Last May, Medium made publishers an offer they couldn't resist: Free hosting. Advertising dollars. More eyeballs. The opportunity to sell sponsorships and recruit members.
Facing stagnating readership and a tough market for digital ads, many publishers dropped their old sites and joined Medium's growing network. Now, after a company-wide shift away from digital advertising, some of them are heading for the exits.
Pacific Standard, an award-winning magazine based in Santa Barbara, California, launched the first iteration of its new site on May 8. In an email, Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Jackson said the departure was prompted by an emphasis on building more custom features to encourage subscriber growth. Pacific Standard is also getting ready to increase the frequency of its print edition to eight issues per year from six, including two special issues.
"And one of my primary areas of focus right now is around that: finding more ways to encourage even more subscription growth, building out special features for subscribers, having more flexibility with how we present our biggest stories and most important work, etc.," Jackson said in an email. "This move, several months in the making, will allow for all of that — and more — and we'll be announcing new and expanded features soon."
Film School Rejects, another publisher brought aboard by Medium last year, has also left. In a blog post on Film School Rejects' new WordPress site, founder Neil Miller explained that the decision was prompted by changes at Medium that made it harder to pay for the company. In January, Medium canceled its "Promoted Stories" advertising network rather than participate in what Medium CEO Ev Williams called "the broken system" of "ad-driven media on the internet."
For Film School Rejects, that was not sustainable in the long run, Miller wrote.
We’ve found a way to get sponsors to slap a logo on our header (without installing any kind of banner advertising) and we’ve never been able to convince enough people to become paying members. We’d love to be able to do this all without any ads, but there’s no money in that. 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.
A spokesperson for Medium declined to comment for this story and pointed to a post by founder Williams explaining Medium's new focus. The company has launched a membership program, but it doesn't come with the revenue guarantees that attracted many of the company's original premium publishers. The amount guaranteed per site varied — one publisher interviewed by Poynter in March said their site was guaranteed just under $3 per thousand pageviews.
Even though Film School Rejects went dark for a week, the site traffic hasn't suffered, Miller told Poynter. In fact, it's grown.
"...The response to the new site has been very strong," he said. "We’re only five days in, but our average daily traffic has essentially doubled."
The Establishment, a site founded and run by women that was lured away from its original home by Medium, hasn't moved yet but plans to re-evaluate its status "in the coming months," said Kelley Calkins, one of The Establishment's co-founders.
"We remain happy with the traffic/numbers...and dubious about the direction the company's taking and what it can offer publishers," Calkins said.