In the News: Tumblr, Medium, and Patreon

Large and small changes in the blogosphere

Strange to see two apparently unrelated new announcements on the same day:

  • David Karp, the founder and CEO of Tumblr, has announced that he will be leaving the company following the acquisition of parent Yahoo by Verizon.
  • Ev Williams, the founder and CEO of Medium, has announced that he is searching for a head of design.

On one hand, the two companies and their situations might not seem related, at all. But there are deep currents in the blogging platform world that both are experiencing, and which could be instrumental to these changes.

And there’s a small additional bit of news: I am transitioning workfutures.io writing to Patreon, about which more later.

Re Tumblr

Tumblr missed the rise of mobile in a big way, and has struggled to remain relevant in a world dominated by Facebook and messaging apps. As a long-time and regular user of Tumblr I’m astonished at how little the platform has changed over the ten years since its founding, how little innovation has gone on. Perhaps it was the failure to develop serious ad revenue, but at any rate, Yahoo had written down the $1.1 billion acquisition price by two thirds prior to the Verizon deal.

Tumblr has never implemented simple social features like comments because of David Karp’s distaste for them, let alone experimenting with innovative ideas like paragraph-linked ‘side notes’ (as seen in Medium).

I’m sure Karp will build something else that’s interesting. In fact, I wager that he will create a son of Tumblr under a different name, with a mass of innovations that never found their way into Tumblr. Perhaps the recent lack of innovation is due to him stockpiling ideas for a new company? In this, he might be following the footsteps of Williams, whose Medium is a return to his roots at Blogger.

Relative to the future of Verizon’s Tumblr, I hope that Karp’s leaving will allow his successor, president and COO Jeff D’Onofrio, to kickstart some real innovation here at the second decade of Tumblr’s lifespan. Or else we might all be transitioning off the platform to somewhere else.

At any rate, my stoweboyd.com blog on Tumblr has become more of a writer’s daybook in recent years, where I keep notes, collect quotes, and publish poetry. I transitioned nearly all my professional and technical writing to Medium a few years ago, which brings me to the next bit of today’s news.

Re Medium

Ev Williams posted Come lead Design at Medium, tweeting it out this morning. Reading between the lines, Williams is looking for someone to take over as the head of design, a role which he’s been filling on a de facto basis, I think.

The company has has zigged and zagged a great deal. Remember Medium is not a publishing tool in May 2015, when Williams turned away from building a staff of writers working on Medium-owned publications? And then he dropped the ad-supported business model for third party publications in January 2017, which he wrote about in Renewing Medium’s focus.

That 2017 shift was very disruptive to publishers — like me — who were trying to build branded publications on Medium, and to tap into the ad network he had said he was building out. But in January he jettisoned that model, firing his advertising team and publications support organization.

Williams has pivoted to a very different model, one that makes Medium into a meta-publication, and downplays publications in favor of a for-fee membership subscription approach, where individuals (and some publications) can publish posts behind the Medium membership firewall, and ultimately make money based on a complex formula linked to ‘applause’, which are more or less likes under a different name. But this model favors individuals over publications, and an freelance contributor model rather than contracted writing for a fixed fee, or the use of full-time employed writers.

Seems like Medium has become the Uber for blogging, except Uber drivers probably know how much they are likely to make for a ride once they start driving.

My experience as a invited writer for several of these regimes has been poor. I worked to create a publication, attracting contributors to workfutures.io, and then was blindsided when Medium pivoted before I could even try the advertising solution being developed. And under the recent regime, I was making much more than the average contributor, but it only worked out to a few hundred dollars per month. The most anyone was making this summer was just over $1000 per month, according to what Medium shared with its approved writers.

Perhaps it will work out. Who knows. But the opaqueness of everything — the relationship of ‘applause’ to money, the algorithms used to place stories on readers’ landing pages, and what Medium’s plans are — led me to look for an alternative. Which brings me to some personal news: I’m transitioning my professional writing from Medium to Patreon.

It’s not whether it’s open or closed, it’s who is holding the key

Medium has become a semi-open platform for writers to publish on, and Medium offers to take over some of the headaches for the writers, like collecting and distributing money. But the reality is that Medium’s model diffuses the writer’s brand dramatically. A Medium member does not agree to pay a certain amount monthly or per post to me, Stowe Boyd. They are buying a subscription to Medium, which is playing the role of the New York Times or The Atlantic, and distributing some unknown fraction of that money to the writers.

However, unlike a New York Times or Atlantic contributor I am neither an employee or a contributor paid an agreed upon price per post. I’m getting some fraction of the overall membership fees paid to Medium, based on an applause algorithm.

This is the opposite of the model at Patreon, where those who opt to be my patrons are paying me (minus Patreon’s fees), and as patrons sign up, I can estimate pretty well how much money I can see each month for my efforts.

Both Medium and Patreon are semi closed, since I can opt to make content either open for all to see or placed behind the fire wall. The difference is that on Patreon I am the one holding the key: I set the fee for different tiers of sponsors, and what those tiers provide. On Medium, I don’t.

Big News for Me, Small News for the World

So, three bits of news today in the world of blogging: David Karp leaves Tumblr, Ev Williams is hiring a head of design for Medium, and Stowe Boyd begins a transition from Medium to Patreon.

Originally posted on Patreon. Become a patron and support independent creators.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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