Digital publishing platform Medium is laying off a third of its employees in an attempt to rethink the business model, chief executive officer Ev Williams revealed in a post on Medium this afternoon. As part of these “major changes,” the company will shutter its offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
“I’ll start with the hard part: As of today, we are reducing our team by about one-third — eliminating 50 jobs, mostly in sales, support and other business functions,” Williams wrote. “We are also changing our business model to more directly drive the mission we set out on originally.”
Medium launched in 2012 as a collaborative online writing platform, with similarities to Blogger and Twitter — not a coincidence considering that Williams was a cofounder of both companies. The site featured tweaks like telling readers how long it would take to read a story and enabling them to comment by highlighting specific passages.
After becoming the go-to outlet for media people who wanted to write about their thoughts at length or explain why they left their jobs, the company last spring rolled out a suite of tools to woo publishers. Medium-sized outlets with niche audience like The Awl, Pacific Standard and Bill Simmons’ sports site 2.0 The Ringer began publishing on the platform. The benefit to publishers, in most cases, was technical and sales support — in exchange for an undisclosed share of revenue.
Over the years, Medium experimented with rolling out publications. One such title, the tech-focused Backchannel, was acquired by Condé Nast in June, becoming part of the company’s newly formed Wired Media Group. Backchannel, although owned by Condé, continued to be hosted on Medium (a Wired spokesperson has yet to comment on the changes).
But, as every media company knows, an advertising-supported model is difficult to monetize and hardly innovative. Medium, it seems, has now learned that lesson as well.
“Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the Internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse,” Williams wrote, going on to explain, in equally convoluted language, that he believes writers should be compensated for good content rather than generating clicks.
To fix the systematic problems, Medium is going to focus on figuring out a new model, whatever that may be.
“It is too soon to say exactly what this will look like,” Williams concluded. “This strategy is more focused but also less proven. It will require time to get it right, as well as some different skills. Which is why we are taking these steps today and saying goodbye to many talented people.”