Medium joins the new publishing platform battle for independent voices

Ev Williams, in an email sent to Medium employees yesterday, talking about the fate of Medium in-house publications:

The bet was that we could develop these brands, and they would develop loyal audiences that would grow the overall Medium subscriber base. What’s happened, though, is the Medium subscriber base has continued to grow, while our publication’s audiences haven’t. There are many potential reasons for this, which we could debate.

I think a significant factor is that the role of publications — in the world, not just on Medium — has decreased in the modern era. I don’t mean the role of professional editorial, but the idea of an imprimatur that establishes credibility or trust. Trust is more important than ever and well-established editorial brands still have meaning. But today, credibility and affinity are primarily built by people — individual voices — rather than brands.

Williams doesn’t say the word, but I think we can all read it between the lines: Substack. Of course it is not only Substack’s success that has ruined Medium’s publication efforts. As Williams says, the role of publications has decreased, and individual voices never had access to so many great tools to monetise directly via their audience.

Substack — just to mention the most talked-about platform — embodies perfectly this new era of opportunities for writers and journalists wishing to go independent. Substack has almost become a common word for “subscriber-only independent newsletter” whether or not the actual platform used is Substack, which says a lot about the success of the brand.

Where Medium tried to pay writers with money earned through a single centralised subscription to Medium itself, and tried to obtain more subscribers by launching these good quality publications, Substack and others went the other way, to the direct-subscription model, where readers subscribe to an author rather than a brand.

About this model, Williams adds:

In fact, that describes the vast majority of what people read on Medium. […] For the foreseeable future, we will focus […] on supporting independent voices on our platform. This means identifying writers — both already on Medium and not — and offering them deals, support, editing, and feedback to help them tell great stories and find their audience.

Between Substack, Medium, Twitter’s upcoming Super Follow feature, the latest Ghost update which includes membership and subscription options, tools such as Memberful and of course Patreon, there is a now a healthy competition in this publishing platform business, where each one of them tries to get more writers and independent voices for which readers are ready to pay.

Medium was maybe one of the first big players in this field — even if they might have been a little too early — but they kind of lost themselves juggling between being a CMS, acting as a platform, and promoting publications. Hopefully for them it won’t be too late to catch up with the others.