Medium’s Memberships and Subscriptions Don’t Make The Grade


April 6, 2016

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Earlier this week Medium announced “New custom tools for publishers“, a list heavy on ways to more easily share your content for free with a global audience. As content is increasingly forced down the Long Tail, I have little confidence this will be useful for 98% of publishers. Mostly, Medium is fleecing inexperienced publishers with expensive tools that aren’t up to snuff.

Their most interesting new tool: A beta of members-only content. From their promo page:

we’re launching a membership program that allows readers to contribute a fixed amount every month toward their favorite publications on Medium. Publishers will be able to set a membership price and “lock” certain stories, creating exclusive premium content that only paying members receive. In time, we’ll continue to work with publishers to develop an even more diverse suite of reader-support products.

I’m not sure why they keep calling it “members” because it’s really about subscriptions, the red-headed step-child of content revenue for the last decade (gimme more clicks!). Today for the vast majority of publishers, producers of niche content, subscriptions are the best option to actually make money.

The pricing system Medium has in mind is egregious. For the first 500 members acquired publishers only pay processing fees (2.9% would be the usual, but Medium doesn’t say how much they charge) but after that first 500 members, publishers pay an additional fee ranging from 20 to 60-cents per member each month. That’s a big service fee, considering that racking up your first 500 subscribers is probably the hardest thing to do for most publishers, after that, you’ve probably got kind some of marketing plan in mind or you know how to find your subscribers. So, when you should be getting to a glide path to profitability, Medium’s system is making it harder.

Medium also doesn’t provide details on how the memberships are managed, if you can uncharge them, make changes to how much you charge, create multiple membership levels, trials or free months. As I’ve learned managing Aldertrack, these are all critical components to running a serious subscription-based publication.

There are dozens of membership-tools for web publications, ranging from very good to mind-boggling bad. Many of the good ones are inexpensive, and there are lots of great ones you can use in conjunction with WordPress templates. As I detailed here, we launched the earliest paid version of Aldertrack for less than $200. I have some HTML knowledge, but I’m no hacker. Anyone with a bit of time and commitment should be able to do what we did. Over time, we’ve gotten better and smarter – and if your product quality is high, customers will be patient with a low-rent website. Just talk to Matt Drudge and Craig Newmark.

Judging by the tools Medium released this week, I’d say they’re less serious about helping growing publishers than they are by drawing eyeballs to their platform.