The Middleman: Medium vs. Platform Cooperativism

Medium describes itself on their about page as, “A customizable reading experience, made just for you.” They are selling themselves explicitly as a platform that is created with the reader at heart, focusing more on good quality content for users, rather than trying to please advertisers. To experience unlimited content, free from all ads and pop-ups, readers need to become members for $5/month or $50/year. If you’re one of the readers who signs up for Medium because you want to support good journalism, your money isn’t actually going directly to the journalists and writers, Medium also takes a cut. The idea of the ‘middleman’ makes us uncomfortable but it isn’t inherently wrong. Medium is simply providing a service that gives people a place to publish and find and audience. I believe that the success of Medium can be used as an outline for a platform co-op that would leave the revenue in the hands of the creators. In order to discuss this alternative business model I will first review why the subscription model is working, then how it could be transferable to a platform co-op model of publishing.

The Medium model has become very successful, proving that people are willing to pay for content that they value, despite the fact that stats suggest many Canadians aren’t willing to pay for news online. People will pay for quality content that they know will be engaging, credible, easy to find, or from a source whose personality they enjoy. This is great news considering the American Press Institute stated in 2017 that, “The future of journalism will increasingly depend on consumers paying for the news directly, as content distributors like Facebook and Google take up the lion’s share of digital advertising dollars.” So why is it hard to get some people on board?

There are many reasons why people are not interested in paying a subscription fee for journalism. Arguments include: they can find the same content for free elsewhere, they can’t justify the purchase given the number of other subscriptions they are already paying for, they can’t afford it, they don’t trust the source, and the list could go on. These reasons are justified but is there another model that has the potential to convert some of these nay-sayers? In comes platform co-op. People are more willing to pay for a publisher’s content when they are aligned with the values and mission of that organization. With discussions rising about Facebook and Google running the advertising game, people are become wary of giving their money to monopolizing giants, but what about a platform that they can own, contribute to the success of and really see how their money is being used? Platform coopertivism may prove to be a successful model for a new subscription\-based publisher to rise up.

Mai Sutton on Sharable defines a platform co-op as, “a digital platform — a website or mobile app that is designed to provide a service or sell a product — that is collectively owned and governed by the people who depend on and participate in it.” Since many of the readers who are paying for subscriptions are interested in supporting the ideas that they are reading about, there may be enough interest to create a platform that is owned and operated by a co-op interested in keeping the revenue within their community, ensuring that writers and journalists are paid equitably for the work they put in, without a middle man taking a cut.

As a publishing student, I see so much benefit in becoming a member of a platform like Medium. The audience, convenience and support is there, but it is a bit unsettling that Medium is walking away with a higher paycheque than the journalists I would be trying to. I believe that companies deserve to take a cut for the services they offer, but this capitalist structure is not the only way of doing business. I don’t think it would be easy to get right, but a platform co-op publisher would be an interesting model to see in action, and one that I could definitely get behind!

Thoughts on the Medium Model

The with growing dominance of adblock (which has decimated digital ad revenues), it is worth speculating how publishers can adapt by creating models that enable website traffic and monetization without alienating readers. Medium’s recent model changes put into play an interesting structure: a membership model that, for 5 dollars a month, enablers readers to access “the best” of Medium’s content. Before deliberating on how publishing can apply such a model, I want to first look at what is and is not working with the system.

Continue reading “Thoughts on the Medium Model”

Subscriptions and Ads… not such a bad thing

I’ve never really felt compelled to subscribe to any sort of magazine, newspaper or online community. Partly because of there hasn’t been anything I’ve been interested in enough to do so and I guess the idea of having to pay for content that I could probably find a way to get for free seemed silly. This weeks class and reading made me reflect on how is this different from my subscription to Netflix, Spotify, or Adobe. A subscription to something like Medium is far less expensive than one of these other things I currently subscribe to. I would say perceived value has a lot to do with the subscription choices I’ve made. With all 3 of my current subscriptions, it allows for multiple users which I split with a friend or family member, thus my perceived value of these things increases.

With that said, I do think that a subscription model is preferable as the end user. Although I do understand that not all types of business cannot survive with just one type of revenue model. Having taken up a production/management position for my job in conjunction with this program has certainly given me an understanding and appreciation of how business function. I would say that I used to be indifferent to ads (especially on website). I have become more aware recently how advertisements would keep popping up for sites and products that I’ve visited. While, it’s a little creepy, I do understand that these are the way businesses ensure that products are visible making increasing the likelihood of a sell-through. On a personal note, I would be very interested how they are able to do this!

As consumers, I think it’s important to understand the purpose and role that advertising or subscriptions has for the publisher and reader. I think it’s very easy to say that ads or subscription shouldn’t exist on site or on any type of medium. At the end of the day it is the means that that select producer has chosen to be able to deliver their content. Hopefully, it’s not overkill! I also think that ads and platforms should be better aligned with each other. To me, there is nothing more off-putting than noticing a mis-aligned add.  Although as we continue to learn, small publishers and business aren’t equipped to compete with large companies, so perhaps they’re not really in a position to be selective with their ads.