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Medium releases Memberships (medium.com)
189 points by anaptfox on Mar 22, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments



> It’s based on the premise that, instead of yet another never-ending feed, people would be much happier with a limited set of carefully curated stories, chosen by experts among topics we care about.

To see if this would be a feature I want, I went to Medium's "Staff Picks" page to see what they already care about. Front and center is an article about some kind of convention for twins. Also featured: a post about witches getting political and another post about design lessons learned from cats.

Not sold on Medium's ability to curate articles...


I think it's a pretty large strategic disadvantage for a news organization to be headquartered in the little bubble that is San Francisco. Goofballs in SF will read that shit but few others will.

Particularly that "design lessons learned from cats" piece haha! Can't see a newsroom anywhere else in the world being impressed by that ...


Medium's trying to get in on that buzzfeed cash.


BuzzFeed makes its money from native advertising, and it pays for content. In many ways, BuzzFeed is quite a traditional media organization.

Medium doesn't pay for content (at the moment) and doesn't do advertising. While people will happily click on garbage content if it's free, I don't see anyone paying for a "Membership" so they can get a stream of cat design stories and low-effort listicles.


especially because that service is already there

all in all it's weird that medium intend to monetize the viewers instead of the publishers. well many newspapers do that but then readers have back news articles, not blogs and opinion pieces.


> a limited set of carefully curated stories, chosen by experts among topics we care about

That's a good definition of a magazine and of a newspaper.


They can definitely learn a thing or two from Spotify and Quora. Those Quora emails are always on point!


Quora's Daily Digest is the best transactional email I've seen! I'm curious what their open rate is because, it's one of the few digest emails I read every time. For those that aren't on Quora, here are some topics from my most recent digest:

- As a SaaS company, do you allow customers to pause their account? https://www.quora.com/As-a-SaaS-company-do-you-allow-custome...

- Why does every employer asks about my current salary during a job interview? https://www.quora.com/Why-does-every-employer-asks-about-my-...

- What is the strangest archaeological object ever found? https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-strangest-archaeological-o...

- What is the typical revenue ramp for a venture-backed SaaS startup? https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-typical-revenue-ramp-for-a...


If I was Medium, I would use machine learning to curate a feed for each individual subscriber.

Their personalized curated feed is already really good. I had to stop looking at their weekly email because my clickthrough rate was too high and it was a time sink.


"If I was Medium, I would use machine learning to curate a feed for each individual subscriber."

If I was Medium I'd hire a team (three or four) experienced newspaper editors [0] and use their expertise to bring back some discipline back to the story process. Do you remember newspapers? There were hundreds of competing stories but the news was carefully selected on a daily basis. This is what is lacking.

The machine is being gamed. Maybe the editorial teams' suggestions should be used to train some aspects of story and category selection? Machine learning is a tool and if Facebook with all it's propellor heads have a problem, what hope have Medium? A different approach is needed.

reference

[0] Lots of newspaper people are out of work or under utilised and as such their availability is high. For example this tweet highlighting guardian journalists getting the sack: https://twitter.com/Hadas_Gold/status/844580929226072065


> Do you remember newspapers?

Honestly? No.

They're that thing my dad would buy on the weekends, read one page of, and then we'd use it for potato peels, lining the floor when painting rooms, and stuff like that.

By the time I was old enough to even consider reading newspapers, they had devolved into clickbait sensationalist garbage. Designed primarily to find whatever boogeyman would make each newspaper's audience most likely to buy the issue. For left newspapers the top story was always about a businessman doing something bad, for right newspapers the top story was about how this or that nationality is threatening our economy. Sometimes both sides had the top story as this or that natural disaster or war that happened so far away that it's irrelevant.

At least the trashy magazines were always honest about being trashy. Their top story was this or that random celebrity doing some outrageous act that nobody cares about.

Honestly, the problem is tying remuneration to readership. The other problems are emergent.

Edit: the intro of this System of a Down video sums up my thoughts excellently --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vBGOrI6yBk


> By the time I was old enough to even consider reading newspapers, they had devolved into clickbait sensationalist garbage.

Talk about generalization. The funny thing about poor catch-all statements like this is that I only need one counter example to make your argument silly. The Economist is one of the finest publications in the world (yes, it's a newspaper). WSJ and NYTimes additionally are totally great papers (although I only read the Economist regularly).

Maybe give these publications another try? It seems like you've limited your exposure to potentially great works.


My English wasn't good enough to understand any of those when I became interested in the topics they cover.

I pay for NYT and some stories are amazing. I finish maybe 5% of the ones I start reading and I probably attempt less than 5% of what they publish.

But, let's see. NYT headline right now: "Terror attack kills 4 in Heart of London". WSJ: "UK parliament attacker leaves 4 dead, 40 injured". The Economist: "A Brazilian meat scandal damages the country's two global producers"

Meh, sensationalism. How is any of this pertinent to me as a 29 year old engineer in SF? Other than making me afraid of my own shadow and riling up negative emotions.

Maybe the problem is that I am fundamentally just not interested in news. That seems increasingly likely. My fav NYT stories, for instance, are the researched not-news article. The Avalanche was one of the best things I ever read.


> I pay for NYT and some stories are amazing. I finish maybe 5% of the ones I start reading and I probably attempt less than 5% of what they publish.

Well, hopefully you finish more than 5% of my reply...

> Meh, sensationalism. How is any of this pertinent to me as a 29 year old engineer in SF? Other than making me afraid of my own shadow and riling up negative emotions.

Seriously? Those are the only thoughts that an article like that (it's finely written, just read it) can evoke on you?

Makes me sad to read your statements, I can only hope that you're not representative of a "29 year old engineer in SF"

I happen to be 31 years old, an engineer and also live in SF... a terrorist attack in London, does happen to be pertinent to me.


> Seriously? Those are the only thoughts that an article like that (it's finely written, just read it) can evoke on you?

It's interesting yes. It's sad that some people died. It's inspiring that life continues, that people get on with their lives and don't let themselves get bogged down because some people have stupid ideas. All of that is great.

The article even teaches me some practical things about how terrorist attacks work. How to thwart them, how to carry them out. What happens after.

Fundamentally though, London has a 0.24% death rate per year. With 8.6 million residents that's 56 dead people per day.

