3 Reasons I Became A Founding Member

Exclusive content wasn’t a part of the mix

Charlie Gilkey
5 min readMar 26, 2017

The new paid membership is the talk of the town that is Medium.

Before I roll on to why I became a founding member, I’ll concede that the communication of the release of the paid membership left and leaves a lot to be desired. There are tons of open questions, some that will determine whether a sizable group of readers and publishers will continue to use Medium. That said, rolling out a minimum viable product to see who will pay for it and who won’t — and getting feedback from both segments — is sometimes the best and fastest way to build the product that best serves your community. What people say they want and what they’ll pay for is a lot different than what they’ll actually pay for when you build it.

You can tell by the tail-end of the last paragraph that I’m optimistic about what Ev and the Medium Staff are trying to do here: I don’t believe this is a quick money grab and that they’re trying to pull a fast one on us. If they were just going for the money, they wouldn’t have switched Medium’s focus and dropped the ad-driven publishing model.

That general optimism about the team and what they’re trying to do enabled me to look past the missing details. Here are the main three reasons I became a paid member:

1. Free Content Isn’t Free

After starting and growing my own independent platform for a decade, I know that “free content” means “free to the reader.” It costs the writers and publishing team in both time and money, and that time and money has to come from somewhere.

In most cases, it’s ads, sponsorships, donation, or revenue that comes from a small percentage of the readership that’s buying products that keep the lights on. Ads and sponsorships lead to the broken publishing model, so that leaves revenue from product sales and donations.

2. Medium’s Community, Content, and Mission Are Worth Paying For

Medium is now one of the few hubs on the internet that I have to limit time on because I enjoy it so much. The conversations. The variety of stories I wouldn’t otherwise find. The ease of tying different stories and threads that’s so much harder to do. The wonderful writing environment.

I could keep going on, but in a world of Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, YouTube Red, and Marvel Unlimited — not to mention subscriptions to other written media like Kindle Unlimited — it’s not a reach for me to pay $5 for this experiment. Rather than merely removing ads a la Hulu+, Spotify, and Pandora, they’re asking me to pay directly for what I want: quality content.

I think of the founding membership more like I would a Kickstarter project than a lawnmower I’m buying from Home Depot. Medium is not a finished product and I doubt it ever will be if it is to remain relevant because it’s a hybrid of community + content + technology. All three of those stools are in continual disruption and evolution. There’s no static product to buy — just an evolving experiment that has been valuable to us, is valuable to us today, and we hope will remain valuable to us in the future. Unlike the Coolest Cooler fiasco or the many other fiascos on Kickstarter, a version of the product is already in hand. And I love it. Done.

3. I’d Rather Be the Customer than the Product

Hat tip to Seth Godin’s “The Choke Point” for this insight. Given that somebody has to pay for the service, if it’s not us, the users, then we as the users are being leveraged in some other way to pay for it. We see where that goes: Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader.

But there’s also the fact that by being the customer rather than the product, we have a stronger voice in influencing where this experiment goes. While customers aren’t the only people businesses listen to, they’re often the ones that businesses listen to most. For Medium to be around for the long-enough term, it has to be a viable business, which means it has to have customers. Better us than investors.

And by being a founding member, I’m betting that I’ll have even more of a say of influencing where Medium goes. Even if I’m wrong that we paying/founding members will get more of a voice in this experiment, all I’m out is $30-$60, baking in some time for them to figure out what works best.

Covering Medium for a year is about the cost of four or five books. Per month, it’s less than the guacamole I had for dinner last night. The guacamole was good, but it’s not better than Medium for a month.

Exclusive/Paywalled Content Is Unnecessary (for me)

I’ll admit that I’m just as fickle as the people I mentioned earlier who say they’ll pay for something, then won’t when you share that option with them. There’s thus a chance that I would not have become a founding member without the exclusive content.

But, when I sit with it, I’d rather not have the content be exclusive or paywalled in some way, even if it’s in tension with my annoyance that people think content they don’t pay is should be free. The content is already paid for, and the goal, it seems, is to fund the creation and sharing of stories that would not otherwise be created and shared. If those stories are worth being paid for to be created and shared, then I’d want the widest possible sharing of those. This is especially the case for great investigative journalism, poetry & expressive stories, and scholarly cultural and economic commentary.

I recognize this is the “why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?” problem, but there are other options on the technology side of the three-prong product that is Medium — like the new home page, offline tools, more options for publishers, etc — that are all worth paying for without getting into the paid/unpaid content kerfuffle.

There’s also something to be said for intentionally creating a culture of founding/paying members who believe that creators — including the Medium team — deserve to be paid for their work and that we don’t need to somehow be special beneficiaries of said work. I’m not sure that the exclusive content is ever going to square with the core value of openness that is an underlying thread in Ev’s thinking. The single best way for Medium to be a thriving business might be to continue to push openness, as it’s rare that a business thrives when its strategy is out of alignment with its values. (I’m not saying exclusive/paywalled content has to be in conflict with openness, but there is enough value tension in Ev’s Our Approach to Member-Only Content to suggest there’s a conflict being worked out.)

If I had any say in the matter, I’d want the Medium team to stay focused on the mission of creating this amazing hybrid of content + community + technology, not on the distraction of deciding what content gets seen by whom, when, and why.

So I became a founding member, not because I wanted exclusive/paywalled content, but because something’s being created here that I want to see continue to grow and thrive.



Charlie Gilkey

Author of Team Habits - http://www.productiveflourishing.com/team-habits/ - and the best-selling Start Finishing. Executive coach, investor, and philospher.