Our approach to member-only content

Ev Williams
The Medium Blog
Published in
6 min readMar 22, 2017


As a Medium member, you’ll have access to member-only stories about a range of topics and ideas that matter. While this exclusive content aspect of your subscription will start small — with the first pieces coming next week — it will become a dominant feature over time. I understand that locked content can be somewhat controversial, so I wanted to share more insight into why we’re doing this and our approach.

Free and open is the cake

First, let’s be clear: Many people just want to share their ideas and knowledge and don’t have the expectation of monetary reward. This is a beautiful thing — and one of the key traits of Medium. It has worked to great effect for millions of people and is not changing. It will remain free to publish and free to read unlimited posts from those who publish freely.

Member-only content is the frosting

In addition, there is a place and a case for people to get paid to write. Actually, “paid to write” is a misleading phrase. Valuable writing is usually the end result of a very long process — researching, reporting, thinking, dreaming, testing, and learning.

A lot of us do these things and are able to share occasional insights. But some people do them full-time, including many of our talented writers on Medium, and all of our lives would be poorer if this weren’t the case. Whether it’s from news sites, magazines, or books, much of the most important work is done by professionals. And whether we personally pay for it or not today, we all benefit.

We want to add more of this type of content to your Medium experience. Well-researched explainers, insightful perspectives, and useful knowledge with a longer shelf life. In fact, we want to create a better system for this type of content to exist in the world. The primary goal of this system is not an altruistic one that aims to get the creators of content paid. That’s a fine goal. But that’s not the only reason you should pay for content. The selfish reason — for you and I — is because it will result in better content. Better content for curious minds who want to learn and grow — a cure for today’s media consumption ailments.

This is a lesson we’ve learned from other forms of media — music, video entertainment, print. These all have free (ad-driven) sources and user-paid sources. And most of us who can pay find that the paid sources are more than worth it — for the better experience, better content, or both. The same is inevitably true of digital written content. Especially when you consider how much time you spend on it and how much it affects how you view the world.

Translating dollars to sense

We’ve heard from many people that you’re willing — and wanting — to pay for great information, because you’re increasingly dissatisfied with the majority of stuff you find on the internet. There are great news sources out there doing amazing work, but that’s only part of a complete information diet. We also need ideas, knowledge, and unique perspectives from non-mainstream sources.

We know that stuff’s out there — or could be — but how do you find it? Even if you are willing to pay? We see our task at Medium as somewhat like an investor manager for you, the members. We’ll be aggregating desire (and money) to invest it into worthwhile content that makes us all smarter. You tell us if we’re doing a good job, what you want more or less of, and we’ll adjust. And as more people join, our collective ability to fund even better stuff grows. This is essentially the same thing every paid media product does. The only difference is, Medium is the first open, large-scale publishing platform to do this. Which brings up a whole set of questions about what you’ll get as a member and who and how we pay.

So what will you get to read as members?

Since there is a lot of great stuff on Medium and the broader web for free (including from professional publishers), we asked ourselves what would really feel differentiated. Or, put differently, what do you want more of that you wouldn’t otherwise get?

We are open to a wide variety, and you can expect lots of experimentation. But there are two filters that we’re trying to apply across the board:

Make us smarter
Our mantra at Medium when it comes to content has been: Medium makes you smarter. We are looking for stories that fulfill that promise in a deep way. To us that means: Tell me something I didn’t know, that is true and valuable, because it helps me understand the world, live my life, or do my job. Most often, this content will be backed by expertise. That expertise can come from research, reporting, or experience. And it may come from professional writers — or not. They need to be articulate and get their points across, but we value polished ideas over polished prose.

Speak to your interests
One of the beauties of Medium is that it covers an almost-infinite variety of topics. And we’re planning for our member-only content to eventually reach into some of those smaller niches. For starters, we’re focusing on Medium’s most popular topics, all of which have meaty subjects to explore. And in each of these topics, you can expect short and long pieces, as well as a series of pieces that dive deep into:

  • Politics. What’s happening behind the headlines. How to think about it. What to do about it.
  • Work. Lessons in business, startups, leadership, management, and money.
  • Self. Smart takes on how to be your best you — happier, healthier, more productive.
  • Future. Where the world is going — technology, trends, what it all means.

Partners make it happen

In addition to membership, we’re launching the Medium Partner Program today. Partners, in this case, means content creators — both individual writers and publishers — who we’ll work with to supply our member-only content layer. In other words, we are not the creators; we are the buyer on behalf of members. The purpose of the program is to forge relationships and develop a streamlined process with the experts and wordsmiths, the editors and researchers, who know how to find a good story or explain an important idea.

How we pay

We are planning to invest 100% of founding Medium member revenues on content. Over time, we plan to start covering our own costs — but we’re over-investing in the short term to help kick off the right types of content, and we’ll continue to invest aggressively in the longer term.

In order to ensure quality and make sure creators get paid fairly, we are not paying contributors based on any sort of performance metric. We will be paying a flat fee per piece, which will vary depending on length, amount of original research, and the credentials of the author. Members will also get a say — what you read and recommend will have a big effect on what we buy more of and how much we’re willing to pay. (The easiest way to affect this as a member is to recommend the type of stuff you want more of.)

The 🍒 on top

Lastly, we likely won’t be locking all the content that members help pay for. We expect there to be such a thing as “member supported” stories in future — those that would have more value out in the world, freely available, such as most investigative journalism. The promise for members is that we’re investing in important stories and good ideas, but some of those we all benefit more from if they’re as widespread as possible.

Look for the first pieces of member-only content on your homepage in the next week. And we’ll round up the best in a weekly email so you don’t miss them. We’re open to your feedback at any time: members@medium.com.



Ev Williams
The Medium Blog

Curious human, chairman @ Medium, partner @ Obvious Ventures