I'm sure those 4 people that died were very important to their families and loved ones. And the other 50-ish that died on the same day I'm sure were just as important to their loved ones.

And what am i to do with this information? How does it affect my life? I went to work today, I'll go tomorrow. I'll kiss my girlfriend goodnight and play with my parrot. I'll waste some time online. Maybe write or make a video.

I'm just as likely to die in a terrorist attack tomorrow as I was yesterday. It is overall not something worth worrying about.

Even the people I know who live in London have all said "Meh, this affects nothing. I got shit to do"

My point is that following the news is kind of toxic. Every day they find ten things you should be upset about. Why? To what end? What's the point? When one crisis blows over, they'll find the next one.


If you can't meaningfully differentiate between people dying of illness or old age and people dying from someone driving a car deliberately into them and then running amok with a knife... well, I think the problem's with you rather than with the news content you're consuming.

The people I know in London (I'm about 150 miles west of there) most certainly were not saying, "Meh, this affects nothing".


I work in London and have done for 20+ years. Westminster is close by to where I currently work. I still echo this though - it affects nothing.

For those of us old enough to have lived through the IRA bombings of the early 90s, you've gotta really step up your terrorist game[1] if you actually want Londoners to react in a meaningful way.

Despite the public 'shock' shown in the media, most Londoners typically do just go 'meh', and get on with their day. London is a BIG city, 8+ million people in it every day. Unless tragedy affects you or someone you know, it's hard to get upset about it.

--

[1] Absolutely not condoning terrorism, just making a point.


>"Meh, this affects nothing".

As someone who lives in London (but no longer works by westminster) - this is my unpopular opinion. I'm pretty sure a bunch of people have been stabbed this year in random/gang violence but nobody is terrified by that.

Yes, it sucks that a guy in a car can intentionally run a bunch of people over. I'm sad for the police officer killed in the line of duty. It's a bad day. Literally nothing has changed.


Yeah agree.

I lived through IRA bombings although I can't recall much, I was near a pub that a neo-nazi nail-bombed in '99 and I was on a train one station along in '05. So I have trouble working out why I'm so not-scared.


Have you been able to discern why an attack in London that kills 4 people is considered more pertinent by these bastions of journalism and not the numerous that happen every single day in Iraq and Syria, a place plunged into this power vacuum by Westminister and Washington?

Lets be honest, the pertinence of an attack in London is being established not because people dieing is pertinent, its that the people are dieing in a city that looks like yours and mine.


I don't really know what to say. It is unfortunately self-evident that when something that is unusual occurs, it is newsworthy, and when something happens every day, it becomes less newsworthy (I guess that's the "news" bit of "newsworthy").

If there were a terror attack in London of a similar magnitude every Wednesday for the next 16 weeks, I imagine the headlines in July would be somewhat more muted (though of course there would then be op-ed pieces wondering what we could do to stop terror attacks happening every Wednesday, just like there are pieces in the newspaper periodically wondering what can be done to improve the situation in Iraq or Syria).


I read the article about the Brazilian meat manufacturers. Here's how it affects you. If you eat meat, you can start to wonder where it's sourced from and what standards it adheres to. The article mentioned that Brazilian exports to the US started last year. You would also know that the vast majority of such factories are well run, unlike the bad apples that this investigation uncovered. Basically it would make you think more about the food you eat.


It's a shame you got heavily downvoted, because in England the newspapers really are this fucking awful.

The guardian, telegraph, independent, and times are sort of exceptions. The FT is a definite exception.

Two UK newspapers were highlighted by the EU for providing such inaccurate coverage of migration they were likely leading to hate crime.

Just one example: Here's what Statins do, according to the front page of one newspaper. https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C6GuXQhWUAAN5F5.jpg

It's an incoherent mess of terrible science reporting blasted across the front page.

PROOF STATINS SAVE MILLIONS

STATINS IN NEW HEALTH ALERT

STATINS REALLY DO SAVE YOUR LIFE

HEALTH CHIEF SLAMS STATINS

HIGH DOSE OF STATINS CAN BEAT DEMENTIA

DOCTORS BAN ON STATINS

TAKE STATINS TO SAVE YOUR LIFE

NEW STATINS BOMBSHELL

OFFICIAL: STATINS ARE SAFE

STATINS: NEW SAFETY CHECKS

PROOF STATINS BEAT DEMENTIA

HOW STATINS CAN CAUSE DIABETES

STATINS FIGHT CANCER

STATINS SLASH RISK OF STROKE BY 30%

STATINS INCREASE RISK OF DIABETES

STATINS ADD A MERE 3 DAYS TO LIFE

STATINS DOUBLE RISK OF DIABETES

STATINS AGE YOU FASTER

NEW STATINS SAFETY ALERT

STATINS LINKED TO 227 DEATHS

PROOF AT LAST STATINS ARE SAFE


To be honest, your newspapers (primarily the tabloids) are famous/infamous for being junk. It would be hard almost anywhere in the world to print such trash and not have to suffer consequences (libel lawsuits, etc.).


Consider, wouldn't your NN most likely be trained on what gets clicks and inevitably lead to a clickbait feed that you're dreading?


Whatever your feelings about newspapers are, they have existed for hundreds of years and learnt some incredibly valuable lessons about news, journalism, reader psychology, etc. The collective wisdom of newspapers of record could fuel countless of business ventures and avoid lots of costly mistakes.


Totally. I just don't think I've ever experienced that. For as long as I can remember news has been about sensationalism at all cost.

The question was do I personally remember newspapers and the answer is no. I remember them as a thing that exists, yes, but not as a thing that provides value.


  news has been about sensationalism at all cost.
Sadly, newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries were even worse, and unlike today, you had no way to independently research if you were being lied to. (Hearst was a classic example.)


As one of the other commenters suggested, I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Economist.


I dearly love The Economist (and, indeed, have a small stack of them about a foot from me right now), but I do sometimes get the feeling that reading a newspaper with which I agree so strongly on almost all issues (hell, even the advertising feels like it's targeted at people just like me) is probably a little unhelpful in terms of giving me a balanced perspective on the world. I'm not sure what one can do to balance this, though - I picked up a copy of Nexus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nexus_(magazine)) recently and that didn't really much help either, though it was pretty damn entertaining.


