doesn’t bother me, though. It’s the disastrous way the whole thing was rolled out. There have been e-mails and posts, but it’s not really clear what it is you get for the $5 subscription. And, according to a couple of posts I’ve read, that $5 won’t let you read pieces in certain publications, so you may have to pay an additional fee for those publications.

So it’s been free for years, but now you’re going to suddenly institute a paywall, but you also don’t really have any content behind that paywall yet. I think. But I don’t know. Because all of the communications from Medium have been vague.

Medium’s has raised a total of $132 million over the past few years and their last round of funding brought in, as I mentioned, $50 million. That was less than a year ago and they still had to lay off one-third of the company. And now, just a few months later they are introducing this paywall, but they’re rolling it out in a really clumsy way. It just says to me that they don’t really know what they are doing. I mean, the founder’s letter explaining the subscription is BEHIND THE DAMN PAYWALL. That is one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen.

Look, I don’t know what it takes to run a company the size of Medium. I do know that there is a long history in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) of trying to do too much, too quickly and blowing through your funding. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, but if Medium is serious about wanting to create a new model for media, they’re going about it in a really strange way.

And on a related topic, they’re setting it up to pay writers. I got an e-mail asking me to pitch them ideas and tell them what I want to get paid. Again, though, it’s all really vague. Paid for what? Ownership? Publication rights? Am I selling you ownership of an essay about my dog? Or just one-time publication rights? What about the pictures that are included? Most of mine are pictures I own, but some are Creative Commons. Does your publication agreement cover that, since you are charging a subscription fee?

I don’t write for a living, but I have done my fair share of paid writing work over the years. I say this because I want to stress that I think it’s great that Medium wants to help writers get paid. Like so many other creative fields, writers are losing paying jobs to crowd-sourced websites and content farms. So I’m all for what they want to do, but I want them to explain things better.

As I said, I really do like Medium, but do I like it enough to pay? Honestly, I don’t know, but probably not. Until someone can lay out all of the benefits to me, I remain skeptical. Pay me now and we will sort out the details later is not a great sales pitch. I hope all of this is just growth pains and not death throes.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.