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March 25, 2019, 10:48 a.m.
Business Models

The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium, 2012–present

“A beautiful space for reading and writing” and pivoting.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven times, well…how much money do you have, again?

Less than a year after Medium abruptly canceled the membership programs of its remaining publishing partners, the company is coming back around like an ex promising you they’ve changed. “We are seeking partners to create new publications on Medium, which we will help fund and distribute,” it said in a blog post Tuesday.

It’s not the first time, of course. Medium is nearly seven years old. It’s raised $132 million in venture funding, and it is not profitable. It has undergone countless pivots. When I saw that new search for “partners” last week, I started trying to count how many — and then ended up documenting the history of Medium via articles and tweets and Ev Williams statements.1 Why do that? I don’t know. I guess I was trying to figure the company out in my own head.

Medium made it possible for anyone to blog and be seen. On August 14, 2012, when Ev Williams publicly launched Medium, he wrote, “On Medium, you can contribute often or just once in a blue moon, without the commitment of a blog. And either way, you’re publishing into a thriving, pulsing network — not a standalone web site, which you alone are responsible for keeping alive.” Today, that’s still true and is arguably the best thing about Medium. This year, for instance, Jeff Bezos used Medium to reveal the National Enquirer’s efforts to blackmail him. Bezos might have used something else if Medium didn’t exist, but it does seem as if some of the very early hopes that the platform would democratize blogging has been achieved. Other noteworthy posts that might not have gotten nearly as much traction if they hadn’t been published on Medium (and that might not have even been written if Medium hadn’t existed) include James Bridle’s 2017 investigation into YouTube kids’ videos, “I made the pizza cinnamon rolls from Mario Batali’s sexual misconduct apology letter,” “When the racist is someone you know and love,” and “Living and dying on Airbnb.” And please never forget “Just checking in.”

But Medium has also done a number of not-so-great things. It’s sometimes been called a “YouTube for text,” but unlike YouTube, there are no Medium-native stars. Rather, the company has typically hired and promoted the work of editors and writers who were already well known. Many of them were able to head back to legacy publications or other ventures when their Medium publications folded; people whose careers weren’t as established, or who were starting publications on Medium from scratch, often haven’t been so lucky. And partnering with Medium arguably hastened the decline of some beloved sites (R.I.P. The Awl).

How much does that matter? (On a large scale — it obviously matters a lot to the individual people whose careers have been affected.) Even if Medium never raises more money from VCs, Williams’ personal wealth hovers in the wings as a possible savior — if not to the entire publishing industry (definitely not), then maybe to some individual publication. If not to some individual publication (probably not), then maybe to an individual writer or two. That promise of not-totally-evil money has kept people coming back, pulling new writers and editors in when the old, disillusioned ones leave or get kicked out. The promise of cash and the freedom to write what you’re passionate about has always been there, because Williams — who truly seems to hold an idealistic vision of what Medium could be — has never stopped promising it (well, except for a brief weird period in 2015 when he tried to reframe Medium as a kind of social network). One big thing that sets Medium apart from other unsuccessful media ventures is that its flow of money has never been completely shut off.

I want to be clear: I don’t blame people who go do something for Medium. Seriously, grab that money while it’s there. In 2015, after I was laid off, I talked to people at Medium about starting a parenting publication there. It was something that I might have received a few thousand dollars to do. I joined Nieman Lab instead, but that freedom (?) and potential money still float in and out of my mind. Some of the news stories I’ve written about Medium have been too credulous; I’ve taken too much of Williams’ startup speak at face value. I (and many others) devoted what now seems like way too much mental energy to the “Is Medium a platform or a publisher?” question. Sure, Williams’ frequently shifting stated vision didn’t help, but that angst still feels ridiculously quaint in 2019.

Why spend so much time worrying about what Medium is? Maybe because we wanted to know whether it was a friend or an enemy. The answer is that it’s neither. It’s a reflection of what the media industry has worried about, and hoped for, and not received. But Medium was never something that we would get to define. Instead, it’s turned out to be an endless thought experiment into what publishing on the internet could look like. That’s not much fun for people who got burned along the way, but Medium was never exactly ours to begin with.