I'm not sure what one can do to balance this, though

Try reading magazines like The Spectator, The National Review and The American Conservative. Even if you don't agree with everything they write (or especially if you don't agree with everything they write), they're on the whole well written and present their view in a pretty well argued manner.


I have a friend who is a intelligent, die hard progressive who makes it a point to read the most extreme right wing news sites, just to glean how a person on the other side might view and construct the world.

Maybe that is a bit extreme, but I think Economists readers (I think the publication is center right?) can pick up a center left or far left publications from time to time.


It's a bit tricky to pin The Economist to either the left or the right; they describe themselves as being "radically centrist". This Quora answer from an Economist writer is good: https://www.quora.com/Is-The-Economist-left-or-right


The "collective wisdom of newspapers of record" hasn't managed to save them from their own costly mistakes, generally speaking, when you look at their current financial state.


That they are having trouble navigating the new world of the web is orthogonal to the knowledge of how to digest the world's happenings in a concise, informative manner, and (IMO) tossing all of what newspapers have accomplished out due to financial issues is a clear baby-with-the-bathwater situation.


I don't know why the parent is being down-voted, it raises some valid points.

"Honestly? No. They're that thing my dad would buy on the weekends, read one page of, and then we'd use it for potato peels, lining the floor when painting rooms, and stuff like that."

I see no problem with not living in the time of centralised news. A quick history lesson. Newspapers are old forms of information dissemination, they do however offer a glimpse of a solution to some problems you describe, Not all.

News in the form of facts used to be collected by reporters, and journalists who would write up what they saw. The raw information would be passed to editors (subeditor in newspapers) to correct, then transcribe news into a house style fit for publishing. This is what we used to see in news. On the news-stand, the radio and to a lesser extent television.

The WWW removed this technical hurdle to publish news. Think about that. Some of the processes were technical requirements, others were there for accuracy. This resulted in (degrees) of quality news.

"By the time I was old enough to even consider reading newspapers, they had devolved into clickbait sensationalist garbage."

The money part is one problem. There are hints of what companies are trying. [0] The rivers of revenue from car sales, houses, jobs are gone. They had a monopoly and have now lost it. Journalism and news was always subsidised from these revenue streams. I don't know the answer to this.

Then there is the problem of where we get our information. The real problem now, is serious attempts to generate dis-information. Disinformation, distortion of news is not new. [2] At it's mildest it's the annoying advertising passed as news. What is going on in the Whitehouse is at the extreme end. [3] For most of us reading online we have to wade through the middle ground trying to work out what is worth reading. This is a job that could be tackled by humans trained in understanding and curating news and information, aided by smart algorythms. AI won't solve this problem (yet). It is too easy to game.

In the mean time, as Dave Winer suggests, invest carefully in your own personal news flows. [4]

reference

[0] "Ads, he said, “[are causing] increasing amounts of misinformation…and pressure to put out more content more cheaply — depth, originality, or quality be damned. It’s unsustainable and unsatisfying for producers and consumers alike….We need a new model.”"

https://thenextweb.com/opinion/2017/03/23/ev-williams-lost-g...

[1] "Since January I've been adding to a thread on how Bannon and Trump are building a disinformation validation network."

https://twitter.com/justinhendrix/status/844718202349371393

[2] If you read through the CIA reading room, search for Soviet disinformation and be surprised at the attempts to destabilise western democracy through fake news: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/search/site/soviet%2...

[3] "This is a thread about #RussiaGate and Paul Manafort's $10M/year contract to further the interests of Putin's government:" https://twitter.com/AndreaChalupa/status/844710804985393153

[4] "One of the most patriotic things you can do is to upgrade the quality and breadth of the news you read. Invest in your personal news flow." https://twitter.com/davewiner/status/844691778724859904


This might work for most people in five to ten years.

Today, Spotify's algorithms couldn't figure out that I might be interested in a new album released by one of my most-listened-to bands last year. I didn't know about it until seeing it on Wikipedia, of all places, since I rely (over-rely) on Spotify for discovery.

Netflix is great at telling me I might be interested in stuff I've heard of but intentionally not watched cause I'm not interested in it despite superficial similarities with stuff I do like. They seem rather useless at detecting that I like a certain type/style/"quality" (this is too pretentious, but I can't come up with a better word at the moment) of movie/show regardless of genre rather than a certain set of genre tags.

And so on.

What I wouldn't do to get most machine-learning curated recommendation engines with human-curated ones.

Think of it as the difference between reading The Wirecutter and buying based on whatever Amazon.com's homepage pops up.

Or comparing a daily digest of The New Yorker with whatever shit articles Facebook bubbles up to me.


You're implying that it was a time sink because your clickthrough rate was too high.

If reading a news source isn't worth doing once a week it probably isn't worth doing once a month, once a year, or ever.

I don't think the issue is your clickthrough rate. I think the issue is that once you click through to the articles they don't contain anything of value. Your email sounds like a curated list of clickbait articles without any substance.

It sounds like they've used machine learning to curate the most clickable titles (short-term gains) while ignoring quality of content (long-term retention).

In a high-growth environment, for a startup that's less than five years old, that isn't surprising.


"Exclusive stories from top Medium writers," given the type of content Medium is prone toward, seems like less of a perk and more of a punishment.

Sure, people may pay for good articles, but they definitely won't pay for a "new homepage" or "offline reading list," both of which should be standard in 2016.

This does not seem like a promising solution to Medium's existential revenue issues.


I agree, this seems like something that will attract only a few members who are more interested in keeping medium alive for the sake of the founders dream of changing media rather than the actual "perks" of membership which seem scant.

I feel like they would be better off just putting forward their dream and then asking for member contributions the way public broadcasting used to do with their pledge drives.


Not sure why Medium wants to be a publisher. They already have other publishers using their platform. They can create a subscription feature and take a cut. Seems like they are going to compete with their most serious users.


Sounds like they want to be a curator. I agree on the idea to create a subscription feature and take a cut. Medium has such a big audience that I think publishers would gladly sell there for a % fee. If they can't do that, then they'll stick with selling exclusively on their websites.


