Clues about Medium’s business plan

Yesterday I got an email. (Presumably many of you also got it, or something like it.) There was nothing in the email that indicated they wanted the information exposed therein kept secret, so I feel comfortable sharing it. Reading between the lines, it clears up some of the ambiguities left by official announcements about Medium’s future & their plans for monetization.


I’m Brian, an editor here at Medium. I’m reaching out to you as a popular writer who’s published high-quality stories on Medium.

(I am not a popular writer — I’ve written one paid article that got the kind of traffic paid articles tend to get, and a large number of articles that have views in the single digits. My average view count is probably under 100, and my average recommendation count is less than one. So, this is a big clue: if I’m getting this email, pretty much anybody who has ever submitted to a popular publication is getting one.)

You might have read that we’re launching a new subscription product for our readers shortly. It’s the next step in our vision to build a place on the internet where ideas are rewarded for their value, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention.

As fans of your work, we’d like to offer you the opportunity to pitch your ideas or relevant posts early, and become part of a select group of contributing writers for our initial launch.

(This is interesting. Not only will there be subscription-only stories, but subscription-only stories will be pitched to and vetted by Medium. This essentially means something akin to a Medium-staff-run publication that only subscribers have access to. While this is better for users than a paywall that locks you out after a couple articles, it means that Medium will be competing with Medium-hosted publications on the grounds of editorial standards.)

Our subscription will be an optional upgrade for people to become supporting members of Medium. These people will be able to access additional member-only functionality and new, exclusive content.

(I.e., there’s more to this freemium model than a cool-kids-club of vetted articles, but we have no clues as to what those features are, other than the fact that they’re user features as opposed to publication features.)

Writers across the world will continue to be able to publish on Medium for free, but we know there’s a great deal that never gets written or published by great writers, for lack of it making economic sense to do so. We want those stories — well-researched explainers, insightful perspectives, and useful knowledge with a long shelf life — to exist on Medium as well, and we think our paying readers will want to read them too.

(This is a strange pitch. Nowhere in the email do they explicitly state that writers will be paid for writing subscription-only stories — even though they have a pitch process like you’d expect from freelance — but they suggest that they will be able to make writing articles not currently picked up by publications make economic sense. This implies that they’d be either paying better than existing publications, supporting a greater number of articles, or trying to commission articles on subjects existing publications don’t or can’t cover.)

That’s where you come in, because we thought your writing could be a great fit. So what types of posts have you been burning to write? If you knew you had a paying audience waiting for your ideas, what stories could you tell?

We’re looking for pitches within the following categories to start: US Politics, Technology/Science/Future, Self Development/Productivity, Business/Startups, and Culture. So tell us what you’d like to write about and your rate. If it sounds like a good fit, we’ll get back to you with a thumbs up or feedback as soon as we can. If you’re interested, we’d love to receive your initial pitch before Friday, March 17th.

(Their launch categories are those already covered heavily by existing publications. I don’t see, for instance, short fiction on the list — even though, unlike all these listed categories, short fiction and poetry publications typically have short and infrequent submission windows. It’s also interesting that they want pitches so fast — the deadline is five days after the announcement!)

(I have removed their submission link. I should note that it links to Google Forms, so they’re probably expecting a large enough number of pitches that they want to automate handling them. This is a good sign: even pretty big publications tend to take submissions by email.)

This is just the first opportunity to be part of Medium’s subscription offering. We’ll be following up soon with more writing opportunities, as we continue to evolve our subscription and learn what our members enjoy reading most.



(In other words, they plan to rotate through different categories and have frequent calls for pitches. I have to wonder why they don’t transition to having open pitching and keeping only internal deadlines, at this scale.)

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software.

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