Pure Silicon Valley: Medium asks $5 a month for absolutely nothing
Think of it as being your own mini-VC without shares
Silicon Valley prides itself on disrupting industries – but it has bitten off more than it can chew by trying to take on an already highly competitive market suffering from major money woes.
Fancy blog platform Medium has been burning through VC money at the rate of $50m a year trying to take on the world of publishers. It has certainly succeeded in getting hits – at least within the confines of the Bay Area, where it has become the go-to site for tech musings written by unpaid people who can't be bothered to set up their own blogs. It claims 60 million monthly readers.
But the site has yet to show a cent in revenue and having publicly decried the use of ads to fund itself, it's in a bit of a tight spot. The solution? A Guardian-style membership scheme. For just $5 a month you can become a Medium member!
Before you rush to hand over your money, however, you may want to consider what you get for that $60 a year: absolutely nothing.
It's safe to say that the pitch to VCs – who have given the website $132m in the past three years – must have been better than the one given to readers for becoming a member.
"We started Medium in 2012 to create a better place to find and share important ideas that deserve to be heard," it begins. "Since then, over seven million stories have been published on Medium, influencing hundreds of millions of readers. But today, the precariousness of our media ecosystem has never been more obvious – nor has our need for depth, truth-seeking, and understanding."
That laughing you can hear? That is every publisher and journalist since the dawn of time.
Get with the program
By insisting on standing outside the traditional publishing industry, the folks at Medium seem to have failed to notice that there is actually a degree of understanding about the future of journalism emerging.
The idea of quantity over quality is long gone. There was a period when more stories equaled more hits equaled more income, but that has long since passed. There are only two games in town right now, and they both require quality and originality of content combined with intelligent curation and editing. In other words, journalism.
There is the ad-funded model, like El Reg: we produce words that people want to read, and we let vendors run adverts alongside them. In our case it works due to a number of factors: we cover a specific niche; we dig in a little deeper; we tend to know what we're talking about; we're independently owned and thus have no corporate investors to please; and we are irreverent. Millions of readers like it. And companies like our readers.
And there is the subscription model, like The New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, et al. These are big respected names with huge resources that have hit on a specific model: offer a few free articles a month and then prompt for subscription. It has finally started working after a decade of hard times.
In part thanks to the election of Donald Trump, these news organizations have seen their subscriber levels jump and they are even tentatively looking at hiring more people after years of layoffs. Much more interestingly, it seems that, psychologically, people are getting used to the idea again of paying for content. It's like a switch. And once you pay for Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime, it seems perfectly reasonable to pay for quality news.
Both of these models share a key feature: they hire and pay professional journalists to produce content. Because journalism, like any other profession, requires a certain set of skills.
Medium doesn't fit in this world in any way. It has rejected the ad model, and it can't afford to do the subscription model because no one is going to pay to get access to what are basically people's blog posts – the vast majority of which are, let's be honest, pretty terrible....MORE