When I first got introduced to Medium in 2016, it was love at first sight. The idea was simple. Write your stories using the best web editor I had experienced as yet, and read the thoughts of others through their discovery engine. Nothing complicated. I wasnt the only one who fell in love. 1.9 million posts were created on Medium at the end of 2015. By the end of 2016 that number had trippled. And with that came a new funding round of $50 million in just a year after their last one. And that is where I think a lot of their issues started.
In other to explain where the problems started I will need to explain how VC funding works. But let me leave that intricate explanation for another post. In summary, medium needed to generate some form of revenue, and they had chosen not to do it with ads. That left very few options on the table. Of which a subscription model of some sort was one of them. Working with creators becomes a little bit tricky especially when you build a content platform based on subscriptions where none of the proceeds go to the content creators. Imagine spotify wasnt paying royalties to their artists. That might open a pandora’s box of legal issues. In this particular case, the creatives on Medium become the writers. Medium decided to help this issue by paying out some cash to writers depending on how popular a story got. That is ok. But how they decide to do it is what makes it difficult for me.
I am a part of the new generation of Africans who are trying to build a tech businesses in the hopes of becoming our very own unicorns. That is not without its challenges, especially being part of the first wave. On large parts, we get through it by sharing ideas. For those of us who can meet up, we talk about our shared challenges and for those who cant, we write about it and hope others read it. For a very long time the internet has been a place where we could easily find content that could help us go through a lot of the challenges we face. But when the experience of creating startups on the internet is largely filled by people from Europe and the US, it misses a lot of context that has to do with our particular environment. An easy advice will be, well, get more Africans to write on their experiences in building startups. I will tell you its not as easy as it seems. For those of us who can write about it, we try our best and for a very long time medium was a popular choice for writing.
For a very long time Medium was the place where I could easily dicover content from other Africans, people wrote and depending and how good a piece was and the claps/hearts it got, Medium would pick them and share them. So you never had to worry about how good a story was, if it was on your medium homepage.
A few weeks ago I had an experience with a startup that left me feeling terrible about how people who wanted to do startups didnt exactly know how to go about building their products. In my bid to share some best practices based on my experiences, I wrote this article and my intention was to share it with other Africans. It got popular and very soon I was invited to add my piece to the Noteworty publication on medium. I though it was good. More eyeballs for my article. Note long after, when I opened my article, there was a notification at the top my article that said my article was eligible for the metered payed wall.
I didnt really know exactly what that meant or the implications of it. I went on to learn more. The two benefits to the metered paywall were clear to me; to earn money and for stories to be put through the recommendation engine that powers medium. That included the medium homepage, their topics page, their daily digests and their apps. The sticking point for me was what happened when you opted out; only your medium followers could discover your story. Now for someone like me who had a low follower count on Medium, getting my story into the recomendation engine was kinda a big deal for me, especially once I knew it was possible. So I decied to join the partnership program so that at least people who were presented with the story would either view it in private mode on the browser or figure out another way to outsmart the Medium system. Then I faced a new set of challenges.
To join the partnership program, I had to have a Stripe account. In other to have a stripe account, you need to be in a country where stripe was available of which my country was not a part. If you really want a stripe account you could get it by joining their Stripe Atlas program at a cost of $500. If you ask me, this wasnt worth it, especially if you are not a business. If you think about it, it means that, if you didnt have Stripe in your country, nobody could ever dicover your stories on Medium. This means the recomendation engine was limited to people in just 32 countries where Stripe is available on some level. If you have gotten this far in this article and are African, please start to wonder why you have never recently seen stories from other Africans who are not in your network. Yes you guessed it. Stripe is not available anywhere in Africa.
I am sure Medium made this decision to include stripe as the only payment partner based on valid business decissions. I strongly belive in capitalism and its power to alleviate poverty especially in my part of the world, but when decisions like these go to affect the content that I can see on Medium, then I think the time has come to take a stance against it. For people who are out there looking for advice and inspiration on how to build their businesses in other African countries, its quite unfortunate the only quality stories they are going to be getting are ones of very little to no value to them and even sometime the wrong one. Others like Yann Girard might think the partnership program is cool and benefitial to people in Thailand, but when the people of Thailand can not have a Stripe account, I struggle to see how this goes to benefit them. If you are out there and are still sticking to Medium, all i can say is, just be careful what you read. Because as much as they might align to your interests, there might not be much diversity to the content after all.
R.I.P Medium. It was good while it lasted.
Thanks to Chiamaka Nwolisa for reading through and catching issues.