Why Are Publishers Like The Ringer and BackChannel Leaving Medium?
Can Medium salvage itself?
Five-year-old Medium has had a tough year, and publishers are leaving to find new platforms for their work. It started in January when Ev Williams, CEO of Medium and co-founder of Twitter, announced that the company was renewing its focus which included cutting 50 jobs and closing its offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
In March, Williams announced that Medium would offer subscriptions and member-only content. For $5 a month, Williams promised readers would get a new and improved Medium with a better reading experience and better content. Part of this shift to a different business model included supporting publishers and writers with subscription revenue and through a partner program where Medium would help fund stories pitched by publishers. It also meant that the publishers would no longer have the potential to earn ad revenue.
“…Medium will remain the best place to share ideas that matter and to find independent voices and fresh perspectives – for free. For members, it will get better,” Williams said.
[Editor’s note: Ironically, that post and related comments are now only available to members, so we are linking to our article on the new subscription, published March 29, 2017.]
These decisions and others have caused publishers like Bill Simmon’s The Ringer, which moved to Vox, and Conde Nast’s tech blog BackChannel to move to Wired, reports Axios. Pacific Standard, Film School Rejects, War is Boring and Latterly magazine have also left Medium.
The Ringer announced its move to Vox’s content management in an August 8 article.
“We have had a fun, strange, sometimes challenging, deeply rewarding first 14 months, and we’re grateful to the folks at Medium who helped The Ringer come to life last year. We wanted to come alive quickly after forming, and they made that possible in June 2016 (just in time for a historic NBA Finals),” said The Ringer’s editor-in-chief Sean Fennessey.
“Now that we’re past the baby steps, we want to run. Working with the thoughtful, patient people at Vox has made our imaginations expand. What you see today is, as before, a website – but hopefully one that is more readable, more navigable, better organized and more coherent experience. This site is a passion for everyone employed here, and its usability is paramount.
“We want to keep growing, and to keep pushing ourselves to write and produce stories that are unique, irreverent, unbound by the conventions of the web’s worst practices, but also be pragmatic about how to have the most fun covering sports, pop culture, technology, food, Game of Thrones, the NBA, and yes, even politics. We think this new site will help us do that,” Fennessey said.
According to Axios, Pacific Standard told Poynter that it was moving to a site that would drive better subscription growth, War is Boring moved to its own platform, and Film School Rejects said it didn’t see any revenue potential without advertising.
In an email conversation with Latterly founder Ben Wolford, Wolford told Subscription Insider that it was clear Medium was moving away from the membership program, and it had stopped developing new features. Latterly wanted to launch a print magazine, and Wolford felt that Medium couldn’t support complex transactions and subscriber management, so they built a new site to process memberships instead.
“We had distanced our business model from theirs before they announced the end of ads and the launch of Medium memberships,” Wolford said. “In that sense, it doesn’t really affect us too much, except insofar as we were hoping Medium would develop a new way forward for independent publishers.”
“They still might someday. I don’t want to write them off,” Wolford added. “Ev certainly knows what he’s doing. But obviously pitching stories to Medium for their member product isn’t a viable business model for us.”
What’s next for Medium? That’s hard to say. In fact, when we visited the site to find out more about memberships and subscriptions, it was a challenge. The Sign In/Sign Up button just takes you to a place to log in via Twitter, Facebook or Google or to sign up via email, but it contained no other information. We finally found a link buried in a post that took us to this page with vague information.
Whether you want to become a member or a publisher, there isn’t enough information to help you make a decision on whether Medium is right for you.
TechWorld said that Medium has yet to find a viable model that works. The article suggested that Medium might be considering micropayments, along with subscriptions.
As a publisher, we can appreciate the challenges that Medium and those that use its platform face. However, unless a publisher is independently wealthy, that can’t subsist on clicks and readership alone. It’s clear that Medium hasn’t found its sweet spot. In fact, it doesn’t seem like it is even close, and if big name publishers are leaving, that’s an indication that Medium might not be viable at all. In theory, we love Medium’s concept and its desire to provide independent, quality journalism. As a business though, it’s got to find a way to keep the lights on.