• 2012 •
14
August
Medium launches as “a beautiful space for reading and writing — and little else.”
• 2012 •
15
August
Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab:

The space Medium occupies stands between two poles. On one side, you’ve got people who want to hang out a shingle online and own their work in every possible sense. On the other, you’ve got people who are happy in the friendly confines of Facebook and Twitter, places where they can reach their friends effortlessly and not worry about writing elegant prose. Is there an audience between those two poles that’s big enough to build something lasting?

John Herrman, BuzzFeed:

It’s an internet where every blog is Daring Fireball, where every post looks like Instapaper, where every discussion is led by its rightful leaders, and where ads are considered no better than spam. It’s barren but design-forward, and, at least at the moment, kind of elitist. It’s not clear how it’ll make money. Maybe it won’t! Maybe that’s part of the idea.

Choire Sicha, The Awl:

Producing a “feed” subsumed in the apps of our time is not a business. It might (SORRY) own the means of its production but it won’t own the means of its revenue.

Except, of course, they all do have an interest in being a business. Or will. It’s great to build a fun product! But it’s not like people are going to spend millions on making something and have it be a happy write-off in three years.

• 2012 •
24
October
Ev Williams says, “Our goal is to help people pay attention to the most valuable stuff first and to have the best ideas win.” Medium is using an algorithm to order posts “by our best guess of the relative quality/­interestingness of the different items — according to the people who have seen them.” And it is “not obsessed with the new,” so don’t worry about publishing frequently.
• 2012 •
20
November
Medium hires former literary agent Kate Lee as its director of content. Williams:

Kate’s job is to help get great stuff onto Medium. She’ll do this in a variety of ways — by discovering, encouraging, soliciting, commissioning, and contextualizing interesting ideas, authors, and institutions. She’ll do this from New York — home of so many of the world’s best storytellers. And she’ll be building a small team to help her.

• 2012 •
25
November
Dave Winer: “This is yet another company that compensates its employees without compensating the content creators.”
• 2012 •
10
December
Adrienne Jeffries, The Verge:

Log in, and you’ll be greeted with a diverse mix of content: a picture of birds in the snow, a love story, and a first-hand account of donating a bag of cash at Planned Parenthood dressed as a cat burglar. I enjoyed the stuff I read more than I expected to, although it’s hard to say whether that was because of Medium’s secret sauce or because the early adopters are already good writers.

However, there’s no hard evidence of demand for the kind of things Medium offers. People definitely want to read news online, and they definitely want to see their friends’ updates on Instagram, and they definitely want Harry Potter fan fiction. But do they want random anecdotes and backyard photos from strangers?

• 2012 •
21
December
Drew Olanoff, TechCrunch:

It’s a smart bet to watch what this team does because of its experience, but also because they are in a mode of taking their time and seeing what works. Whenever you see a well-established team, much like Path, taking its time to make beautiful things, you simply have to take notice. They are the most dangerous when it comes to disruption.

• 2013 •
7
March
Evan Hansen, who was the editor-in-chief of Wired.com, joins Medium as a senior editor.
• 2013 •
5
April
Medium is operating as its own company, with a staff of 30.
• 2013 •
17
April
Medium acquires the longform science journalism site Matter, which originally launched in 2012 with a successful Kickstarter campaign.
• 2013 •
7
May
Williams: “We’re going to be a great place for professional writers to write. The magazine is the analog for what we’re doing.” At this point, Medium has five editors who are working to “get great content on the system and help curate what’s there,” and some writers are getting paid. The platform is still invite-only.
• 2013 •
1
August
Does the phrase “pressure cookers, backpacks and quinoa, oh my!” ring any bells? In a (now-deleted) Medium post, a writer suggests that her family’s Google searches were being monitored by the government; it turned out not to be the case, because it was the writer’s husband’s employer who reported his Google history to the police. This seems to be the first instance of news (sort of) breaking on Medium, because media outlets rush to pick up on the story (Big Brother is watching you) before it’s debunked. (Sound familiar?)

There are lots of questions about whether Medium is responsible (especially in this invite-only phase) for its posts. Medium takes the opportunity to insist that it is a platform.

Hamish McKenzie, then at PandoDaily (now founder of Substack), writes:

Medium has some clearing up to do. It needs to get the message across that even though it sometimes appears to endorse some content — by promoting the posts, juicing their distribution, and, in some cases, even paying the writers — that doesn’t mean it is vouching for its veracity. It would help, also, if the company tweaked the titles of its editorial team so it was clear that those people are responsible for direction and curation rather than actual copy-wrangling. And it should more clearly explain how Matter fits into the overall scheme of things.

