Medium’s latest pivot leaves some independent media in the lurch

Medium has abruptly pulled a feature that allowed publishers to operate paywalls on its platform, leaving some independent media scrambling for alternative options to maintain a crucial source of revenue.

The company this week shuttered a two-year program that let media run paid subscription services on its site. Nieman Lab reports that Medium contacted its 21 remaining subscription publishing partners at the end of April to give them a week’s notice on the shutdown. Although Medium said it offered to extend the deadline for those who needed more time.

A lot can happen in a week, but it’s not a lot of time when it comes to rejigging business models — particularly in the media industry where revenue is sacred and direct relationships with readers are savored.

Of course, because this is life, there were some complications.

One publication, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism (BINJ), said the shutdown came out of the blue as it apparently didn’t get the notification email.

But even those who did had to scramble.

Another partner, Electric Literature, faced a rush to find an alternative subscription product and get its subscribers to move over without churn. Executive editor Halimah Marcus said the publication’s subscription income is worth $25,000 per year.

Medium told Nieman that the move was primarily a result of the introduction of Medium’s own $5 per month subscription product last year. Those paying that fee — which unlocks all content on Medium — weren’t able to access stories from the likes of BINJ or Electric Literature which Medium said created “confusion.”

As is so often the case in social media — where it be Facebook, Medium or others — building on someone else’s platform carries the risk that they might make changes that negatively impact your business. That’s the case here, as even Medium seemed to acknowledge by pointing out that other media had already left for new shores.

“Since Medium introduced its own subscription product in March of 2017, publications that want to build their own subscriber bases have largely found other avenues via which to build that base,” Medium’s head of partnerships Basil Enan added in a statement.

Still, news of the change came just days after a rather flattering New York Times story focused on how Medium CEO Evan Williams — of Twitter and Blogger co-founder fame — plans to “fix the internet.” Williams penned an essay on the problems of advertising-based models and the good that technology can do.

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