FreeCodeCamp Moves Off of Medium after being Pressured to Put Articles Behind Paywalls

After four years of publishing on Medium, FreeCodeCamp is migrating all of its articles to its own open source publishing platform, a modified version of Ghost. The platform allows approved authors to cross-post their blog articles on the new FreeCodeCamp News site for free, without any ads.

“Medium was a great place to publish because it helped a lot of people discover your articles. But the community has outgrown Medium,” FreeCodeCamp founder Quincy Larson said.

“Medium has shifted to a paywall model where they mainly recommend paywalled articles, then encourage visitors to pay to get around their paywall.

“At the same time, not much of the traffic to Medium articles comes from Medium itself. Most of it comes from Google and social media.”

In the detailed public announcement on the FreeCodeCamp forums, Larson said he noticed his articles started to get less distribution after he decided that putting them behind a paywall would not be compatible with the mission of his organization.

“As of 2019, Medium won’t give you much ‘distribution’ within their platform unless you’re willing to put your articles to be behind their paywall,” Larson said. “At the same time, if you do put your article behind their paywall, you’re limiting your readership to just the people who have the resources to pay. This is at odds with the goals of the freeCodeCamp community. We want to make these learning resources as widely available as possible.”

In an email to blog authors who had published on FreeCodeCamp’s Medium publication, Larson elaborated on more serious concerns that he had with the platform’s approach to his organization. Oleg Isonen, one of the blog authors, published the contents of the email, which was later deleted at Larson’s request.

“But over the past year Medium had become more aggressive toward us,” Larson said. “They have pressured us to put our articles behind their paywalls. We refused. So they tried to buy us. (Which makes no sense. We’re a public charity.) We refused. Then they started threatening us with a lawyer.”

Many of those who read the email encouraged Larson to write a follow-up article, as Medium’s tactics towards publishers are a matter of legitimate public concern, both to those who use the platform and readers who support the company through subscriptions.

Larson responded, confirming that he sent the email but that he wanted to move on from the situation.

The new freeCodeCamp News site has migrated the organization’s 5,000 articles that were previously posted on Medium. The articles will still be available on Medium, but from now on freeCodeCamp plans to publish on its own platform. The site promises users full control, better analytics, AMP support, and a better reader experience that doesn’t require people to sign in or pay to read articles.

“I’m optimistic that all of us in the developer community can start our own blogs on the open web, then use community tools like freeCodeCamp News to raise awareness of them,” Larson said.

Medium abruptly changed course in 2017 to become a publisher of subscription-based content, scrapping the ad-driven revenue model without notifying publishers ahead of time. Many publications that had invested heavily in building a following on Medium were forced to leave after discovering that the company did not have their best interests in mind. Medium’s new paywalled content model, which CEO Ev Williams claims is “a different, bolder approach” targeted at fixing what is broken with media, could not sustain publishers who were convinced to join the platform in its earlier days.

FreeCodeCamp joins a wave of other publications that are moving back to WordPress and other open source platforms. This trend is set to continue as Medium’s obtrusive popups and poor reader experience drive readers away from the content hosted there. Publishers who are in it for the long haul, those who value stability and full control of their content, will return to the open web.


10 responses to “FreeCodeCamp Moves Off of Medium after being Pressured to Put Articles Behind Paywalls”

  1. I have mixed emotions about the Medium change.

    On the one hand, as a for-profit publisher trying to make it in the media space, I am sympathetic to the forces driving their decisions. Advertising is dead or dying. Donations only go so far. Writers should be paid, as should other contributors. “Free” is great until you have to meet a payroll.

    On the other hand, as someone who has signed up for the Medium partner program and started putting our articles behind their paywall, I have noticed that articles that once would have gotten numerous views are now getting many less views. The difference has been dramatic.

    Fortunately for us, we have our own site and other channels, and are not solely dependent on Medium. (Good thing.) We did the partner thing to see if it would generate some income. So far, I think we’ve made seven cents.

    We have moved to a flexible paywall (a la NYT) and so far it seems to be the best solution we’ve tried.

    Thank you for the article. I was unaware of Medium’s actions toward publishers who don’t put things behind the paywall. I think I’ll try that for a while, just to see what happens.

  2. If Medium doesn’t drive traffic to your (not paywalled) articles anymore, then there’s certainly no need to host your articles on Medium anymore. Medium’s other advantage, its shiny UX, could’ve made a difference back in the day, but nowadays it is not so special anymore: We can build similar features through native JS and CSS capabilities, and WordPress is certainly catching up through Gutenberg.

    Even more, Medium’s stance to sign up users on its site is certainly aggressive, displaying that unwelcoming welcome message “Let’s make this official, you’ve been here 5 times this month, it’s time for you to sign up” which makes me want to close the tab immediately. And also, reading articles with code feels awkward, since the code is not pretty-printed. If your publication is all about code, then hosting it on Medium is making a disservice to your readers.

    It will take time to provide a real alternative that can generate heavy traffic to your articles as Medium once did. I think the most sensible way forward is to set-up your own website, share its content with other sites through the IndieWeb, and implement your own strategy to attract people to the site (eg: which other sites do you want to share your content with? Can you ask them to join the IndieWeb too?). This video by Tantek Çelik, promoting the IndieWeb, explains the case against Facebook, but it applies against Medium too.

  3. One of the criticisms of Medium from accessibility specialists has been that Medium does not support alternate text for images, and seems to have no interest in doing so.

    Alternate text provided with the alt attribute is of course helpful in explaining the meaning/content of an image for those who can’t see it, or if the image doesn’t load for some reason.

    I’m hoping that the new freeCodeCampNews site allows for alternate text for images in articles.

  4. Oh that’s a shocker of a news imo. Because of being on medium, I was able to discover so many of the valuable articles of FreeCodeCamp that I wouldn’t have discovered on any other platform. But I agree with Quincy that FCC has definitely outgrown medium and needs a place of its own.


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