• 2013 •
15
August
Medium is a year old and has 40 employees. “Head of people operations” and product designer Jason Stirman tells Journalism.co.uk, “I think that the publishing world, post-Medium, will look a little bit different than it did before and I think that’s a good thing for the world.”
• 2013 •
16
August
The publisher vs. platform issue pops up again when Peter Shih, a Y Combinator grad and founder of a payment startup, publishes a Medium post (now deleted) outlining the things he hates about San Francisco. It includes lines like “I hate how the weather here is like a woman who is constantly PMSing” and “Just because San Francisco has the worst Female to Male ratio in the known universe doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch all the time.”

Alexis Madrigal:

What are the boundaries and limits of Medium? If anything defines a publication, it is what it *doesn’t* do. More specifically: is Medium a place where Peter Shih should post about San Francisco women he thinks are ugly? Is Medium a better place on the Internet or is it any old place on the Internet?

SF Gate:

Medium could have ‘certified content’, that which has been fact-checked and signed off by an editor, and advertise it as such at the top of the page. The rest would be uncertified pieces, marked as such too, which would raise readers’ own fact-checking radars and distance the editorialized content from Medium.

But no doubt that uncertified content will continue causing problems. Now, misinformation, no matter the source, can get around the world a hundred times before the truth even finds its shoes.

• 2013 •
23
August
Anil Dash:

Medium matters because it helps to define whether great writing finds a sustainable expression on the web in the post-banner-ad era. Medium matters because it pushes blogging, the native medium of the web, to a new stage of evolution after a decade of relative stagnation.

• 2013 •
26
September
Medium starts serving logged-in users with personalized homepages. It also starts curating “Editor’s Picks.”

“Reading the news doesn’t make us any smarter,” writes product lead Pete Davies.

• 2013 •
25
October
Medium opens to everyone.
• 2013 •
10
November
The New York Times profiles Ev Williams and Medium.

[Williams] wants to see better journalism emerge on the issue of climate change, asserting that views have been manipulated by an avalanche of lies coursing through the Internet. But what’s to say that a mathematically mediated site — basing quality on reader attention — will elicit the truth?

• 2013 •
11
November
Felix Salmon:

Looking at Medium, along with Vox, and Glam, and even AOL, I think I can begin to discern the vague outlines of how digital publishing might eventually be able to deliver the kind of scale and impact that brand advertisers demand from TV and glossy magazines.

• 2013 •
21
November
Matter fully integrates with Medium and stops charging for content. (Or: It loses the paying subscriber base it came to Medium with.)
• 2013 •
4
December
Medium launches a new iteration it labels Medium 1.0. “It has all the core components to be the simple-but-powerful idea distribution system we set out to build,” Williams writes.

Fast Company:

• 2014 •
28
January
Medium raises $25 million.
• 2014 •
7
February
Jonathan Glick of the social network Sulia coins the term “platisher.” People hate it.

• 2014 •
25
May
David Carr describes Medium as “an amorphous-sounding company that could be one more curio of the Internet age or might end up taking over the world. It’s hard to tell from talking to Mr. Williams.”

• 2014 •
30
May
Arikia Millikan, one of Medium’s first paid collections editors with LadyBits, writes about why she and Medium “mutually decided to bring our collaboration to a close.” Medium initially asked her to “just start” LadyBits and see if it caught on, but she insisted on being paid. She was, “at a rate of 5 cents per view for anything published in the LadyBits collection (with the rate decaying after certain traffic thresholds). Nobody knew where the money was coming from to pay writers, but several Collection Editors speculated that the operation was financed by Ev and his mystery Twitter fortune.” Collection editors had to hope their posts would go viral so that they would get paid more. When Medium personalized its homepage, LadyBits’ “traffic fell by about 50 percent, as did our income.”

Over time, Milikan writes, she came to think of Medium as

the Cowbird, a brood parasitic cuckoo that lays its eggs in the nests of other birds when they are away. The host mother bird unknowingly nests the foreign eggs and, when they hatch, the cowbird chicks consume an inordinate amount of resources, diverting them away from the native chicks.