Can't see what the advantage is to "paying the curator" though - why give up control of who my support goes to by letting them split it up amongst their 'elites', when I can just support the content creator(s) I like directly? Which these days, most people already have avenues for or can set up easily. It seems in Medium's (or any middlemen in this arena)'s best interest to avoid that truly 'frictionless' alternative and present themselves as a good compromise.

As others have pointed out here I don't see how empowering some specific group to decide is any different from a traditional publisher model, or indeed how picking a group steeped in a specific culture bubble will 'fix media'. (Though hey, I invite them to prove me wrong... Any fix would be a welcome fix these days)



That article basically says "we're running out of money" though, doesn't it? Nothing specific.


I think the key point is the declaration that they would move from the ad-revenue model.

Actually thought this was kind of funny at the time because a few reaction pieces were like, "they are being mysterious about their new business model."

This was clearly going to memberships. If you aren't trying to mine traffic for ad dollars, that leaves one other monetization avenue (other than like, an NPR "donate and get a tote bag" strategy).

Don't think that's a bad idea intrinsically, but not sure what content Medium provides me that I can't get elsewhere right now. Most of what I can remember reading on their platform is basically LinkedIn Influencer stuff but on a nicer interface.


Two words: venture capital.


>We may have left the EU but we still share the exact same fate as the rest of Europe whatever that may be.

"How I stood up when they made fun of my freckles in elementary school"

"7 tips for a more productive workday"

"Somebody hurt my feelings. And I'm precious, so you're gonna read 30000 words about it"


And it begins again ...

Ev is not wrong, media is broken. And the advertising system that feeds it is broken too. People reading articles generally aren't interested in 'random' advertising, trade magazines do ok because if you're interested in the trade there are vendors that supply that trade who can advertise in a very targeted way.

It would be interesting to have Medium partner up with Blendle (blendle.com) where you'd pay 0.05 to read a medium article, and the standard Blendle refund rules apply. Assuming 2 cents for Blendle, 2 cents for Medium and 1 cent for the author. An article with 80,000 'reads' would pay the author $800. It would be interesting to see if the capital outlay would provide the necessary curation to insure a quality queue of interesting things to read.


> Assuming 2 cents for Blendle, 2 cents for Medium and 1 cent for the author. An article with 80,000 'reads' would pay the author $800.

I "love" these calculations: So, you suggest it is okay that the content generator (aka author) gets 1/5th of the money readers spend, and intermediary organizations get 4/5th?

What if (in this example) Blendle and Medium somehow fail to generate the 80.000 reads - just by promoting other articles? They get their 4 cents from other content, the author of the article in the example gets nothing (or much less) - but is totally depended on Bendle and Medium promoting (and paying) him.

Why should I, as an author, support the intermediaries in this model? Wouldn't this model kill quality instead of promoting quality? As an author, I would still have to favor articles that are written fast and focus on sensationalism to make a living, not on quality, research and balanced presentation.


   > but is totally depended on Bendle and Medium promoting (and paying) him.
What would possibly lead you to think that? All of the existing ways that the author can make money are still available to her, no opportunity has been removed. Another opportunity is simply added. If you get a chance some time pick up a copy of the "Writer's Guide" for the current year.


I would be super interested to know how Foreign Policy, the Economist, the New Yorker, and other more longform / semispecialist systems are doing. My overall impression is that they are chugging along: it's the mass media which gets caught up in the race to the bottom, because the information being delivered is not valuable.

More prolixly... Medium, for instance, is not valuable: it's random essays from random people, who, regrettably, often tend to be pretentious (I don't know why). I can get that from forums and subreddits, often without the pretension. I subscribe to the New Yorker: I love their longform non-fiction and their art content. The rest of it I really don't bother with, particularly their fiction. I would probably subscribe to a longform magazine focused on foreign policy / politics / governance with a strong establishment liberal bent. I would not subscribe to a "feed of essays by people of varying qualifications". Hacker News provides that. I subscribe to the NYT. I would judge media to be in a bad way - the people who are educated[1] and interested are already finding serious content and paying for it, and the people who are uneducated and uninterested consume unserious content and often not paying for it.

[1] I use this in a very loose term: say, 8th grade education. Look at the literacy stats for the United States. Nothing to be excited about. But they explain a great deal.


I had no idea about Blendle, thank you! Seems exactly what I wanted: paying for articles instead of publications.


You still have the friction of getting 80,000 people to set up and maintain a payment method of some kind. The perceived insignificance of a few cents per article could both help and hurt the establishment of this.


Blendle appears to already have the payment system set up, I'm not sure how it works (just a user). My test was the NY Times which I was subscribed to but frustrated when I would go a week without reading any articles and yet still paying for "access" and the reading experience as a subscriber was still filled with ads. I stopped that subscription and put the equivalent dollars into my Blendle "wallet" and read NYT, WSJ, WaPo, and occasional Barrons article. I was spending less than I had been on just the NYT, and the reading experience was far better.

I've suggested to Blendle that they should negotiate with these sites to put a Blendle link to the article in their Paywall pop up. Not sure if they took that idea anywhere.


This could have been a really smart way to get Medium started a few years ago. The way the site has been built out, though, this will be quite challenging.

Right now, Medium is a very noisy site. Noisy in a good way. Lots of energy. Lots of advocacy posts, full of swear words for emphasis. It's become a place where bold new voices periodically show up to make a statement. (Talia Jane, etc.) I try to skim it a couple times a week. Skim is the key word; the site's stories are very hit or miss. It's possible to breeze past five duds in a row so quickly that I hardly notice, and that's okay.

Nothing about current Medium feels like it has the makings of a judicious, curated concert hall of careful writing. Signing up a few famous writers won't fix this mismatch. Erratic is a big part of Medium's brand right now, and to forfeit that in a belated dash to "quality" feels dismissive of what the brand stands for.

It's really hard for me to see Medium as a place for the kind of WSJ/FT paid content that's aimed at rich high achievers who want business or lifestyle tips that the masses don't know about. It's even harder to see it succeeding as a paid online home for long, magazine-style features. Too many rivals in every genre are giving it away.

Building up a paid online audience is hard work, and it goes slowly at first. Jessica Lessin at The Information is doing it about as well as anyone, and she's defined her mission very tightly.

