Medium just made things even more difficult for a struggling digital publishing industry. After notifying its remaining publisher partners — 21 that were still active — last month that it was discontinuing its membership programs, Medium officially pulled the plug last week.
According to Neiman Journalism Lab, any publisher that needed more time to migrate was given it by Medium.
However, Chris Faraone, founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, which was one of the first outlets to sell memberships on Medium, felt the move revealed the callousness tech companies exhibit when dealing with publishers.
He stated: “We’re cool with experimenting. But this has been an unbelievable blow. Could we have a better metaphor for the way Silicon Valley considers local journalism?”
Medium has been struggling over the past few years. Several shifts in strategy have frequently left publishers feeling the burn.
In spring 2016, the platform decided to double down on its publisher presence, introducing a suite of tools meant to attract more publishers and bigger names. Among those that joined were Pacific Standard and The Ringer. According to Neiman, both had previously left the platform.
This strategy didn’t work out, and Medium laid off 50 people — one-third of its staff.
Following that shift, Medium introduced a new membership program. For $5 a month, readers could gain access to the platform’s stable of writers after reading several articles for free. Writers were compensated via a “clap” system, in which readers/members would clap at posts they enjoyed the most.
This newly introduced membership program is a large piece of why Medium is deciding to end its publisher partnerships. While Medium members have access to all native content, they are unable to access publications on the platform that keep their content behind a paywall.
Indie publishers like The Establishment and Electric Literature are being hardest hit. Electric Literature has migrated over to Kickstarter-owned Drip, but is still sending missives to its members to sign up there, otherwise the publication stands to lose $25,000.
The Establishment had migrated all of its content from WordPress to Medium the day of the announcement.
Medium’s membership program seems to be working for writers who individually post on the platform, and it's seen success with projects like Roxane Gay’s pop-up magazine, which ran last month. But it is difficult not to agree with Faraone.
As publishers, particularly those independent publications that make a big cultural splash while maintaining a slim bottom line, struggle to stay afloat in today’s media landscape, the shifts made tech execs feel ruthless. In the end, those shifts can prove deadly for journalism.