A few days ago Medium announced it was opening up the ability to put stories behind a membership wall to all publishers, letting them get paid based on the engagement on those stories. It’s understandable that many would be skeptical given Medium has changed course a number of times over the years and still can’t quite define what it is or what the core value proposition it offers is.
Regardless of that seeming lack of focus, at least Medium is zigging while the rest of the media world is zagging. As advertising dollars are eaten up by Facebook and Google, which take in 60% of the ad revenue in the U.S., publishers are trying to shore up whatever revenue they can and so are turning to subscriptions, hoping that more reliable income will help keep the industry’s head above water. What’s odd is that it’s then turning to those same two players for help. Google recently announced plans to help encourage subscriptions and Facebook is expected to do so before the end of this year.
Medium, it seems, is hoping to find more Netflix/Spotify-esque success. Paid members get all-you-can-eat access to any paywall-blocked content they want to read, regardless of who publishes it.
While Medium is certainly collecting its own forms of data on visitors – how else would it accurately curate the Daily Digest email of stories it believes you’ll be interested in – at least it’s not taking that data and selling it to advertisers who will track you across the web. Compare that to the countless efforts by YouTube, Facebook and others to tie online ads to physical sales through GPS tracking. Or Google’s recent promise to publishers to share search history with publishers so they can more narrowly target ads.
Medium’s formula may not be perfect, but at least it’s trying something new and interesting. It wants to be a platform that pays writers and is encouraging posting of engaging material by paying out based on that engagement. There’s a good chance this only attracts the kind of low-level thinking that’s easy to clap for but doesn’t provide much long-term value to the reader or feature truly innovative thinking, but it’s a step in the right direction. If it can attract enough paid subscribers, the return for writers could be decent, if not substantial.
Regardless, I applaud any effort that doesn’t automatically default to “more and increasingly intrusive advertising.” There are enough players on that particular field and it’s a game that only benefits the few that are powering the tech and sweeping up all the reach (meaning Google and Facebook), not the people actually producing the content. That’s the big difference and what makes Medium’s latest model all the more attractive.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.