This latest strategy switch by Medium seems very prone to trying a lot of different formats in a hurry, without the patience to stick with one quietly for 2-3 years, waiting for the first little bits of traction to take hold.


fair observation overall, but not sure about "patience" - in 3 years, who knows how much of current VC funding remains.


Good point. In the do-over category, starting out with a small business that could recalibrate at $500k/iteration instead of $30m/iteration might have helped.


I had a startup that tried something like this.

Initially we went with a similar membership concept, except people subscribed to one writer directly, and got access to the collective. It barely worked, and we moved over to more of a crowdfunding model which was about 100x more effective.

In the end we worked with major publications and hundreds of journalists, had a million dollar matching fund program, and paid out millions of dollars to writers directly, but it still didn't work as a big business.

This makes me think Medium is pretty clueless about what they are getting into - especially after raising more than $100 million.


Have always been interested in why few startups try to do this. "Netflix for journalism" seems like such a low hanging fruit pitch, at least to get funding that you'd think more folks would have at least tried.

After moving to the crowdfunding model, what was the primary problem? Were the unit economics not conducive to retaining good writers who would attract readers, or conversely was there no way to sustain a margin for the platform?


The problem is the same one that Medium will likely soon find out.

The news market is a heavily competitive one, with hundreds of sites offering everything for free with ads. As a result, most people just don't see the need to pay for news. They can find the exact same information in a million other places, and the friction from going from 'free with ads' to 'pay for content' is fairly considerable.

It's like trying to sell a smartphone app. The pressures against it are considerable due to the race to the bottom and a large percentage of people just don't see the point in paying.

So it's a business that's hard to build trust in, requires a decent amount of marketing/awareness, will attract a far smaller audience than the free sites and ends up being a difficult one to monetise properly.


Totally agree. The only advantage I could see them working is being able to act as a central platform for paid outlets.

Digital subscriptions (NY Times, Washington Post) have seen a boost since the election in the U.S., but does anyone pay for multiple subscriptions? It's frustrating - even as someone who really wants to support media - that each outlet has their own barrier.

This is so different from how we consume other media (video: Amazon Prime, HBO, Netflix; music: Spotify, Apple Music) where I can get access to a library and it makes the tradeoff with finding a free version online easier to deal with.

To my knowledge, major publishers have never tried this and they instead are caught in the digital impression arbitrage game.

Admittedly, Medium doesn't have those publishers on board but I do think that's an angle the market has not tested/figured out.


Relatively few people need to read news enough to pay for it.


What was it called?


Beacon, although many called it Beacon Reader.


Too bad to see that Beacon shut down. With Trump's election, this might have been a prime moment for community-funded journalism.


Sadly, I don't think it would have really helped. And I'm not saying that lightly.


> 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. [emphasis mine]

Is he saying that subscription revenue is going to writers hand-picked by Medium editors and not driven by writers who have more readers? I don't get that approach. If anything, as a subscriber I'd want my subscription dollars to go to the writers of articles I've liked/recommended. Why are they demonizing those kinds of clicks?

Am I understanding this wrong?


This was the initial vision of Medium. They then handed over the keys to those with most Twitter followers, rewarding Silicon Valley darlings and those already good at drawing attention to themselves.

The prospect of paying $5 a month to fill Bill Simmons, MG Siegler or Anil Dash's pockets some more doesn't really appeal.


I think this could turn away a big majority of writers who have great content but aren't well known. Kinda like Spotify dollars are all going to the top pop singers but not many of the indie bands that people really love. And if Medium was really going to pay all the writers, how much would they end up with? Couldn't be more than pennies. As a writer, I'd rather have the ability to sell my own subscription on Medium, and get paid by my loyal readers.


The writing is on the wall, this is a hail mary!

Its a decent platform that would make some money, but not the kind of amounts it raised.

I like what YouTube did with YouTubeRed, give an option to people not have ads is the way, but keep it accessible to every one. I think that is their only solution, but now they have doubled down on no-ads. God Bless Them.

Good Intentions is a not a great business plan.


BTW, Google still mines the videos you watch despite YouTubeRed.


They don't want to incentivize people writing just to get maximum clicks.


I get that, but don't you sort of have to trust that your users are smart enough to 'heart' the articles that are of value to them? It almost feels like he's saying 'our readers aren't smart enough to know good writing from clickbait'. Which might be true, but that's not exactly a sales pitch that's going to make me want to subscribe.

Just take my $5 and divvy it up among all the articles I hearted. Keep it simple!

I've read so much great stuff on Medium I'd hate to see it fail. But, the hand-picked articles on the front page are almost never ones I really value. Maybe I'm just not Medium's target audience.


> It almost feels like he's saying 'our readers aren't smart enough to know good writing from clickbait'. Which might be true, but that's not exactly a sales pitch that's going to make me want to subscribe.

Yep. It's not really doing or saying anything to assure readers that they know where the quality lies, just giving the same 'media sucks, let's improve it' spiel that most publications start out with, minus the commitment a publication has to cater to its readers (donating through medium essentially gives up your control as to who gets supported, as opposed to the straightforward idea of donating to the publisher/writers you like directly).

I can't see many people as opinionated as medium users lining up to give up that control for blind faith in a platform, but hey, I guess tumblr got enough people to buy into the idea of their convention to fund their ball pit, so who knows, maybe it'll work out.


I'd pay to not have to spend any time deciding if an article is an actual good article or if it is just clickbait.

I read way less than I could because I don't want to spend precious minutes every day sifting through random articles. There's way less opportunity cost compared to Hacker News or even Reddit where I can get quality reading for not a lot of effort.


Want to develop a HN for writers with me?


If it were only paying members whose votes were counted that might work?


So, like, a "poll tax?"


Good articles and many clicks (readers) aren't each others opposites. Now the mindset at Medium seems to be that quality and popularity are mutually exclusive. It's like that annoying music connoisseur: 'I was a big fan of that band, until they became popular'.


Maybe thats what you want, maybe not. What you want, I think, is value for the $5. The same way for example you want value for the $10 you pay Netflix. Netflix doesnt allocate subscription dollars based on hours of viewing. So for e.g. House of Cards costs 10s of millions of dollars to produce, while a documentary might only cost a few hundred thousand, but you might derive your $10 value from the documentary rather than HoC. In the same way if Medium can create a bouquet where both the sports stats junkie and tech news enthusiasts can find value then it could become interesting. I think the challenge for them is that people have gotten so used to text content being free that most people dont want to pay.


