Medium Just Laid Off 50 Employees and Shut Down Offices in New York and D.C.

CEO Ev Williams wants to move past ads

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Medium founder and CEO Ev Williams disclosed today in a blog post that his four-and-a-half-year-old company is eliminating 50 jobs and shutting down offices in New York and Washington, D.C. In a philosophical letter to the public, he recounted how his team's ultimate goals had gotten off course thanks to the monetization model known as advertising. 

"We set out to build a better publishing platform—one that allowed anyone to offer their stories and ideas to the world and that helped the great ones rise to the top," Williams wrote. "In 2016, we made big investments in teams and technology aimed at attracting and migrating commercial publishers to Medium. And in order to get these publishers paid, we built out and started selling our first ad products. This strategy worked in terms of driving growth, as well as improving the volume and consistency of great content."

While it appears Medium is doing away with its sponsored posts ads product, he wrote that 2016 was his company's best year in terms of key metrics. For instance, published posts jumped roughly 300 percent year over year, and monthly visitors reportedly reached 60 million in December, representing a 140 percent year-over-year increase. Medium, a digital storytelling platform, has even attracted scores of public figures—most notably President Barack Obama—to get their messages out. 

Meanwhile, publishers of all sizes have been able to try to make money off their Medium stories, which have been sponsored in recent years by notable marketers like Marriott and BMW.

"We also saw interest from many big brands and promising results from several content marketing campaigns on the platform," Williams said. "However, in building out this model, we realized we didn't yet have the right solution to the big question of driving payment for quality content. We had started scaling up the teams to sell and support products that were, at best, incremental improvements on the ad-driven publishing model, not the transformative model we were aiming for."

The 44-year-old entrepreneur—who co-founded Twitter in 2007—admitted that the change of plans was still in fluid form as to how Medium would generate revenue going forward while also bucking digital publishing business norms. His company will now march on without 50 fellow staffers, or about one-third of its workforce. 

Lastly, Williams today also recalled a statement he made in 2012 in concerns to his platform's mission in the larger publishing industry. He wrote: "The current system causes increasing amounts of misinformation…and pressure to put out more content more cheaply — depth, originality, or quality be damned. It's unsustainable and unsatisfying for producers and consumers alike….We need a new model."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.