• 2014 •
1
June
Evan Hansen responds to Milikan’s post (without specifically mentioning her): “Our payment model failed to support some really terrific contributors.” He says that “some” editors will now be paid “not by clicks, but by the total time spent reading in their collection.”
• 2014 •
9
June
Williams: “Yes, we’re a publisher.

• 2014 •
25
June
Steven Levy leaves his job as a senior writer at Wired to launch a tech publication for Medium. “One of the appeals of it is it’s not in this secure, established situation,” he tells Digiday. “It is something where all the answers aren’t there.”

“Mr. Levy’s hiring suggests that what has been a platform is also beginning to look more and more like a publisher,” David Carr writes, “albeit one with no revenues and no business model to date.”

• 2014 •
29
July
Medium runs advertising for the first time: a series of posts sponsored by BMW.
• 2014 •
27
October
From a company memo that was later made public: “It’s hard to understand what Medium is, who’s it for, and what should be published there.”
• 2014 •
15
December
Williams:

Medium is a for-profit entity. Definitely we will make money…The sooner we get money flowing through the system and allow other people to make money, that drives more professional content. That’s not necessarily our business model for the whole thing, but it is useful now to drive more good stuff.

• 2015 •
5
January
Sarah Lacy writes, “Williams is so risk averse that he simply won’t — or maybe can’t — decide if he wants Medium to be seen as a publication or a platform.” Williams responds: “The reason it’s ‘siloed’ is because Matter is a publication, and Medium is a platform. There are other publications on Medium, as well (some we run, others we don’t). That may be confusing to some people, but it will become clearer over time. And it certainly has nothing to do with avoiding decision, risk, or conflict.”
• 2015 •
20
January
The White House publishes the text of President Obama’s State of the Union address to Medium, where it gets more than 400,000 views (“That’s our best engagement yet on Medium”).
• 2015 •
24
February
Medium makes it easier to write short posts and tag them.

• 2015 •
12
March
Medium starts letting some publications use custom domains, including New America, Midcentury Modern, Substance, and The Nib. From the now-deleted announcement post:

• 2015 •
2
April
Medium says it has 25 million unique visitors a month; comScore says it has 3 million. Its preferred metric is time spent reading.
• 2015 •
14
April
Williams tells Wired why Medium doesn’t do video. “Video is incredibly powerful and influential, but not for the average person.”
• 2015 •
21
April
Esquire launches a content partnership with Medium in which it will “present audio recordings of interviews with celebrities like George Clooney and Clint Eastwood as animated videos.”
• 2015 •
20
May
Williams: “Medium is not a publishing tool. It’s a network. A network of ideas that build off each other.” The goal is for it to be more like a social network. Some of the company’s publishing verticals are shuttered and, Charlie Warzel writes at BuzzFeed, “Hansen and Williams hinted that rather than [time spent reading], metrics such as follows, new-user recruitment, and article recommendations across Medium’s social network could factor into writer bonuses in the future.”

Steven Levy publishes Medium’s first quiz.

• 2015 •
1
June
Business Insider reports that “nearly all of Medium’s sites are undergoing major upheavals.” The Nib, reportedly Medium’s most successful vertical, is cutting back publishing significantly, and “Medium has completely axed many independent budgets for freelance projects.”
• 2015 •
28
September
Medium raises $57 million, bringing the total amount it has raised to $82 million.
• 2015 •
7
October
Medium partners with publishers including The Awl, Discovery, Fusion, Steven Johnson’s How We Get To Next, Mic, MSNBC, and Travel + Leisure.

Saul Carlin, Medium’s head of publisher development, writes, “We’re starting to develop new native advertising solutions and paid content models that we think will help professional writers, bloggers, and publishers earn revenue on Medium.”

Williams notes that in the past few months, “over 100 sites moved to or launched on Medium under a custom domain.”

• 2015 •
22
October
Williams: “There’s going to be sponsorships and branded dollars on the platform. Our vision is to connect quality creators with brands who may want to work with them.”
• 2015 •
11
December
The Awl Network’s personal finance site, The Billfold, moves to Medium. “In an age of ad blocking, [Medium will] help us figure out new revenue streams so we can continue to do what we’re doing,” Mike Dang writes.
• 2016 •
2
January
Politico reports that “in a sign of how much Medium is banking on Washington’s frustration with traditional news outlets, the San Francisco-based company established a D.C. office last spring and has spent months recruiting new voices in Washington.” From the piece:

“Done right, you get many of the benefits of placing an op-ed without any of the hassles,” says Matt Lira, a digital strategist with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who published an Oct. 22 piece on Medium about El Niño and the California drought. “Medium has done a great job making the platform look incredibly professional for people with zero technical ability.”