I don't think they're demonizing anyone, let alone clicks.


When I first got the oh so very secret and cool, private 'invite' email, I thought "Great - they are gong to reward me for being one of the first people to sign up and post articles way back when they launched!"...

Click through, and there is a vanity demo badge that says I was a "Member since March 2017" - wait, what? Scroll down - Ah, the first ever mention of money. $5 per month. Close browser window.

Something about the way they are trying to sell this doesn't sit well with me. If it is a paid subscription, then sell it from the outset as a subscription - not some sort of chic, cool membership in a secret society.

Granted Medium has some great articles, and I will still continue to publish my thoughts there, but there are too many 'listicles' and inane 'life lesson' articles for me to spend $5 per month on the platform.


It's easy to criticize Medium, and I wish they started with direct monetization earlier or went 100% native ads. Now Medium has somewhat limited choice. Reason is because it's not a publisher, it's a platform for different types of publishers.

Site-wide paywall won't work, since majority of writers do not want to limit access to their content and publish to get eyeballs. Metered access might solve that problem but a lot of testing is needed to figure out right amount of access limiting, so casual readers would never see a wall.

Premium section might work but big question is how to split revenue among writers and how to select writers. Share based on recommend count? Perhaps. How much would Medium have after payouts?

Premium feature(s) would work but what.

Giving existing, relatively big, publishers a monetization tool to create and manage subscriptions. Big question here is again, how much Medium would make after payouts?

Premium section seems like a lot of work but could work. Attracting big publishers and giving them great CMS and great way to monetize might work as well but it is a very different path.


This might be misreading things, but it feels like Medium is trying to be less of a publishing platform (like a twitter), and trying to turn more into a media/content company.

Honestly I'm not sure what I'd really get from my $5. A single page browsing experience doesn't sound amazing. If anything, they should do that for everyone because the infinite scroll tends to just get people to read more.

For some of the more popular pages, like for example war is boring is one of my favs, they seem to generate a following unto themselves, probably by finding and targeting their niche audience. Most people on medium would probably find war is boring, well, boring.

It seems like the hard part is combining "thoughtful, well researched" with "interest of the reader" without becoming an echo chamber, censor, or deemed irrelevant by the reader.


It's a bit dishonest that first they said they are going to develop tools for ads. They tried that and failed. Now they try to spin this as if they are on a mission to rescue the world from ads. Very dishonest.


I'm always dubious of startups based on how the founder wants the world to be. Even if there are a lot of people who want it to be that way too, markets have a way of foiling such plans.



Did they send you punch cards through the mail?


unix timestamp 0.


Indeed. But I would hope they have my real registration date somewhere :)


>We’re still writing this next chapter of Medium. Our members program is currently in limited release, but we’ll open up to more readers soon. So click the button below, and we’ll notify you as soon as you can join.

It really rubs me the wrong way that I have to ask to be notified when medium will be ready for me to pay for this service.


Why does that bug you? How else are they supposed to notify you without you opting in to be notified?

Or, if what you're insulted by is having to pay, how does this differ than being notified about other paid products and services e.g. the launch of the next Google Pixel phone?


It's about being made to wait to give them money.

It's like you go to the store, standing there with your bills in hand, and the guy just says 'please wait there, I'll get to you when I'm ready.' then proceeds to have a smoke break.


I see your point, but I don't think the analogy fits. In that case, it's infuriating because (a) you actually had to travel to the store, and (b) it's supposed to be open right now.

Medium's new business simply isn't ready yet. It's like the restaurant that across the street from my apartment last year and put up a "Grand Opening: March 15th" sign in February. Or Apple announcing their new iPhone before its release. Etc. Nothing wrong with that.


I think that's a bit overreaction. They are not open for business right now, come back later OR let them email you when we are open. How is that wrong?


I think Medium definitely needs a subscription plan of some kind. I think others are like me and would be glad to pay a monthly patronage to encourage good writing. The key is making sure the money gets to the creators so the content can drive the audience. The tricky part is doing it in such a way that the system can't be gamed.

So let's say I get 10 article credits for my monthly subscription. I'd be glad to "pay" $0.50 an article if I knew 80% went to the writer. Each writer would have to invest in as many free teaser articles that they needed to write in order develop an audience. Medium could then still recommend articles they like but I'd rather see ones that people "like me" read and enjoyed. I'd sign up for a service like this so please take my money.


After the Medium announcement in January, I've been very curious what their new direction would turn out to be. I'll be waiting to see how it plays out before judging, but this really is not what I was hoping for.

It seems clear that there is a new appetite for paying to support quality content that did not exist four months ago.

But I already pay for quality content that is curated by an editorial authority (The Washington Post, etc.).

I'm still looking for way to support good content that is too niche for mass-market consumption.

What I really want is a micropayments service that saves a record of every blog post I want to support. Then, at the end of the month, I can set my "subscription" budget and allocate it to the creator of each saved post based on the value I got from it and my desire to see the creator produce similar content.

Basically I want to:

  1. support content I read  
  2. but not blow my monthly budget by paying a fixed price per piece  
  3. and not support clickbait junk just because I was linked to it and read it
So from a monthly a budget of $20, a couple really good posts might get $1 or $2. NYTimes CPM is $8 (or $0.008 per ad view) [2] so even $0.05 - $0.10 for an average article beats top-end ad revenues, except for sites with highly targeted audiences (assuming no one clicks the ads, which is almost entirely the case for certain audiences that might care about high quality content).

I think Flattr is supposed to work to be a little like this, but I couldn't even get it to accept my (American) credit card. Patreon is intended for larger recurring payments to creators. So as far as I know this doesn't already exists. But I really wish it did.

[1] https://blog.medium.com/renewing-mediums-focus-98f374a960be [2] http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/selfservice/help.html


> So let's say I get 10 article credits for my monthly subscription. I'd be glad to "pay" $0.50 an article if I knew 80% went to the writer. Each writer would have to invest in as many free teaser articles...

