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March 22, 2017, 4:58 p.m.
Business Models

“Media is broken,” so Medium’s launching a $5/month member program that offers small upgrades

“Let’s stop relying on ad buyers and social media echo chambers to determine what we put in our brains —  which is just as important, or more so, than what we put in our bodies,” Ev Williams says.

In an attempt to find a new business model for publishing after its previous one failed to make money, Medium is rolling out a membership program that will cost $5 a month (for now) and sounds like a little bit Spotify, a little bit Patreon, and a little bit Pocket.

Founder and CEO Ev Williams wrote in a blog post Wednesday that members will get “a better reading experience,” which he described as “a limited set of carefully curated stories, chosen by experts among topics we care about. Something that is completeable, satisfying, and puts you in control,” as well as

Even better content: We will be routing 100% of the revenue from founding members (those who sign up in the first few months) to writers and independent publishers who have important work to do. Those who have hard-won expertise, do exhaustive research, and think deeply. Those who make us all smarter. Those who maximize our understanding of the world but don’t necessarily maximize clicks — and, therefore, are at a disadvantage amongst the highly optimized algorithm chum being slung by the truckload by low-cost content purveyors.

In a follow-up post titled “Our approach to members-only content,” which was only available to members (see below), Williams wrote about the kind of paid content that Medium wants to provide:

Well-researched explainers, insightful perspectives, and useful knowledge with a longer shelf life. In fact, we want to create a better system for this type of content to exist in the world. The primary goal of this system is not an altruistic one that aims to get the creators of content paid. That’s a fine goal. But that’s not the only reason you should pay for content. The selfish reason — for you and I — is because it will result in better content. Better content for curious minds who want to learn and grow — a cure for today’s media consumption ailments.

Finding this content is a problem, he claimed:

We see our task at Medium as somewhat like an investor manager for you, the members. We’ll be aggregating desire (and money) to invest it into worthwhile content that makes us all smarter. You tell us if we’re doing a good job, what you want more or less of, and we’ll adjust. And as more people join, our collective ability to fund even better stuff grows. This is essentially the same thing every paid media product does. The only difference is, Medium is the first open, large-scale publishing platform to do this.

Williams then outlined the kind of content that he expects members to pay for, which sounds like the content on pretty much any site anywhere on the Internet, including regular free Medium:

Politics. What’s happening behind the headlines. How to think about it. What to do about it.

Work. Lessons in business, startups, leadership, management, and money.

Self. Smart takes on how to be your best you — happier, healthier, more productive.

Future. Where the world is going — technology, trends, what it all means.

These posts follow an email that Medium sent to some writers last week inviting them to “become part of a select group of contributing writers for our launch”:

So what types of posts have you been burning to write? If you knew you had a paying audience waiting for your ideas, what stories could you tell?

We’re looking for pitches within the following categories to start: US Politics, Technology/Science/Future, Self Development/Productivity, Business/Startups, and Culture. So tell us what you’d like to write about and your rate. If it sounds like a good fit, we’ll get back to you with a thumbs up or feedback as soon as we can.

Medium is planning to pay writers “a flat fee per piece, which will vary depending on length, amount of original research, and the credentials of the author.”

The membership program is open to “a small group of Medium users today,” a Medium spokesperson said, and will roll out more broadly in coming weeks.

I haven’t been able to sign up, but Josh could, and this is what he got as his new homepage:

The new interface is built around several editions assembled through the day, which collect Medium pieces into categories: “New from people you follow,” “Most recommended by people you follow,” “New from publications you follow,” “Popular on Medium,” “Handpicked by Medium staff,” and “You might like.” (A few publishers, including The Times of London, have played around with similar ideas.) The categories make the homepage resemble Medium’s preexisting daily digest emails to users, which group stories similarly. A help document (viewable only to members) explains the reasoning:

We’ve never wanted Medium to be yet another feed you feel obligated to check throughout the day  — or another thing to scroll endlessly for fear of missing out. So when we designed this new homepage, we did so with the goal of developing a satisfying, completable, and controllable reading experience.

Besides the new layout, the big difference is that it’s not an endless feed. Instead, it’s a finite digest of stories, organized into sections, and updated three times a day.

Your new homepage has also been designed to reflect your interests better. We heard from many of you that it was hard to tell why stories were showing up in your old feed; you’ll now notice they’re grouped by topic. Topics are different from tags because they’re curated by experts in their fields and they bring the top stories directly to your homepage. But rest assured, you’ll still see stories from the people and publications you follow — they now have their own specific sections on your homepage.

As for the other new features, the offline reading is, well, offline reading. Medium didn’t announce any partner writers or publishers with the new program. This article, which is available whether you’re logged in or logged out, appears to be one example of what you’ll get as a member. It’s an explanation of why you should pay to support Medium.

Medium laid off 50 people — about a third of its staff — in January and shut down its offices in New York and Washington, D.C. It was unclear what this meant for the publishers that had transitioned to Medium, who weren’t told about the changes in advance.

In his Wednesday post, Williams wrote that “Media is broken. And we need to fix it…Let’s stop relying on ad buyers and social media echo chambers to determine what we put in our brains —  which is just as important, or more so, than what we put in our bodies.”

It remains to be seen whether relatively small upgrades like an improved homepage and offline reading will be enough to make that revolution happen.

POSTED     March 22, 2017, 4:58 p.m.
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