Two weeks ago, publishing platform Medium — which has become known for tech and culture blogs like Matter, Backchannel, The Nib, and The Message — announced a change in its direction.
Medium now wants to become more of a social network rather than a publishing platform. But this comes at a great cost to its full-time and freelance staff, people familiar with the matter told Business Insider.
“Medium is not a publishing tool,” CEO Ev Williams wrote in the announcement. “It’s a network. A network of ideas that build off each other. And people. And GIFs.”
Many are still trying to decipher what this means. BuzzFeed published a post trying to explain the changes.
“[Medium is] also moving away from its sole emphasis on longform content and time spent on the site,” BuzzFeed reporter Charlie Warzel wrote.
Warzel also noted that Medium is restructuring The Message, a tech culture site with essays by outside contributors, and closing down Re:form, a design-focused site sponsored by BMW.
But those aren’t the only changes.
Nearly all of Medium’s sites are undergoing major upheavals, people familiar with the matter told Business Insider. While it’s true that The Message is undergoing some shuffling, other more popular Medium sites are being hit even harder.
Structural changes and budget cuts
Business Insider has learned that structural shifts inside Medium are rampant. This is not only in editorial practice but in management as well.
- The Nib, Medium’s site for original comics, is significantly cutting back its output. Some full-time staff positions are being cut completely, and that most regular freelancers will only contribute occasionally, if at all. The website’s editor Matt Bors published a post explaining some of the new changes. To those on the inside — both at The Nib and at other Medium sites — this came as quite a shock. Many viewed The Nib as Medium’s biggest success, as its monthly traffic looked continually healthy, and it had more than 3 million unique readers in April. And these metrics were precisely what high-ups told the site to do, according to people familiar with the situation. (Medium would not comment on any specifics about Nib’s metrics.)
- The Message, a tech-culture site where all the content was created by outside contributors, will now be managed by Matter, its in-house tech culture site.
- Matter will no longer be considered its own independent site in terms of staff management. Staff writers are no longer “writers at Matter” and are instead considered “Medium writers.”
- Medium has completely axed many independent budgets for freelance projects, people close to the situation told Business Insider. This came after a series of meetings a few months back when site editors were asked to present how they intended to be more “social” with their content. The executives were not persuaded and the major shifts began to take root.
- War Is Boring — Medium’s military focused site — announced last month that it was looking for a new publisher.
- Re:form and The Archipelago have both stopped publishing and have let their writers go. (The Archipelago focused on personal essays.)
Medium insiders have been largely silent about the changes because all editorial employees are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement forbidding them from talking about internal changes when they join the company.
When asked about the changes, Edward Lichty Medium’s Head of Corporate Development and Strategy wrote to Business Insider: “All of our content team, including people working on Matter and other publications, will be part of the effort to help drive conversation on Medium. We don’t know exactly what this will end up looking like, but certainly you’ll see a broader variety of activity … Our content team will continue to do great work like they always have, including in our publications.”
Medium told Business Insider that both Re:form and The Archipelago were outside contracted projects which were terminated because their predetermined lengths had ended.
Lichty also said, “The amount of money we allocate to commissioning content has fluctuated significantly from month to month, up and down based on opportunities in front of us, and will continue to do so.”
Medium says this isn’t considered a pivot or a shakeup in any sense of the word; it’s just the evolution of the project. The company claims that it’s never considered pageviews to be important. Instead, BuzzFeed wrote that it looks toward other measurements to gauge success.
Still, the changes are confusing to those who witnessed them firsthand. One person called its business strategy “throwing sh-t at the wall to see what sticks.”