• 2016 •
23
February
Bill Simmons (the founder of Grantland, which had been shut down the previous October), is partnering with Medium for his new site, The Ringer. Edward Lichty, Medium’s head of partnerships, writes:

We eliminate the need for any investment in tech, provide access to a growing network oriented towards meaningful engagement, and deliver constant, always-on innovation from a world-class product development team, whether you’re a single blogger or a large commercial publication — all for free.

• 2016 •
21
March
Medium spins off Matter as “sort of a studio and sort of an incubator.” “Matter is going to be for digital storytellers what HBO and Amazon Studios are for TV makers, or what the best incubators are for startups,” writes Mark Lotto, who was Medium’s head of editorial and with the change oversees Matter. Matter Studios is owned by Williams and backed by an initial seven-figure investment from him.
• 2016 •
24
March
Williams:

The publications were always an opportunity for us to learn more about our platform, as well as to rolemodel what other publications can do, and they’ve been super helpful in that. In talking to The Ringer and others, having these professional publications on the platform helped a lot in making those deals.

But long-term it’s clearer and clearer I think to the world that Medium really is a platform, and there may be flagship publications that we own, but that’s not the gist of it. For now, nothing has changed about Backchannel.

• 2016 •
5
April
Medium announces new tools for publishers. Some publishing partners, as part of Medium’s “revenue beta program…available by application only,” will be able to do sponsored content posts and membership. Medium announces the new offerings at an event in New York.

The Awl and The Hairpin, Electric Literature, Pacific Standard, The Black List, Femsplain, Monday Note, and NewCo Shift will migrate their content to the platform, and will all take on a Medium-ish look. “Medium is offering a tremendous suite of services that makes sense for where we are right now,” The Awl Network publisher Michael Macher tells Digiday. “This extra network effect is extremely positive. Being on Medium makes the process more efficient, and from an aesthetic point of view, it’s a good place for it to live.”

“It’s a simplistic view to say go where the people are,” Williams says at the event. “You need to go where the right people are.”

• 2016 •
10
April
John Battelle to The Guardian: “It’s not a huge platform, but when he said I’m going to put in my lot with the publishers — I want to be on that train.”
• 2016 •
21
April
Seven months after Medium raised $57 million, it raises another $50 million in funding, bringing the total raised to $132 million. The investors in this round reportedly value the company at $600 million.
• 2016 •
29
April
Steven Levy is in talks to leave Medium and bring Backchannel, the tech vertical he started there, to Condé Nast.
• 2016 •
2
May
Evan Hansen leaves his position as Medium senior editor for Periscope.
• 2016 •
16
June
Williams: “I understand the skepticism, that we’re a venture-backed corporation that is saying those things. I think you can still be optimistic that something good can be created, and you can at least get behind the fact that there shouldn’t be one platform that everything centralizes to.”
• 2016 •
23
June
We profile five of the publishers who transitioned their sites to Medium.

“We used to work in a place where everything was controlled under one roof, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’re one of the massive players left, and I don’t know that there are going to be that many of them standing in a couple years,” says Nicholas Jackson, then Pacific Standard’s editor-in-chief. “Who do you expect to make it?”

• 2017 •
4
January
Williams announces that Medium is laying off a third of its staff (50 people) and shutting its offices in New York and Washington, DC.

“In building out this model, we realized we didn’t yet have the right solution to the big question of driving payment for quality content,” he writes, adding, “it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet.” Medium is ending its involvement with ads. “We are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people.”

It’s unclear what will happen to Medium’s publishing partners. “I certainly doubt the in-network ad revenue will reach the levels that they originally projected,” Electric Literature’s Andy Hunter tells us. Another publisher, The Establishment, is left in the lurch:

Our launch day, today, was scheduled in early December. We received news of Medium’s pivot and attendant downsizing when the rest of the world did, around noon.

At this time, this is, literally, all we know.

