Medium Never Got Large

Over at NiemanLab, Laura Hazard Owen covers “the long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium” and I’m still trying to figure out what problem Medium was trying to solve. I guess acting as a hub for folks who want to write longform pieces but not maintain their own websites?

“They believed if you write it, they will come,” one employee told me. “And it never worked that way.”

Via The Mess At Medium

The pay model was (is?) interesting, but with Substack* and other services giving authors a way to monetize and distribute their work the model may need to shift. Yesterday Medium announced an overhaul to their editorial strategy, so maybe the shift has begun?

Or not:

Meanwhile, the company will continue to rely on Google and Facebook traffic to generate hits it can convert into paid subscribers. The acquisition of the e-book publisher, Glose, is intended to create a bigger library of “evergreen” content on Medium that will drive more traffic to the site via search engines. Like Blogger and Twitter before it, Medium will bet on unpaid labor and algorithms.

Check out the whole piece at The Verge to get a deeper dive into the voices behind Medium’s success and where it stands now.

As someone who enjoys longform writing, both as a consumer and not-as-often-as-I’d-like producer, I’ve liked the idea of Medium but I’m not sure if it is a genuine need being filled or trying to convince folks “hey, longform can be cool too!” in a world of tweets and headline skimming.

Throw into that the fact that its model seems to be dependent upon self promoted user generated content feeding third-party algorithms and you really just have a new way of doing Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post from ten years ago. All of which runs contrary to the initial premise of not to sweat SEO and metrics and analytics because the cream will rise to the top and that rising tide will lift all boats in the Medium pond.

The idea of elevating, feeding, promoting, and paying good content and its creators is a noble venture. Trying to figure out a way to do that successfully – both in informing but also profitability – is the Internet nut so many have been trying to crack for more than twenty years now. Too often the former, informing, is thrown by the wayside for the latter, profitability (see Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post model ten years ago). And you can try to go back to the former once you succeed at the latter, but then credibility (or lack thereof) comes into play.

Maybe, in the end, the unspoken harsh truth is people just don’t care anymore.

Real writing, journalism, thoughtful longform written content is now a niche instead of the norm. Perhaps the secret is just figuring out how to help individuals find their 1,000 true fans and letting the world rebuild from there.

Or maybe Medium will figure it out?

This Medium rabbit hole was inspired by Guy Gonzalez, who you should read more often.

* I have an only half-joking running debate with Kenney the Elder that Substack is essentially OnlyFans for writers in that it’s a platform for folks to monetize what social media encourages folks to give away. Perhaps that’s a post for another day…

One thought on “Medium Never Got Large”

  1. “Real writing, journalism, thoughtful longform written content is now a niche instead of the norm.”

    That’s always been the case, imo; the only difference is sustainable models (including traditional advertising) lost out to exponential growth and massive exits, even though those are few and far between. Medium’s core problem is simply that it’s not big enough for Williams to cash in on, and never will be. He wants another Blogger-level exit but he’s built a WordPress for Dummies whose main innovations are literally marginal.


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