The Awl, ThinkProgress, Film School Rejects, and several other publishers have moved back to WordPress after short experiments on Medium. In early 2016, Medium convinced a collection of small, independent publications to move to its platform but shortly thereafter discontinued its unsuccessful ad-driven publishing model without notifying publishers.
In March 2017, Medium CEO Ev Williams announced that his solution to fix the broken, ad-driven media industry was to fire up a new $5 subscription program that would put articles behind a paywall inside of the Medium network.
Today The Awl, The Hairpin, and The Billfold announced the publications have moved back to WordPress after switching to Medium in April 2016.
“The move to Medium was a cool experiment, in my opinion, but the year is up and personally I missed the ads,” The Awl Editor Silvia Killingsworth said. The Billfold’s announcement cited Mediums’ recent changes as the reason for the move back to WordPress:
Our move to Medium was an experiment to explore a different kind of business model, and that experiment is over now that the platform has moved in a different direction (you can read more in-depth about those changes here).
Adapting to change is all part of the many joys of being a small, independent publisher.
Film School Rejects Returns to WordPress After 1-Year Experiment with Medium
Film School Rejects (FSR) also returned to WordPress in May after a year-long, rocky experiment with Medium. The publication was one of Medium’s first 12 premium publishers.
“To be honest, I can’t afford, nor would my heart hold up for, a move back to a private server and WordPress,” FSR founder Neil Miller told Poynter in January after Medium announced it was pivoting away from ad-driven media. “So, barring a miracle, my site will live and die on Medium. I’m optimistic that I’ll find some sort of solution and be able to remain on Medium.”
Ultimately, Medium’s goals as a publisher of subscription content were at odds with FSR’s ability to sustain the publication. Miller said they had ported 10 years of content over to the platform after being promised a beautiful user experience and a way forward that would allow FSR to grown the business, continue to pay its writers, and keep the publication on the cutting edge.
“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.
“We’d love to be able to do this all without any ads, but there’s no money in that,” Miller said. “And guess who doesn’t get paid if the site can’t make any money? The people who write articles, edit the site, make video essays, curate One Perfect Shot, and host podcasts.”
ThinkProgress Exits Medium, Founder Says Platform is No Longer Developed with Publishers in Mind
ThinkProgress was one of the largest publications to make the move to Medium last August. After less than a year, the site has moved back to WordPress, its previous publishing platform. ThinkProgress founder Judd Legum told Poynter that the lack of advertising capabilities was not the reason his publication left the platform but rather because Medium no longer serves the best interests of publishers.
“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 sites are moving back to WordPress, but most are looking to free themselves from Medium’s experiment on publishers and regain the ability to sell advertising and/or subscriptions.
Backchannel also moved its site off of the platform and is now publishing on Wired.com. “In the time since Backchannel launched, Medium has shifted its business strategy, and it’s no longer as focused on helping publications like ours profit,” BackChannel Editor Jessi Hempel said.
Medium’s new subscription revenue model and partner program are still in beta but the returns have not been enough to convince publishers to stay, even with costly migrations back to tried and proven platforms like WordPress. Ad-driven publishing may not be the most ideal way to keep a publication afloat, but publishers moving away from Medium are not willing to stay on for the the startup’s experiment at the expense of their writers and staff.