Medium Wrote a Harsh (but Loving!) Letter to the Internet in First Brand Ad

Because it shouldn't (only) be about economics

Remember the great promise of Medium?

It’s been a few years, so maybe you don’t. Launched in 2012 by two Twitter founders, it committed to being our Canaan, a clean reading space where thinking was prime and every article worth reading. As such, its launch was limited, permitting only a select pool of writers at the outset.

Five years have passed since. Medium is open to anybody now, and while its platform remains one of the most agreeable CMS experiences for writers out there, it’s hard to put a finger on what makes it special.

This is a reminder.

Today, Medium opens its Partner Program to all, creating the first open paywall for writers and publishers online. Enroll in the program, publish instantly … and earn money based on how deeply your story resonates with members.

To promote the service, the platform enlisted B-Reel to create its first brand video, “Dear Internet,” which can be understood as a harsh but loving letter to the ‘net, which once represented limitless possibility … and now mostly represents click-through rates.

“Our eyeballs have become the currency, when they used to be our way to see the world,” a narrator says. “Now, smart ideas get lost in a sea of ads and clickbait. That’s not your style, internet.”

The Partner Program is not explicitly mentioned, but the spot positions Medium as the solution to everywhere else online: “A space for thinkers and storytellers to think … where words matter because people think before they speak. A space to further the conversation, not sell it.” (Well, except when you want to be compensated for your work.)

Here are the principles Medium looks to uphold, from its pressie:

Important ideas can come from anywhere. History has shown that the most important ideas and stories often come from the least-expected places. We eliminate barriers to getting ideas out there and strive to help the best ones rise to the top.

Seeking out multiple perspectives is important. To understand the world, we need to see the perspectives of people not like us. And intelligent and honest discourse deepens that understanding.

Content should be created, distributed and rewarded based on its value to those who consume it, not advertisers or other third parties that benefit from those consuming it. Ad-based incentives have hugely detrimental effects.

We’re inclined to agree with this last—something we’ve lost sight of in the arms race of paying bills against the ever-optimizing algorithms that platforms like Google and Facebook use to season the internet economy with spicy volatility.

To ensure that Partner Program members can be reliably sustained—and that people actually have good stuff to read—Medium is doubling down on ensuring its reputation is built with the right people. It’s working directly with established writers to create original Medium content, and licensing non-original publisher content from sites like The New York Times, Financial Times (itself paywalled to outsiders), The Economist, New York Magazine and more.

Medium membership costs $5 per month. It’s being punted as an “upgrade” to your existing experience, and promises unlimited access to stories from “amazing writers, thinkers and storytellers”—not unlike Brain Pickings but without the Amazon partner links.

The money you pay will go directly to rewarding the stories that “inspire, entertain and move you.​”

In case you’re wondering how that’s measured, check out the last Medium article you read. Note that now, instead of “liking” something, you can “applaud” it for a varying length of time. How badly do you want an author to be paid? Hold your cursor button down awhile. (In its way, it’s an interesting solution to a problem we often encounter on Facebook, when we want to super-like or super-hate something. One click doesn’t suffice; we’ll see whether holding your click does.)

Medium content currently inspires, entertains and moves about 60 million people per month, with 12,000 new articles published daily.

We’re not worried about the site’s content quality; rather, we hope they find cleverer ways to lift worthy content up to readers. As things stand, we use Medium the way we’ve come to use any other online blog—as somewhere we show up sometimes, when somebody’s published something they’ve mentioned elsewhere.