The Notion of Member-Only Content on Medium: First Thoughts

More Will be Revealed

Having just signed up as member, I say “more will be revealed” regarding Medium’s new subscription initiative. Still, I have some first impressions to share that have nothing to do with new layouts and everything to do with member-only content.

Profit & Vision

In response to a letter suggesting, in short, that Medium simply solicit the monthly $5 charge as a donation from willing users, instead of complicating things with a membership product, I wrote the following:

Only a not-for-profit can solicit donations this way. Medium is for-profit, plus my guess is they can already cover operating costs, and they’ll probably need more than $5 monthly donations from willing users to meet earning goals that satisfy investors (most likely, Medium ain’t bootstrapped). That said, I believe it when they say it’s all about changing the media landscape. If they really use subscription money as promised — to buy content that’s now hard to find, like investigative journalism — people will understand better the importance of making it profitable to write such content.

I expect poetry, fiction, and art criticism to remain, at best, a small fraction of what gets purchased, as has been true everywhere else even when profit wasn’t so strong a driver in publishing. That said, it’s hard to overstate the importance of quality journalism in politics, a stated focus area for the purchasing program. Let’s see how much smarter Medium can really make us.

Meaning

My direct response to Ev Williams’ Approach to Member-Only Content:

So Medium now pays for original, well-researched, in-depth stories on popular topics. This move might appear as if straight from what should be, and once was, the mainstream editorial playbook, except for one key difference: Medium buys articles as fertilizer for an author-reader ecosystem already thriving, deep, yet still nascent; the New York Times buys articles as plants for a walled garden designed from scratch on a daily basis, with a velvet cordon between the article and its reader. The latter model grows less and less interesting, efficient, and democratic compared to the former.

This is a fancy but accurate description of what could be the deeper meaning and long-term impact of Medium in the larger media space, especially for the major newspapers.

Again, more will be revealed.

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