Yesterday I wrote about the weird breathless coverage that Twitter co-founder Ev Williams seems to get whenever he talks about Medium, his grand project to make online publishing sustainable. Williams will speak to anyone who will listen about how unsustainable the current advertising-driven media industry is. What he neglects to mention is the carnage he’s left behind while building, destroying, and supposedly again rebuilding Medium.
Today we get another example of this: Nieman Lab reports that Williams’s company is ending its paid membership program for publications. This feature allowed blogs hosted on Medium to build their own individual paying subscriber base. Many of the publications using this feature were wooed to Medium because of this very offering. But with Medium ending paid memberships this month, is essentially kicking these websites off the platform.
Some publishers described to Nieman their discontent. “We’re trying to make a living,” Chris Faraone, the founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, said. “Could we have a better metaphor for the way Silicon Valley considers local journalism?”
Halimah Marcus, executive director of Electric Literature, tweeted this:
.@ElectricLit is facing a $25,000 loss of contributed income because of Medium’s latest “pivot.” If you’d like to support our mission to make literature exciting, accessible, and inclusive, we’ve moved our membership program to @drip. https://t.co/h6mnRTATDO
— Halimah Marcus (@HalimahMarcus) May 9, 2018
Williams has a track record of trying to partner with lean publishing programs, only to change Medium’s business model and send these businesses into panic mode. At the same time, he continues to speak about his plans to fix the broken system. It’s true that ad-based digital media is unsustainable, but bringing on journalists and editors and then killing their revenue in the name of a business pivot hardly seems like the appropriate fix. As one person impacted by Medium’s business changes in 2015 told me, the company is “throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.”
One thing is for sure: After a half-decade of causing collateral damage to people in vulnerable industries, Williams can no longer be considered the best person to fix what ails media.
I reached out to Medium for comment and will update this story if I hear back.
This story has been updated to clarify that the paid membership program is for publications.