That’s basically the best sound bite that I gave when Sinem Günel interviewed me about how writers can succeed here on the platform. She runs a fantastic coaching group for Medium writers and I’m a big fan.
Here’s a longer version of my quote:
There’s this completely bogus media narrative that Medium pivots. And I feel like I’m the only person on the planet that thinks that Medium is completely and utterly predictable.
They made one pivot, three years ago, towards a subscription business. Literally everything they’ve done since then has been predictable.
Now that they have a subscription business, and they believe in a subscription business, they have to figure out how to make that subscription work.
Since I run three publications here that get paid by Medium, I’m constantly asking myself: how do these publications help Medium’s subscription business? Asking this is a basic business principle. If my partnership is a win for Medium then it will continue and if it is a loss then it will go away. And yet…
There’s a lesson here that goes way beyond Medium, which is that when you are in a business partnership you should be thinking through both sides of the partnership. You want the partnership to be good for you. That’s obvious. But you also want it to be good for your partner otherwise it’s destined to fail eventually.
If you are a customer, it’s still a partnership of sorts. Same if you are an employee.
And yet, I constantly see people acting “surprised.” This is most common when you are the customer of a venture backed business and the service you’re consuming is subsidized, i.e. it loses money.
When that business pivots or worse, doesn’t pivot and just goes out of business instead, why would you be surprised? You can be disappointed. You can be hurt. If you take a risk on a company and they pivot away from what you need then you lose your bet and that hurts and is disappointing. But surprised? Or surprised and outraged? It just feels so naive every time I see it.
To get concrete about Medium.
The press is reporting somewhere between $35 and $42M of revenue per year. They need to grow that above $100M to be in range of an IPO. They are venture backed (so you can ignore anyone calling this a Billionaire’s hobby project) and IPO is the main goal of venture capital investors. They’ve taken $135M in funding and so an IPO above $1B would be a successful return for those investors (so no pressure there to deviate). They probably think that because the NYTimes has a $800M in annual revenue that they can grow at least that big, making this a very compelling investment.
I don’t think there’s really any reasonable alternative hypothesis about what’s driving Medium as a business. The above is what I base my decisions on.
So as a writer or publisher here you have two choices.
One is to grab the bag that’s available right now with no thought to aligning with Medium. Just hack the system, take the money, put it in your pocket. The current system rewards high volume content mills. If you can execute that, then do it.
The other, and this to me is the much bigger win if you are in a position to be patient, is to prepare yourself for where Medium is going. This is why I recommend writers think in terms of a book. What I was getting at with that concept was to align your writing with the type of writing that will be rewarded when Medium is a $100M or $800M business.
Invariably there will be a power law here. Actually there already is. It’s just that the tall head is only tall enough to incentivize the quality of writers who are winning right now. No shade on these writers, but it’s just a fact that there’s a higher level above you. The reason Malcom Gladwell isn’t here stealing all your partner program earnings is because it’s not enough money to interest him (yet).
But as the head gets taller it’ll attract writers doing higher quality writing and the current winners will turn into losers. Unless…
Unless you grow with the platform. To me, that’s the big win. If you can do both things on a growing platform: be early and be great, then that platform will lift you to a position that would be impossible to achieve otherwise.
Here’s my full interview with Sinem. I’d recommend clicking through and hitting her subscribe button because she posts a lot of really helpful information for writers here.