Elizabeth Spiers, another one of Medium’s publishing partners, writes:

Now Medium is shutting down its publisher program, which is sort of unexpected given that (in my opinion) they had mostly opted for traditional ad sales for monetization, which is what they were theoretically going to find an alternative to. So I respect Ev, and believe that being proactive when there’s a problem is important, but I’ll admit I’m baffled when the stated rationale for throwing in the towel is that ad-backed media is broken. If we agree that it is, it was broken when Medium began the publisher program, and had they listened to any people who’ve been publishers before (many of the publishers in their revenue program, for example), that would have been obvious.

• 2017 •
2
February
Williams says Medium is launching a subscription product within the quarter, and that it will be “an upgrade to your Medium experience.”
• 2017 •
10
February
A publisher to Business Insider: “He likes people who make things, including writers. I did not think he would just pull the plug on publishing and start fucking people.”

A former employee: “Ev is not that interested in revenue, to be honest. He’s driven by wanting to create this democratic space for people to have a voice, for the best content to rise on top. The problem that does not excite him is ‘How do I make money?’ And he has the luxury in doing that.”

• 2017 •
2
March
WordPress: “With the recent news about Medium’s change in business model we’ve been receiving a number of requests from users on how to import their content to a WordPress.com site. We’re excited today to share our new import tool for moving from Medium to WordPress.com.”
• 2017 •
22
March
Medium launches memberships for $5 per month. For now, the main benefit to readers is some small upgrades. In a blog post, Williams writes, “We will be routing 100% of the revenue from founding members (those who sign up in the first few months) to writers and independent publishers who have important work to do.”

“Media is broken,” Williams writes. “And we need to fix it.”

• 2017 •
24
March
Neil Miller, Film School Rejects:

Right now, we’re very concerned about the future of our site’s partnership with Medium. What we were sold when we joined their platform is very different from what they’re offering as a way forward. 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.

• 2017 •
16
May
Pacific Standard and Film School Rejects leave Medium.
• 2017 •
18
May
Medium adds members-only audio versions of stories.
• 2017 •
30
May
Bill Simmons moves The Ringer from Medium to Vox. Business Insider reports that one reason for this is that The Ringer’s traffic has fallen — from 1.2 million unique visitors a month at launch in July 2016 to 357,000 uniques in April 2017, per comScore.
• 2017 •
9
June
Backchannel moves back to Wired. “You CAN go home again!” Steven Levy tweets.
• 2017 •
12
June
The Washington Post launches The Lily, a brand for millennial women. It will be distributed on Medium, but also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and in an email newsletter.
• 2017 •
21
June
The Economist does a number of experiments (none paid) on Medium.
• 2017 •
30
June
ThinkProgress leaves Medium to go back to WordPress.
• 2017 •
4
August
The Awl leaves Medium to go back to WordPress. Silvia Killingsworth: “The move to Medium was a cool experiment, in my opinion, but the year is up and personally I missed the ads.”
• 2017 •
22
August
Medium launches a partner program where writers get paid based on engagement. Engagement is measured based on “claps.” Also, “We have recently switched our paywall from ‘no access’ to a ‘metered’ one, meaning non-members will still be able to read a limited amount of locked stories each month.”
• 2017 •
30
August
We talk to Ev Williams. Williams:

Previously, if people wanted to get paid, we were working with them individually, accepting pitches, going back and forth doing light editing, signing contracts in a more traditional way and paying them on those terms. The big change, essentially, is that once they’re in the program, people can publish themselves and get paid on performance.

It’s a dramatic change, but it was always our plan to figure out how to do this.

Owen: Where is the money to pay the writers coming from? Is it coming from you, Medium the company, or is it coming from readers?

Williams: Well, it’s a little bit of an arbitrary distinction because all the money comes to us, and we are paying out the money. The budget will be pegged to the subscription revenue because it needs to be. We can’t pay out of pocket for all the writing. We will pay writers from the subscription revenue.

Owen: But, I mean, is Medium the company contributing money to the writers directly as well?

Williams: Like any marketplace, we are going to seed it first. Usually, you need to seed supply before you have enough demand, so there’s something for people to come to. In the beginning stages, we’re not limiting the payouts to subscribers. We are investing more than the current amount of subscriber revenue to seed the market.

Owen: What’ll be the point you have to get to where all of the money is coming from the readers? When can you stop seeding it?

