Medium has just launched its subscription service, which for $5 per month will give subscribers access to... something, eventually.
At the moment, the service isn’t offering subscribers much beyond the knowledge that their money is going directly to writers. Medium says it will direct all revenue from “those who sign up in the first few months” straight to writers and publishers, so the company won’t be taking a cut for the time being.
Subscribers will get exclusive stories and early access to new features
Eventually, Medium does plan to start offering new features to subscribers. It says they’ll get exclusive stories and early access to a new Medium interface, which involves human-curated reading lists. Paying subscribers will also get the ability to save stories for offline reading.
This all sounds kind of haphazard, which isn’t necessarily a huge surprise since Medium came to the subscription model only after trying and abandoning an advertising-based business. In January, the company laid off a third of its staff and renounced ads as a pernicious influence on the world, without mentioning that Google and Facebook are so good at ads there’s hardly room for anyone else to compete.
In a Medium post today, company CEO Ev Williams reiterates this stance against the ad model that funds most online media (like, for instance, The Verge). “We need a system that funds stories and ideas not just based on their ability to attract attention, but on their value to readers,” Williams writes.
“You’ll get to help tell us what’s most valuable and how we spend that money.”
Williams has a point. At some level, ad-supported publishers are going to be driven by views, and that encourages them to write stories that reach a broad audience but aren’t necessarily that important (like, say, reposting the latest John Oliver clip). But it’s not like subscription-based publications don’t face the same issues; ultimately, they need to reach readers and provide something worth paying for, be it hard-hitting journalism or just some great photo essays of rich people’s apartments.
So far, there isn’t much indication of how Medium plans to build a sustainable business model that meets the ends that Williams outlines, but it sounds like he’s hoping that there are enough people out there willing to help the company give it a shot. “This is the system that Medium is building,” he writes, “and as a founding member, you’ll get to help tell us what’s most valuable and how we spend that money.”
Medium began emailing some users about its membership program this afternoon, saying that it’s first launching signups with “a limited number of people.” But the membership website is public, and it seems that anyone can access it.