Medium CEO Ev Williams Goes All-In on Building Subscription Business

May 21, 2019

By Alex Heath

For Medium CEO Ev Williams, building a profitable business isn’t an immediate concern.

“We're focused on building revenue and building a subscription business,” the former Twitter CEO and board member told Cheddar. “I think profit is not something we're focused on right now, because we're really focused on growth.”

Medium was started roughly seven years ago by Williams, who served as the first CEO of Twitter after selling his previous startup Blogger to Google. After several business pivots, Medium is now focused solely on growing its number of paying subscribers. Medium charges $50 per year to access an unlimited amount of articles from individual writers and publishing partners. (Cheddar is a Medium publishing partner.)

For Williams, Medium’s subscription business model is an answer for publishers looking to escape the collapsing digital ad market, which is now largely dominated by Facebook and Google. And he thinks that partnering with publishers and hiring journalists to produce original content will ultimately grow subscriptions.

“Our view is that consumers want a lot of things for one subscription,” he said. “They're not going to subscribe to dozens of publications. And so we give them access to a highly personalized, ad-free experience with tons of publishing partners and thousands of individual writers. And it's going very well. People are responding. People are subscribing in big numbers.”

Williams declined to say how many paying subscribers Medium has, but a person familiar with the matter told Cheddar that the number is between 200,000 and 400,000. A Medium spokesperson declined to comment on the number when asked for comment, but did note that the company is approaching "nearly 100 million monthly readers."

Williams said last year that he was planning to raise more venture capital money beyond the $132 million that Medium has already raised, but on Tuesday he told Cheddar that he didn’t currently need to raise more money.

“We think that profitability could be in the near future if we focused on that,” he said. “But we think the opportunity is much bigger.”

In recent months, Medium has hired editors and journalists to produce stories for its platform. Williams said he plans to continue investing in original content to grow subscriptions. He looked at acquiring New York Magazine last year, but ultimately didn’t buy the publisher.

Williams told Cheddar on Tuesday that he’s open to other media acquisitions that would complement the subscription business he’s building at Medium.

“It’s something that we may consider,” he said when asked about possibly buying other media companies. “Because I think there are a lot of organizations out there that are doing great work, but it’s just going to be hard to build the subscription business on their own.”