Williams: It’s pretty hard to predict. I look at it this way: If you compare the monetization from the subscription product to a web-based ad product, even at our relatively small price of $5 a month, subscription is a phenomenally better monetization model for a reader. Therefore, there is a lot more money for the content that is engaged with than the content that is available to pay writers from an ad-driven model. So for those who do well in the program, there’s every reason to expect that they can make more money writing here than they could at an ad-based publication.

• 2017 •
8
September
Medium adds content from “premium publishers” like The New York Times and Financial Times to its member offering. Some of this content is not paywalled on the original sites, but will be paywalled on Medium; or, as Medium puts it, “All of these selections are placed behind our metered membership paywall, so members get unlimited access and can read these stories without ever leaving Medium.” (Medium is paying the publishers flat fees for this.)

• 2017 •
10
October
Anyone can now become a Medium partner, with a chance to get paid. Williams: “Let’s take back control of what we pay attention to and what gets rewarded.”
• 2017 •
11
October
Choire Sicha to BuzzFeed:

Ev Williams is trying to brute force his way through the problem of publishing and monetization. In doing so, he has upended people’s lives — he has upended good publications. I understand the desire to be agile and to pivot, and to try new things when things aren’t working. But it’s destructive — you can’t try people and things on, then discard them. It’s not how a media company or a publishing company can work.

Williams to BuzzFeed: “What I’m trying to make clear is that it was never the strategy to become publishers ourselves.”

Medium spokesperson to BuzzFeed: “People have always tried to define us based on outdated buzzwords, while we are focused on building a new, modern model that works.”

• 2017 •
31
October
The Establishment lives.
• 2018 •
16
January
The Awl and The Hairpin shut down.
• 2018 •
1
February
Medium hires Siobhan O’Connor, who was executive editor at Time, as its VP of editorial. Vanity Fair: “O’Connor and a small team of editors will focus largely on doing stories and commissioning paid writers to build out Medium’s membership program, as well as finding the best stories from Medium’s user-base to promote.”
• 2018 •
22
March
Medium is paying some writers $100 bonuses on “stories that our editors designate as high quality in important topic areas.”
• 2018 •
9
May
New York Times headline: “And for his next act, Ev Williams will fix the internet.”

• 2018 •
10
May
Medium cancels the program that had let publishers use its platform to offer paid memberships; 21 publishers are affected.

• 2018 •
13
September
Medium hires Jessica Valenti and Douglas Rushkoff as columnists. Both will write exclusively for Medium.
• 2018 •
6
October
Siobhan O’Connor: “Medium’s business model is designed to serve writers and readers — that’s it.” She says that by the end of 2018, Medium will have spent nearly $5 million paying for commissioned and paywalled work.
• 2018 •
8
November
Williams says that Medium is not profitable and that he will be raising more money. “The investment will go into Williams’ effort to make Medium a bit more like a vast, thoughtful magazine…While the majority of Medium’s writers are amateurs writing for coffee money, the professional work — which feels a lot like the journalism you’d see in a monthly magazine — will get much of the investment, he said.”
• 2018 •
13
December
Bloomberg reports that Williams has discussed buying New York Magazine. “We are going to significantly increase our investment in original editorial in the next year,” Williams tells Bloomberg in a statement.
• 2018 •
14
December
Freelancers on the Study Hall listserv report that Medium is paying some writers as much as $2 per word.
• 2019 •
12
February
The Bold Italic, which had been a Medium publishing partner, is acquired by Medium.
• 2019 •
21
February
Medium plans four “magazines,” or content collections that will be available behind its $5/month paywall. One of them is OneZero, a tech and science publication.

• 2019 •
28
February
Williams announces that all Medium stories will be free if you come to them from Twitter.

Medium announces that it is looking for partners to launch new publications. “In some cases, we will offer a minimum guarantee of $5–50k per month to help publishers get started and lessen the risk.”

• 2019 •
19
March
The New York Times reports that Mark Bittman is launching a food publication for Medium.

“If I dropped dead tomorrow,” Bittman says, “is there something we’ve done that can last?”

  1. This would not have been possible without Mediagazer’s archives, especially since they preserve the links to posts that Medium has now de-listed or taken down completely. []
POSTED     March 25, 2019, 10:48 a.m.
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