Why my subscription to Medium is worth my time and voice here! (and possibly yours too!)

The reasons you cite are the same why I paid for. They may already be there but hidden, very subtle. I’d like to write about my rationale as a reader on Medium (and as a writer too, though I may never end up being a “partner” paid writer nor does that matter to me).

This plea of subscription is groundbreaking

In some sense this plea for subscription is a very unusual thing to happen. Go back to 2012 when Medium began. Medium was specialist driven then. Fast forward to 2017. Medium of 2017 is user driven now. When it began, I remember they used to have exclusively “invited domain-expert writers” who would write on the platform. You and I the riffraffs of this world were uninvited to write but were allowed to only read. So you see, Medium started its life as a “reading app”. In appearance it looked very similar to Svtle (that nice clean app for writing blog posts, same looks but Svtle would allow anyone to write), yet Medium stood out in terms of contents. Over time, Medium threw its doors open to everyone for writing long form. By then, you had experts with well considered opinions writing alongside us the bloody plebs. Then, over time, layers of social interactions got added to Medium (again, very subtle, almost invisibly). I, an ordinary user, could use it as my blogging platform if I wanted but I did not have to. Medium would work for me to push it to Google search, and I could additionally push my articles to Facebook and twitter if I wanted or elsewhere. Personally, Medium has provided for me a “layered” experience of mixing amazing long form articles from others with my own. I really cannot think of another digital platform where exactly something like this happens. If you know of one, please let me know. I doubt you will.

You, the reader, do not count in newspapers and digital media!

I am so used to seeing social media peppered with ads, that it never occurs to me that while I enjoy the media posts for free who is it that runs the real show?

What is my power relationship with the management of that media that I get to see? Have you ever written a letter to the Facebook management and got a response? Some people mocked Ev Willliams for his letter with a personal touch; can you ever expect a letter in person from Mark Zuckerberg to your mailbox asking you to be part of Facebook? Yet think the countless hours some people spend in enriching interactions in sites like Facebook. Do you realise that in most social media world and to their management, you, the ordinary user, have no value, you are just taken for granted and your interactions are commodified and sold to traders without your consent so that the market can suck money out of you?

Also, do I know what determines the sequence of what I get to see or what is behind that algorithm? Although much of Internet is free and open, when I read blogs, do I know what or who or what sequence is this site open up? Do I really have a way to order what I get to see and what I prefer? Who will care about what I think?

I accept that I do not get to control it, nor do I expect to have a say in it. I accept the status quo because I do not pay with my money what I get to see how I see it: the time I spend there do not count (for me). On the other hand, I pay for reading New York Times but it is the Times Editor who decides for me what goes in my front page, and possibly disdains me as a reader. Not only that, some journalists hate people like us, their reader, and won’t entertain even so much a phone call. Read this excerpt from Bob Costa’s article today in Medium:

Do you not see what is your status as a reader to newspapers? They will not allow you to have any conversation and they will put your numbers on a blocked list!

In summary,

(a) it is not usual for a social media driven long or short form publication that are “user driven” (that is, anyone can open up a piece of creative work and use the platform to seek readers) to ask me to pay for my reading time here,

(b) If I do not pay for my interactions, then the SM providers do not have to depend on my subscription, so the interests are “actually elsewhere”, and further,

(c) those who expect me to pay for what I get to read on the digital screen do not care about my preference of what order I’d like to see their content appear or whether I have an equal right to post there.

With its subscription plea, Medium broke those rules. The game may even change only if we care.

I accept that their subscription thing might be flawed (based on what I expect intuitively, my naive intuition), so much as far from being perfect. The way I see it, it is unprecedented, it is new, it is challenging a paradigm; with all its imperfections in implementation, amateurishness, and broken-ness, it is something that has not happened before.

To me this is far from trivial. It is true on the surface this “founding member” subscription gives me “nothing” of substance and at the same time it opens up a world of opportunities. I don’t get it. But at the least, I start realising that I am not allowed to be a passive consumer of information anymore on this platform, for I have deliberately created a stake in it now. I have not only put time but money in it.

Yes Medium is crooked; as a reader my five bucks give me nothing of substance, there is really nothing in it, it’s like fluffy ice-cream, looks great on the outside but it is basically air. I mean, you subscribe if you really are passionate about Medium and want it to survive (why do I need to care? for that matter, why do I need to join the local volunteer fire brigade or work party in my block?); OTOH, if you think about the way Medium has structured the paid reading membership, if I care for my wallet, they nudged me over the edge not to remain neutral about my “reading” time here anymore. This is unprecedented in the era of written communication.

Think about it.

There are traditional newspapers which will accept you as a paid reader (subscriber), but in reality they hate you, they deride you, you do not count at all in their ecosystem, you are no one; because they do not depend on you for their sustenance; your price you pay as a subscriber counts to virtually nothing; as a result, you do not have a right there to write what you want, your channels of communications to them are all but blocked. Have you ever written a letter to an editor?

You can pay for being a writer on a blogging platform (something like Ghost or Wordpress.com for extra space), but again, you are alone and you are the creator — your stakes are different; You have a lot of voice in an empty echo chamber, but you are there.

there are other platforms where paid memberships exist but they remain a closed ecosystem of their own, you do not pay to just read but write for free, you pay to read AND write.

Now think of the Medium model: you pay to read what you want and you get to decide what you read (again this is entirely up to you, there is a free tier and I doubt they will ever take it away) in an open world; you also get to write what you want and how you want it; all of these are free, or can be optionally paid for, but at the end of the day, you, the user will get to control it; what’s more is your money buys for you paid vetted writing partnership.

To the credit of Medium, they invented this model: they gave me — the bloody no one of consequence — the power to decide what I want to read and freedom to write what I want in a globally distributed medium dominated by no one in particular, and where anyone is invited to read and write, where ideas spawn new ideas and get life of their own: what will be the impact? I doubt anyone knows yet because this model does not exist. The complexity of building that ecosystem alone is mind boggling if you ask me. I am not surprised that it took the genius of Ev Williams, who developed blogger and twitter is set to change the game again.

Two can play this game

Just imagine, if there were enough of us, paid members, over time we could push and shape Medium to what we want: we could ask that Medium give us what we want — more matter related to what we’d want to read. Perhaps more stories, fiction, poetry, creative work. We could move it anywhere our collective readership would like to steer. Medium will spawn a hivemind with its subscription model, this is evolutionary. A subtle democratisation would be at work here: You may say I am naively hopeful that we may be just seeing the emergence of a very different ecosystem of content creation and consumption on the web.

I’d watch this space.

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Also in: https://refind.com/arinbasu

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