The Holdout

If not for a post yesterday by Randomly Me, I would worry that I was the last holdout on becoming a Medium member. As I see the green halos popping up on everybody’s user icon (as we all the ensuing congratulatory comments from all of the other halo-wearers upon addition of said halo), I feel like Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers realizing that everybody around him has already been snatched.

As I’ve said before, I’m a relative newcomer to Medium (my first post was August of 2016). I mention this because I know that gives me a limited perspective on the site, so I’m only speaking based on what I’ve seen and learned in the past year.

In my year with Medium, I’ve seen them pivot from an advertising model to a membership model—a ridiculously clumsy rollout, which I previously wrote about. I’ve watched as publications, both large and small (The Ringer, Backchannel, The Awl and many more), have pulled out of Medium, citing both the shift away from digital advertising as well as a lack of support by Medium.

Then a few weeks ago, there was the change from recommendations to applause, which renders most reader statistics irrelevant. To me, the only stats that mean anything now are the number of people who clap and the people who comment, everything else is nonsense. It’s a solution to a problem that nobody was complaining about.

And now in the last couple of weeks, there seems to be an increased focus on turning Medium toward a micro-payment model with the rollout or ramping up (I’m not sure which it is) of the Medium Partner Program.

As I understand it, the MPP is basically a system which rewards paying members with promises of payouts if they are driving traffic (or applause or something). I read somewhere (I can’t find the piece) that payments range from very small to pretty decent, but I really don’t have any details because (to the best of my knowledge), no details are available. Least of all to me—someone who is not a paying member and was, therefore, not invited to participate.

Which leads me to this: I think the whole Medium Partner Program is little more than a ploy to get more people to sign up for paid memberships.

Want to be a paid writer? Well, here’s this new program. We won’t give you any details, but just know this—you can’t win if you don’t pay! And they seem to be ratcheting up the pressure. Forcing writers to put their work behind a pay wall in order to be eligible to get paid isn’t doing anyone a service except for Medium. It’s a way to force people into making a decision, but I think diminishes the value of the site for non-members.

I don’t have a problem with paying for subscriptions to publications, but when I pay for a subscription, I’m not just paying for the writing. I’m paying for the editing, too. For someone to curate what gets published and be sure the quality of the articles is up to a certain level. That doesn’t exist on Medium (it does within individual publications, but not on the platform as a whole).

When it comes down to it, I think the biggest reason I haven’t become a paying member is because they didn’t really add much to the service. I’ve been a member of other sites that went from free to pay-model, but they always made sure to add some benefits to it. There was no carrot (except for that green halo), there was only a stick — pay now or miss out. And when they rolled out the Parter Program and there is a head-fake toward a carrot (get paid to write), but it’s really just another damn stick because you can only get paid if you are a paying member.

Medium is great on many levels, but it is far from perfect. Shifting priorities, changing policies and practices make it seem a little unstable.

I believe that Evan Williams means what he says about the democratization of writing and publishing, but I’m also not foolish enough to think that that’s why he started Medium. He started Medium because he is rich and wants to be richer. There’s nothing wrong with that, I applaud him for it. The guy’s a billionaire because he has a vision and works hard at making it happen and makes a boatload of money in the process. Good for him. Truly.

Medium has raised $132,000,000 in VC money, to this point. $132 MILLION! And then when they started the push for memberships six months ago, there was a monthly revenue stream (I’m not sure exactly how much of the $132M was spent on clapping, but if it was over $250, someone ought to be fired).

Since I first started, I’ve felt that Medium was a little flighty with the changes the introduce and how they introduce them. It’s like they are ramping up for their big IPO and, if history is our teacher, the IPO is going to come and Evan Williams is going to go. That’s what he does — it’s what a lot of these guys do. The challenge for him isn’t to create a writer’s Utopia, the challenge is to raise the capital, grow the platform, do the IPO, cash out and move to the Next Big Thing.

Speaking just for myself, just for right now, I don’t see the value in a paying membership at Medium. I’m not saying I won’t ever pay, but for now I guess I choose to be an outsider.

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