Medium lowers its paywall for Twitter users

If you’re not the paying sort, Medium has a mile-wide new hole in its paywall that might interest you. (But really, you should be the paying sort.)

On Wednesday, Medium CEO and Twitter co-founder Ev Williams announced that Medium is tearing down its paywall for readers that visit the site through Twitter. In tweets, Williams elaborated a bit on the company’s thinking, explaining that the decision wouldn’t affect Medium members who rely on paid readerships, as paid readers would still be counted like they were before.

“It doesn’t affect compensation—assuming you mean for Partner Program,” Williams said. “That’s determined by readership from paying members, which will still be counted (assuming they’re logged in).”

Still, it’s difficult to imagine how paid memberships will go up with content readily accessible for free. When asked by a Twitter user if the decision would disincentivize would-be paying users, Williams maintained that Medium would be keeping an eye on what happens to its paid subscription base.

“We will certainly watch that, and if it has a negative impact, we may change this in the future,” Williams said. “As it stands, Twitter is a relatively small (but important) part of our traffic, and we expect this to have a positive effect.”

Part of that logic is likely the idea that bringing more people into Medium through Twitter will convert more paid readers. A Medium membership is $5 monthly or $50 a year, and that money goes into a pool that is doled out to writers — a refreshingly creator-friendly approach compared to the house-always-wins attitude of other platforms.

Earlier this month, Medium picked up San Francisco publication The Bold Italic to sweeten its paywalled offerings. It’s clear that cultivating some premium content is central to Medium’s move to bring in subscribers, but the gaping Twitter-shaped hole in the paywall is a bit counterintuitive. Still, with Medium — as with all mercurial tech platforms in publisher’s clothing — everything is subject to change.

In late 2017, Medium added the option for any author or publisher to operate their own paywall on the platform, but it revoked the offering abruptly last year. That move reminded publishers getting cozy with Medium that the company is, at its heart, a tech company that can change its approach to business on a dime, taking publishers along for the ride.

However it shakes out, it’s clear that Medium is trying out a few new things. A day prior to the paywall announcement, Medium launched a new tech and science publication called OneZero — one of the four new digital magazines. Medium plans to power those flagship editorial brands with its “sustainable, subscription business model.” That model is something it didn’t have in place in early 2017, when Medium hit some bumps, made some layoffs and lost the Ringer (and other smaller publishers) before realigning itself in order to chart a non-ad-supported path forward.