Why Your Medium Membership Is So Important

Medium’s Membership program has received some praise and much criticism. You may not be sure if a Membership is worth your $5 each month — whether you’ve already signed up or not.

I can assure you it is. Two reasons:

  1. It is the best financial deal in the history of media.
  2. Most of us are missing its most important aspect.

To understand both, we first need to look at said history and how it repeats itself.

The Economic Cycle Of The Media

In Trust Me, I’m Lying, Ryan Holiday presents a short, but insightful account of the history of economics in the media. He makes out four phases following the initial success of The New-England Courant, one of the first newspapers published by James Franklin with the help of his younger brother:

  • The Party Press — 1780–1830 — Subscription Model
  • The Yellow Press — 1830–1900 — One-Off Model
  • The Modern Press — 1900–1995 — Subscription Model
  • The Online Press — 1995–2017 — One-Off Model

If we look at them, you’ll instantly see why $5 is a pretty great deal.

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The Gazette of the United States — a paper supporting George Washington.

The Party Press

Shortly after the U.S. Declaration of Independence, publishing on paper to systematically disseminate information to the masses first became a thing. Around 35 “newspapers” in the entire United States weren’t publishing much news at all. One guy, usually under patronage of a political party, would write, edit, publish, print and sell political papers to keep voters informed and convince them of his party’s views.

At about $10/year for the subscription with 1,000 subscribers or less, the full-time editor’s job was to focus on important information, present quality ideas in a great light and tell the party’s story in ways voters would understand.

Taking 1785 as a base year and accounting for inflation, that’s $270/year. Given they published weekly and the papers were short, that makes $60/year look damn cheap, if you ask me.

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The icon of the Penny Press — the newspaper boy.

The Yellow Press

In 1833, Benjamin Day launched The Sun in New York based on one, brilliant insight: if he sold his paper on the street, people couldn’t flake out on paying their subscription fees. There was only one problem. Now every customer was a one-time customer.

People didn’t care about papers edited with care. If there’s a boy yelling on the street, trying to sell you a paper, it better be interesting. Scandalous. Fast. Skimmable. Emotional. Terrifying. Loud.

So Day and 1,200 other newspapers in 1835 delivered. Screaming headlines, lots of pictures, rumors, nebulous sources and manufactured news where there were none to report. If that sounds a lot like TMZ, Fox News & Gawker, that’s because it’s the same thing minus the internet.

At one penny per paper, buying one every day would cost $3.65/year. Fascinatingly enough, at 1835 prices that’s still $96 today.

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It’s about to get better, partially thanks to these gentlemen.

The Modern Press

In 1896, Adolph S. Ochs bought The New York Times. He was sure of one thing: “Decency means dollars,” and he would rather go bankrupt than not see it through. Initially competing with the penny press on price, but delivering a much higher editorial standard, he managed to turn the paper around and transition, once again, to a subscription model.

The predictable revenue aligns what readers want with what journalists are incentivized for. Balancing opposing views, room for error, rationality and reputation matter. This is the standard of journalism that would enable investigative masterpieces, such as the Boston Globe coverage of the Catholic abuse scandal, a story brilliantly told in 2015’s Best Picture, Spotlight.

If a journalist can’t afford to research for weeks at a time, only to abandon the whole issue once she finds it’s not newsworthy, she can never be a great journalist.

I couldn’t find subscription prices, but even lowballing it at the same $10/year price from 1780 comes in at a 2017 price of $275. If authors writing for Medium Members can deliver just 20% of that value, you’re getting a lot for your money.

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And we’re back to square one — page views.

The Online Press

In 1993, CERN announced the world wide web would remain free for anyone, forever. Boom. With the click of a button, we democratized data. It’s been almost 30 years, but we still can’t properly grasp the implications of it. Most industries are still recovering, adapting to the new world without boundaries.

The media have been the slowest. First music died and had to re-invent itself, then movies and TV followed suit. Radio is reborn as podcasts, and the news…is right back to the yellow press.

In the cost-per-mille, page view driven world of mass online advertising, each article is, once again, a one-off. Hit hard, run fast. To make $60,000/year at a reputable publication, a blogger needs to produce 1,800,000 views — a month. Except that was 2010 and the numbers haven’t improved.

Forced to trade clicks for cents, the system went right back to sensationalism. There’s only one difference to the yellow press: we, the readers, stopped paying that one cent per issue.

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Sisyphus at work. Probably selling news subscriptions.

Why Selling Subscriptions Is Such A Shitty, But Important Job

If we had the subscription model before, and it was not perfect, but a lot better, then why is a written content subscription such a hard sell? One reason:

Before the internet, no written information was free.

After the internet, all written information was free.

Even I still grew up with multiple magazine subscriptions. Pop culture, video games, comics. Regardless how tiny the paper you worked for, or how few books you sold, we used to pay everyone who wrote one way or the other. And now we don’t.

Ironically, it is more important for us to pay writers than it ever was before.

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You are what you eat.

Medium Is Food For Your Brain

When it comes to our physical bodies, most of us are happy to spend 30%, 40%, 50% of our income on feeding them. Yet, when it comes to feeding our brains with information, we’re adamant it shouldn’t cost a cent. If we eat bad food, our bodies get sick. If we consume bad information, our brains get sick.

In a world where most of us work with our brains, not our bodies, I think it’s pretty important for both to be healthy.

We seem to understand this issue in almost all aspects of life, except this one. We’re happy to pay subscriptions for music, movies, books, access to the web, our phone plans and the gym. But online content? Not so much.

Insisting on not having to pay for content is the mental equivalent of dumpster diving. Sure, on lucky days you scoop up a few good bits, but mostly you’re signaling that you’re willing to gobble up other peoples’ trash.

Are you?

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The real reason.

The Most Important Part We’re Missing

One more thing. With a Medium Membership, you’re getting access to more quality content than you ever could before in history, at a price that’s cheaper than any previous price in history. That’s wonderful, but that’s not the most important part.

You’re not just paying for new content. Or better quality.

When you choose to pay for a Medium Membership, you are choosing to fund other people’s dreams.

This is the single most powerful way in the world to spend your money. Enabling peoples’ dreams. Writers’ dreams. Creators’ dreams. My dream, among millions of others.

Any place where people vote for other peoples’ dreams with their hard-earned money is a magical place. A place of change. And hope. Wikipedia’s donations. Kickstarter’s projects. And now, Medium’s Membership.

If you aren’t a Member yet, I’d like to ask you, in the name of my and millions of aspiring writers’ dreams: please, sign up now.

If you are, I would like to thank you. Right now, you are funding my dream. You may not have realized it, but that’s what’s happening. It’s the biggest reason why your choice to spend those $5 is so important.

Now all you need to do is tell me what to write and I’ll make some food for your brain. It’ll be good for you and cost less than in 1783.

PS: All of this doesn’t mean I’m not serving Non-Members. I still publish a ton of writing for free and it’ll always be this way. Plus, you can read a few Member pieces for free each month. Instead, think of this post as my pitch for you to join the revolution.

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I write for You. That’s my promise — and the name of my daily email full of inspiration, smart ideas, and emotional support: https://youletter.substack.com/