What’s Around the Corner for Medium
We’ve had a busy summer.
Last month, we announced new features coming to our publishing tools — specifically, more customizability, frictionless reading, and a better space for short(er)-form content. Last week, we announced our new mobile app, which is a complete rethink of how to seamlessly keep up with your favorite writers — and find new ones. These new versions are currently in beta and opening up more widely over the next few weeks as we incorporate user feedback and make them better.
These two pieces are just part of a comprehensive upgrade to the platform, which we are in the process of implementing. Partial details on what’s coming below.
We are doing this in the context of one of Medium’s fastest-growing years ever. We’ve seen record numbers of people turning to Medium to try to make sense of the disorienting changes taking place around us.
As this chart shows, by the simple metric of page views, Medium has steadily (and then rapidly) grown over a long period of time. I’m proud that we’ve been able to grow a platform to this size without the typical trade-off that internet publishing and platforms make — that is, without advertising. It’s not that advertising is bad in all contexts. But so much of the information on the web is created as cheaply as possible and designed to attract maximum attention in order to sell ads. We believe there’s a big need for deeper knowledge and more nuanced perspectives.
Many people seem to agree — so much they’re willing to pay for them. Medium Membership (our subscription option) has grown rapidly in the three years since we launched it. With several hundred thousand members today, we are confident in the durability and scalability of the model. And, thus, we are continuing to invest in the long-term vision, for which we have much to do.
Here are some of the things we’re working on:
A cleaner user experience
It is free to publish on Medium, your content is always yours, and we will host it for free, indefinitely. This applies whether or not you choose to make money by putting your articles behind the Medium paywall or make them completely free.
Some people have been confused about this, and that’s our fault. At one point, we introduced too much friction and clutter in our UI, which made it seem like publishing on Medium meant publishing behind a gate or a pop-up. Earlier this year, we fixed that. We completely killed the sign-up prompts and other UI cruft that was getting between readers and what they wanted to read. Since then, we’ve made the meter (that is, the notice for non-subscribers of how many free stories they have left) even less intrusive. Today, there are never any sign-in pop-ups, overlays, intrusive headers, or other distractions that get in the way.
Yes, there is still a paywall, which blocks reads after a few articles per month — but only if they were put behind the paywall by the writer/publisher (which, again, is optional). Many writers choose not to do so. But if they do, know that they are getting paid when members read their posts. We pay out over two million dollars per month to writers, editors, and publication owners, so they can make good stuff. This number grows every month with more subscribers.
Improved distribution and discovery
Medium’s most important job is to connect readers with the stories they most care about and the flip side — helping writers find and grow their audience. The big change we announced with our new mobile app is that we are going to be putting more emphasis on following people and publications, over the algorithmic feed. That change will be coming to the web, as well.
What it means is that both readers and writers have more control. As a reader, you won’t miss anything from the writers and thinkers you care about — regardless of how frequently they publish. As a writer, your distribution is more reliable — you can be assured that your followers will be notified when you publish. And there’s always a chance your posts will be recommended across additional Medium surfaces.
Discovering new writers and publications will always be important, so we will continue to help readers serendipitously find stories they wouldn’t have otherwise, through machine- and human-driven recommendations.
We are also simplifying the publishing process. All posts are now eligible for further distribution across Medium, whether they are paywalled or not, so when you publish, you’ll only need to decide whether you want your post to be eligible to earn money through our Partner Program, which anyone can join (subject to availability by country).
Another work-in-progress is newsletters. We shipped v1 for publications in June, which was a replacement for the previous Letters feature, which let you email followers of your pub. And last week we shipped an improved newsletter editor.
Newsletters is a full-fledged newsletter product, which gives you a great way to build a relationship with your readers — especially those who spend a lot of time in their inboxes. The advantage of newsletters on Medium is combining it with your publication and in growing your list. There are millions of people logged into and reading Medium on the web and in our apps, and they can now subscribe to your newsletter with a single click. (If they’re not logged into Medium, they can also now subscribe in the traditional way — just by entering their email on your subscribe page — and without going through a Medium onboarding process.)
One question we got quite a bit when we launched newsletters is what about list portability (i.e., import and export)? We don’t want anyone to feel like Medium is a one-way street. We also need to be clear with users when they’re sharing their contact information and with whom. We are working on the details and will have a solution to import and export for your newsletter list soon.
Speaking of portability, it’s always been possible to get an export of all your posts and other data in Medium. And by default, all Medium publications and profiles have RSS feeds (e.g., blog.medium.com/feed) — full text, except for metered/paywall stories.
We are now bringing back another option for portability — and brandability — namely, custom domains. Not that they ever went away entirely. Medium hosts tens of thousands of publications under their own domains. However, we paused setting up new ones a couple of years ago. Among other reasons, we needed to fix some cross-domain bugs and revamp our system for registering SSL certificates. We have now prioritized that work so that we can scalably offer custom domains again.
So soon you’ll be able to take advantage of Medium’s new publishing tools and tap into the Medium network — assuring deliver of your content to your followers — while showing up under your own brand/domain and confident in the knowledge that if you ever want to move off Medium, that’s fully in your control.
Lastly (for now): As mentioned previously, we are bringing much more customization options to Medium publications. Medium is about to look more colorful, expressive, and differentiated. What we didn’t mention before is that these options are also coming to Medium profiles.
So, if you want to collaborate with other people or publish under an organization or brand name, you can set up a publication. But if you’re writing as an individual, your Medium profile can become your customizable blog. You don’t have to create another home to have these new features and look. Of course, you will still have the flexibility of writing for any number of publications, as well.
For more thoughts on this — as well as more of the philosophy behind much of the above — see my post over on my blog, Evhead.
The bigger picture
Medium has become a platform where millions of people turn to share perspectives and stories, including professional journalists, political leaders, experts, and individuals from all types of backgrounds. It is perhaps the only place where someone with no industry connections, no investment, no social followers, and no technical or marketing expertise can show up and offer a story or idea to the world that finds an audience of thousands or even millions of people. We’ve seen it happen many times. And, increasingly, Medium is the place where writers and experts in their field can share their knowledge regularly, build an audience, and — if they choose — get paid for it.
The goal of all the work outlined above is to make Medium the best place possible for useful insights and those who think about them — to deepen understanding of the world and help worthwhile ideas grow, evolve, and take hold. This is a mission we’ve been on for over eight years. It is one we pursue with humility, because it is a job that will never end and that we can really only make a dent in. But it’s never felt more important.