On Monday it will be 5 weeks since I ended my Medium subscription. I have been tempted to resume it. Most of the posts I see in my feed now are behind the paywall, so I can open just 3 of them per month. On the other hand, a lot of the paywalled posts in my feed aren’t very enticing. Even before I stopped my subscription I was seeing fewer and fewer posts that strongly appealed to me. I thought that the reason for that might be that I wasn’t reading so much on the platform and the recommendation algorithm was getting worse at predicting what I like.
But Medium has also changed its approach to recommendation and promotion of posts. The new system has been in operation for the past few months. In order to have their posts promoted, writers will first have to make them eligible for inclusion behind the paywall. Medium’s human curators then choose which of these posts are suitable for promotion. It’s only after a post has been selected by a curator that it goes to the algorithm, which determines which posts get shown to whom. Because of this, there’s now an incentive for writers on the platform to make their posts eligible for the paywall, so as to maximize the chance that those posts will be promoted. Before I became a Medium subscriber late in 2017 I could find plenty of posts that were free to read. Now it’s not so easy.
That’s why I’m tempted to resume my membership. It’s only $5 a month, after all. When I ended it in the middle of June, I’d been a subscriber for 18 months in which period I had paid a grand total of $90, which hardly seems exorbitant. All the same, I find myself resisting the idea of resubscribing. For one thing, there’s the fact already mentioned that my recommendations had already been deteriorating. It’s unlikely that they’d start getting better merely because I started to pay again. More generally, I’m becoming increasingly doubtful of the value of algorithmic recommendation engines. Therefore I’m inclined to treat the fact that my Medium feed is full of stories I’m not allowed to read as the cue to find alternative ways to discover stories that I can read.
In the past, I’ve used tags for this purpose. I used to send out an email newsletter recommendeding the best short fiction I’d been able to find on Medium. At the time, there was a perception among fiction writers on the platform that Medium wasn’t very good at promoting their work. So I’d search for stories to recommend using tags, particularly the tags Short Story and Fiction. These aren’t a surefire way to find unmetered stories but they are often more fruitful than the general feed. When you find a tag that delivers the goods, you can easily bookmark the tag itself or add the RSS feed for that tag to your feed reader:
It’s also worth finding particular writers on Medium who don’t habitually put their writing behind the paywall (and therefore tend not to be promoted) but whose writing you like. When you do manage to find a writer like this, it’s not usually enough simply to follow her or him. Medium is yet another place on the internet where “following is broken”. The mere fact that you’ve followed a writer doesn’t mean that you’re going to be shown many of their posts, still less the most interesting ones. One alternative is to subscribe to the writer’s RSS feed. To get the feed URL, you just add “feed/” before their user name. A well known problem with RSS feeds on Medium is that they include comments by that writer as well as more substantial posts. In some cases, the substantial posts can get lost among the comments.
I’ve recently seen two “meta” posts from writers I like who are now mainly paywalling their new writing but who also have a substantial “backlist” of free-to-read posts. They are:
Felicia C Sullivan, Felicia Does Fiction
Felicia C Sullivan is far and away my favourite writer of short fiction on Medium. Here, she’s gathered a list of (nearly) all her fiction on the platform. Those stories that don’t have a little five-pointed star are freely accessible to nonsubscribers. I highly recommend them.
Amanda Roman, Amanda’s Writing
Amanda Roman is a trans woman who has written extensively on Medium, documenting the process of transitioning, starting when she was still unconvinced that she was truly transgender, and writing perceptively and engagingly about many of the experiences surrounding her transition. This post is a very useful guide to her “best and most popular articles.”
While I’m on the subject of meta posts, if you’re interested in fiction on Medium, you should also check out this list by Zac Chapepa of publications which offer fiction. Most of them will now be publishing behind the paywall but you will find some stories that can be read for free. In many cases, these stories will be more than a few months old, dating from before Medium’s change of policy on the paywall. But that’s OK. One of the good things about fiction is that it doesn’t go out of date.
I hope you’ll find something you like.