Isn't this just clickbait all over again? If you were actually willing to pay for good writing, a simple email address or paypal link would be enough. But you aren't, so it's not, and online writers have to do all sorts of strange things to pay the bills.


I'm not sure what you mean by clickbait. The thing I think you are paying Medium for is discovery from the user side. The writers are attracted there for the audience side. So let's say I'm an author and I put I paywall in front of my articles. How do I get 100K people to even read my free article and come to my site? I agree that if that problem were easy, I'd not need Medium. I also think that by paying for the bundle, I'm more likely to consume up to that amount meaning more writers get paid which encourages more articles and more writers to try also.


For anyone curious, here's a comparison of the signed-out, signed-in, and "members" signed-in homepage:

http://imgur.com/gallery/h3tN3

Instead of a feed of stories (recommended by people you follow) you get them in a grid layout.

Worth $5? Hell no. If I was paying for design, I'd pay it to the folks at theoutline.com (nicest media site by miles and miles). However, there are great writers on Medium and they deserve to be supported. Take my money.


I'm not in a position to downplay or comment on Medium as a platform, as I don't actively read it and when I see posts linked to it from places like here I often don't read them, but in the articles I have read I've rarely found anything truly substantial or of note (outside of some programming articles) when comparing to more traditional news organizations like Economist or newer news organizations like Quartz, and so when I read that they want to funnel money into content that truly makes me think or learn something, I'm not sure if I buy it. Sure, I've read blog posts about postmortems and about product releases, but rarely have I found anything that makes me learn more about the world, like for example, a more nuanced understanding of the reasons behind the South Korean ex-president's impeachment. I'm sure Medium could pull it off, but I'm not convinced yet that they will.

Also, as an aside, they really should let people change the look of the posts beyond the header image. Content tends to look too much alike and while Medium's design is pretty nice, I'm sure there are content creators that would like to change how their posts look beyond the basic controls.


I would like to see a pay per post model to access content from certain writers or certain collections. There is a lot of technical content shared on Medium that is really valuable, and most definitely worth paying for. I would much rather see the writers decide what of their content is worth charging for and what should be free versus Medium making this decision for the community.


We'll see how this plays out. I got an invitation email from Medium to submit a pitch and compensation amount. I've received an automated response regarding the submission, in that they have a lot to go through and will only contact those they are interested in, that sort of thing.

I like the platform and how dynamic it is in a multimedia sense, yet the 'anchor' is still the written word.

This is a new time for media enterprises. Even the NYT is getting a refresh - according to Taibbi at Rolling Stone, 132,000 subscriptions in the first 18 days following the election.

There is a craving for better signal-to-noise voices. The pendulum has swung - obviously - in an extremist direction, and it will take someone of incredible merit and stature to rise above and simply, deftly, and beautifully dispatch with such rhetoric on a daily basis.

I'm pretty optimistic in Medium's chances to cultivate a new arena. Heck, even BuzzFeed is getting into the serious journalism arena.


Smells like desperation, especially coming in hot after recent layoffs. Blogger didn't shatter records or change the world, and honestly we're not going to see that with Medium. I am glad they are enjoying their time in the sun though, as limited as it may be.


Medium had a beta for subscriptions + monetization tools last year for individual publishers. A few examples: http://www.poynter.org/2016/facing-shutdowns-and-stagnating-...

The advertising part of the model may have been removed, but I think there's still value in enabling publishers with tools to sell their content directly to readers.


I wonder what a medium + brave partnership would look like . . . For those who don't know brave: http://brave.com


I really hope this works out for Medium. Although $5/month is not a lot to pay for quality reading content (a book is like $10...) people have grown so used to paying next to nothing for content. Will be interesting to see if recent trends, like fake news and more awareness of clickbait, have people realizing that. Maybe our tastes for information will evolve like our appetite for fast food - we'll realize the crap we're stuffing in ourselves mentally. I'm optimistic.


I pay for the New York Times and Netflix because several times a week I want something that they have and that I can only get if I pay them.

I'd like for Medium's plan to succeed, but I don't feel any similar urgency about the content they host, so I'm not sure how they will get people like me to open our wallets.


I do the same as you (pay for NYTimes + Netflix). I also like Medium a lot, but can't see the benefit at this time for paying them.

On the one hand, having superstar writers/journalists might be an inducement. On the other, some of the best reads from Medium have been deeply intimate pieces from non-writers.

The publications concept in Medium has sometimes been great. I really like "Backchannel" and "Bullshitist." But these publications have a tendency to die out (eg "Matter", and some I can't remember).

It would take an amazing "federation" of thought-leaders curating phenomenal articles to convince me to fork-over a monthly fee in addition to what I pay for the NYTimes.


How are they going to decide the portion of the money that goes to each writer?

If it's based on portion of page views, we're back to encouraging clickbait--but now we're paying for it!

I'd pay the $5/month if they could convince me they've solved this problem. But to me it sounds like they'll have some "staff curation"--which other commenters have pointed out is questionable--and otherwise just be hoping the non-advertiser revenue magically changes things.

I'm not convinced this will work.


https://twitter.com/ev

I'm not sure this is the right man to lead the "curation" of opinions. Or at least, if he does, he needs to be upfront about his own political leanings.

Social justice warfare and anti-Trumpism may make the world a better place.

But fighting democratic trends by censoring / controlling the opinions of a significant proportion of the population may also inflame rightwing opinions and give Trump semi-legitimacy.


Why do I feel like this is just going to create a feeling of "serfdom" (there's got to be a word for this that stings less) of writers who choose to publish on Medium?

-asking as someone who publishes on Medium for a national sports outlet. This really worries me for that reason, and for the reason that I already find Medium's curation, or the things they tell me I'd be interested in to be extremely boring and not at all worth reading.


I think besides the subscription, the most important news in the post is that they are trying to kill the infinite feed and starting offering Human-Curated articles.

"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. Topics are different from tags because they’re curated by experts in their fields and they bring the top stories directly to your homepage."


$5 = introductory price. I assume it'll go higher?

"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."

How much of the revenue will be paid out to writers and publishers in time?

I assume Medium wants to make money from this venture so I'll hazard a guess that the $5 will become $10, and Medium will take 30%.


