Paywalls Publishing Subscription

Medium issues apology and extends an olive branch to affected publishers

Last week Medium abruptly canceled the membership programs of its 21remaining subscription publisher partners to focus fully on its own site-wide subscription model, which it offers for $5 a month. In a statement, Medium’s head of partnerships Basil Enan said membership arrangements like BINJ’s were causing confusion.

The outcry over the sudden move, and the revenue disruption it immediately created (Columbia Journalism Review gives the example of  Electric Literature saying goodbye to between $15,000 and $20,000 in advertising revenue), has forced Medium to issue an apology and extend an olive branch to the affected publishers.

“Recently, we notified a small group of publishers on Medium that we would be discontinuing an invitation-only beta feature called publication memberships,” Michael Sippey, Medium’s vice president of product, said in an emailed statement. “These memberships allowed readers to subscribe to an individual publication on Medium. We had been working with a number of these partners on alternative licensing deals to keep their income at or above the levels they were earning through this feature.

“However, we realize, for those that we were not working with, we gave far too short of notice for them to make alternative plans. We completely understand the frustration this caused and would like to apologize for our lack of consideration. We’re sorry.”

The cancellation of Medium’s membership option is in some ways a natural continuation of its January 2017 pivot away from advertisements and publisher-friendly monetization options, and toward its continued investment into its own subscription business, which it launched in March 2017. Enan said as much in a statement provided through a Medium spokesperson.

“When we shifted away from an advertising-based model in 2017, supporting publisher monetization was no longer a part of our core business,” Enan said, adding that Medium stopped providing new membership options in January 2017.

This new direction is being implemented under chief executive Ev Williams, who views the future for Medium as an ad-free, subscription business. Its modern spin on the subscription model is the “open paywall” concept, which means publications and individual writers alike fall behind a single, site-wide paywall instead of having to implement individual paywalls on their own.

This is the reasoning behind Medium’s decision to cancel the membership program that it had offered to the likes of BINJ and Electric Literature; publisher-specific membership programs were not part of the so-called “open paywall”—and they weren’t bringing in any revenue for Medium.

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