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Medium offers buyouts to its entire editorial staff

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Medium — the writing platform behind Jeff Bezos’ explosive 2019 post claiming blackmail by a supermarket tabloid — is offering buyouts to its entire editorial staff as it scales back its journalistic ambitions.

CEO Ev Williams revealed the sweeping changes in a blog post on Tuesday while outlining a plan to reduce the company’s investments in the digital publications it launched in 2019 and directing that money instead to the recruitment of independent writers.

Williams also said that VP of editorial, Siobhan O’Connor, “has decided this time of transition is her time to move on.”

“I know uncertainty and change are difficult — especially if you’re not calling the shots,” said Williams in outlining the changes via his own Medium blog post Tuesday. “I want to commend everyone on this team for jumping into the unknown when you joined. And helping us collectively learn and make adjustments along the way.”

“I also want to give an option to those who would rather get off this crazy ride,” Williams said. “To that end, we’re offering to everyone in editorial a voluntary separation program (VSP).”

The separation packages, offered to some 80 staffers, will include a lump-sum payment equivalent to five months pay as well as six months of health care.

It’s the third shift in strategy for the seven-year old company in just the past four years. In 2017, Medium shifted away from an ad-supported business model to a subscription-based model that solicited consumers to pay $5 per month.

It launched seven specialized digital magazines — like Zora for women of color and OneZero for people interested in tech and science — in 2019 in an effort to attract more readers. At the time, Williams even explored the idea of buying New York Media, owner of New York Magazine and other verticals, but the Wasserstein family sold the business to Vox Media instead in September 2019.

On Wednesday Williams conceded the future of the Medium publications is uncertain. “What about our pubs? Honestly, I think it will take a lot more experimentation to figure out what their role is on the platform. And we need to experiment more efficiently than we have been to date.” 

“To be clear, we had no illusion these publications were going to pay for themselves in the short term. The bet was that we could develop these brands, and they would develop loyal audiences that would grow the overall Medium subscriber base,” he said.

“What’s happened, though, is the Medium subscriber base has continued to grow, while our publication’s audiences haven’t,” he said. “There are many potential reasons for this, which we could debate.”

With O’Connor leaving the company after three years, Williams said Jermaine Hall and Scott Lamb will now be in charge of content, reporting to Karene Tropen, the senior vp of marketing and content.

The new strategy mimics rival start-up Substack, which has been attracting writers from Andrew Sullivan to Glenn Greenwald to sell subscription newsletters by offering tech support and advancing money in exchange for a percentage of subscriber revenue that each newsletter writer generates.

“For the foreseeable future, we will focus that talent on supporting independent voices on our platform,” said Williams. “This means identifying writers — both already on Medium and not — and offering them deals, support, editing, and feedback to help them tell great stories and find their audience.”

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