It would be interesting to see the shift from decades old advertising pattern to membership. I wonder what will happen to the general Internet and the future companies when advertising itself is scorned down upon. There is a reason why adverts were invented, so that every company isn't a walled garden. We live in interesting times!


Hey listen man I need a business model. How about you give me your money? I got some great stories I could tell you


It looks to me like they want to do a Netflix like system but for long form content. The $5 goes towards hiring a specific writer to do a specific in depth article (or series). Unless I am misunderstanding.


IMHO Micro payments should have been the play here.


It's based on the premise that people go to Medium's home page, and are willing to pay to do that.


User since 2010 beta. Ok now I get it, new media and new business model: secret society.


SV has that privilege. It's s snowball effect and eventually crashes just like the rest in the graveyard I can't even remember to name. What was that platform where you were able to give kudos? Quora was shilled heavily too, then suddenly hated by everyone, etc etc.


tl,dr: We're running out of money. Investors are waiting with their pitchforks.


Super early--but I can share a little bit about what I'd consider the product side. In the case of Memberships, the a big part of the product is what content you're going to have access too. (And important to note, this is going to be content that wouldn't exist without memberships.)

I got tapped to be Medium's first external editor. I'm going to run a section on personal development: productivity, health, life hacking, maybe some gadgets, plus a few more crazy topics.

Medium's execution idea is to take a subject-matter expert (I run Coach.me) and give that expert a modest editorial budget and a lot of freedom. Literally, Ev's directions were:

"I'm interested in any topic you're interested in that you think matters to smart people."

I think that model of smart, subject matter experts filling editorial roles can actually work really well to produce high-quality media. The heyday of O'Reilly books (when all programmers had O'Reilly books on their desks) mostly ran this way. The main editors were also great coders. The O'Reilly conferences still run this way.

In my case, having a budget has been an amazing switch from the editorial I had been doing. It took me about three days to start sending out hyperbolic statements like:

"There hasn’t been a personal development publication that mattered since Gina Trapani left Life Hacker in 2009. This could be the next one."

Experiencing the switch really highlighted for me what's wrong with the status quo.

In personal development, blogging has been completely corrupted by content marketing. Literally a content marketing company, Buffer, came in and owned productivity blogging for awhile. Look at the top productivity stories on Medium and you'll find most of the authors are marketers rather than academics or coaches.

So what you see in personal development content is articles that have been fully optimized for virality. The headline is everything. I run a Medium publication that is a group blog for our coaches (Better Humans) and we saw a 5X change in traffic after we asked writers to run their headline through an online headline scoring tool.

But... having content dominated by content marketers feels like empty calories pretty quickly. Not to be too prickly--but a content marketer doesn't have any experience with how the reader is going to implement the advice. That makes for functionally weak articles. Either the reader attempts nothing or attempts something and gives up in frustration.

A personal development article that works is actually really hard to write. Tim Ferriss does this exceptionally well. And if you deconstruct one of his posts you'll find a lot of parts to it. You can't write a short article if you actually care about changing people's lives. I've been on the receiving end of a Tim Ferriss article and those users come in hyped up to the point where they spike retention.

Maybe the current crop of content marketers don't care about impact. Or they just see themselves as the front of the funnel.

Well, here's the switch with content in a membership model. Our content is the end of the funnel. Medium already has the reader's money. So we're going to write completely different articles than anyone else because our article is the product. It's supposed to change your life on its own.

These high quality articles take time to write. The people who know how to write them are busy. In other words, I think really great content for this particular niche really can't exist in any other format. Not sure I completely made the case for that, but it's definitely what I'm feeling after a few days.

I haven't thought too hard about what other niches get transformed in a good way if you put them behind membership. I know people are mentioning news. That experience seems lame to me too. But I do pay for ESPN's Insider. That's just because I'm a basketball junkie. I used to have a subscription for Rails tutorials. I would pay for insider-y stuff--if I love your book and you have a paywall for your daily blog then I'll pay. Mostly, I think this just comes down to any other pay product: if the content is the type of content I love and is trustworthy and is higher quality than I can get anywhere... of course I'd pay for that.


they really should have done a token model on Ethereum, loosely similar to Steemit. That would have been interesting.

This "pivot" is just about Medium being a better magazine editor than the current magazines.


I was hoping for the same thing.

Wondering if the click bait type articles this might promote was a reason to not pursue this direction.


Patreon but instead of a single creator or publisher, you patronize Medium. That's a start, and in the future they may launch something more targeted. But:

>Media is broken. And we need to fix it.

Medium is broken and needs fixing.

Medium has no journalism and no good writing. It only has content. Content Marketing. Either for companies or for individuals.

Subscriptions are a way of fixing this - but get off your high horse first and get introspective. Medium is worse than BuzzFeed and Business Insider as it stands.


> It only has content. Content Marketing. Either for companies or for individuals.

A lot of the content I read is written for the benefit of being top-of-the-sales-funnel. There are thought leaders that I'd pay a reasonable amount (maybe $50-100 a year - thats what I think I paid for flowingdata.com access) to read high quality resources from as I can't access conferences or afford their training, and most importantly I'm not interested in their products as most of these products don't sit with me as the person in charge of the budget. Interesting there isn't a "patron for professionals", or even for people who want quality content from thought leaders (i.e. makeup, photography...)


Medium has no journalism and no good writing.

This is wrong. https://theringer.com/, for example, is hosted on Medium.


Go back and reread any of Rembert Explains America on Grantland. There's nothing even approaching that on The Ringer.

Sure Grantland had a lot of silly pop culture stuff, but it had good journalism and writing, too.

It's really sad that Bill Simmons seems to truly believe people only want the short, superficial shit that's on The Ringer.


Critique the quality of The Ringer compared to Grantland all you want. I'll agree with you. But The Ringer isn't content marketing.


It's not journalism and it's not good writing.


I didn't call it content marketing, I called it "short, superficial shit".


Dilemma called it content marketing. My comment was in response to that original assertion.


>This is wrong.

This is wrong.

"The TV Shows You Need to Watch Right Now" - The Ringer


Url changed from https://medium.com/membership to one that gives more background.


Medium STILL crashes Safari 9 on Mac. The only website that does this, for months and months. Congratulations guys, I don't know how you do it!




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