WP Tavern’s Sarah Gooding reports that publishers are moving back to WordPress after short experiments with Medium, a free online publishing platform.
Medium’s original business model was two-fold, to serve as a platform for subscription based publications which would put up articles behind a paywall and to run native advertising (advertorials) in a publisher’s content.
In January of this year, the CEO and co-founder of Medium, Ev Williams announced that the companies business model didn’t work and laid off one third of the company. Though Medium remains live and provides a nice publishing interface, it’s yet to come up with a viable buisiness model.
Medium’s business model was never a good fit for publishing professionals, ala lawyers. Lawyers’ publications were hugely important to them in building name and relationships, but subscription and ad revenue was not what they wanted.
What lawyers and legal professionals should make note of here is the risk publishers, including lawyers, run when not controlling their own publishing and publication. Publishing for free on something that feels good to start with can have problems down the road.
Gooding shared what Film School Rejects (FSR) founder Neil Miller had to say.
“What we were sold when we joined their platform is very different from what they’re offering as a way forward,” Miller told Poynter. “It’s almost as if Ev Williams wasn’t concerned that he was pulling out the rug from underneath publishers who had placed their trust in his vision for the future of journalism.”
After moving FSR back to WordPress, Miller said the partnership with Medium was great until the company changed course to become a different type of platform.
“As time went on, it became clear that Medium’s priorities had shifted from being a platform for independent publishers to being itself a publisher of premium, subscription-based content,” he said. “As we learned more about their future plans for the now-existent Medium ‘Members Only’ program, it became clear that our site wouldn’t be able to continue to operate the way we always had.”
Miller said the process of trying a new platform and returning to WordPress made him realize that he “missed some of the customizable features of WordPress,” which led his team to work on some new features they will be launching in the future. The site has reinstated its banner advertising on pages.
And that Judd Legum, founder of ThinkProgres, one of the largest publications to make the move to Medium, believes Medium is no longer even being developed with publishers in mind.
“I’m certainly not eager to have a bunch of ads on the site — and we’re not going to,” Legum said. “I’d love to have none. And if it were possible, I’d be interested in figuring out a model where we don’t have to have any. But if it’s connected to a platform that’s not going to be developed with publishers in mind, it doesn’t really make sense to think through that as a platform. That sealed it for me.”
ThinkProgress is taking its 8 to 10 million unique pageviews per month back into the independent publishing space. It is the latest of several other publishers leaving Medium after having been persuaded in 2016 to jump into Ev Williams’ experiment with initial promises of free hosting, more traffic, and advertising money.
Not all of the larger sites Gooding found exiting Medium went to WordPress. One went to Vox Media and another is publishing as part of Wired.
Medium’s new subscription model with users paying five dollars a month to help out and receive some “premium content” is still in beta. But as Gooding concludes, “…[P]ublishers moving away from Medium are not willing to stay on for the the startup’s experiment at the expense of their writers and staff.”
As I have said before, I am not one to bet against Ev Williams, the co-founder of Blogger and Twitter. He’s done some great stuff in publishing.
But if you are a professional, you just need to control your own publishing platform. And when working with third parties, as you must to some extent, make sure their business model is alignment with your business model.