The Case of Hacker Noon Moving from Medium

You can read this article on Medium too.


A few days ago, I received an unusual email from Medium, about my stories on Hacker Noon, a very popular tech publication.

At first, I was not much concerned, until I found out that Hacker Noon is moving/extending outside Medium and… that Medium tried to buy hackernoon.com.

What’s Hacker Noon

Hacker Noon is a growing and profitable publication about tech, born on Medium at the beginning of 2016, and now hitting the limits of the platform.

With 8,000,000+ monthly page views, they’re ranked in the top 5k of all websites worldwide.

They just raised above one million dollars, but they have been profitable for 2.5 years without fundraising.

You can find the whole story in their fundraising offer.

Their issue with Medium

In the Fall of 2018, as part of the new course, Medium banned all 3rd-party ads. We know that story well, and the switch, according to the Medium vision, was meant to improve quality.

Actually, first-party promotion is still allowed (you can promote your own work or goods and services you provide), and Medium is, of course, the first one to get advantage from this. By the way, you’re not prevented from promoting Medium (which is a third party to you).

Simply put, this cuts out all publications living on sponsorships.

You may like sponsorship or not, but a publication has no many ways to be profitable.

Pay attention that sponsorship is different from advertising. Advertising is short-termed and individually targeted, while sponsorship involves a relationship with the publication and is based on demographics, not individual data. In general, publications pay attention to which sponsors to accept and how to promote them. They need money but don’t want to unnecessarily bother or track their readers.

Medium chose the subscription model, but that model gives not a single cent to publications. Everything goes to Medium and the authors.

At Medium, editors – like any other employee at Medium, we guess – take a salary, thanks to the subscription model. Authors take something (90% of them less than $100). Independent editors are just left out, making very clear that curation is a Medium thing.

In any case, Hacker Noon wants to publish public stories, and sponsorship likely remains the only viable way to do that.

From a CMS (content management system), Medium switched to a magazine based on individual contributions and an editorial line, focused on stories behind the paywall, and this U-turn changes everything. But they still keep the mailing lists, the stories, the total control of everything, and this put publications which have grown on Medium in a tough situation.

Hacker Noon wasn’t the only publication in trouble. And many other magazines were worried as soon as the switch became evident.

More on why Hacker Noon is moving here (Trent Lapinski’s interview with David Smoke, CEO and founder of hackernoon.com – 42 min read).

Hacker Noon 2.0

Hacker Noon decided to evolve, and to rely less on Medium. They’re building their own CMS, now, and stepping into the next thing. The focus is to continue offering stories from tech professionals, for free, with a distributed curation/editing system. Fitting promotion, with no interruptions of the story, nor popups.

Of course, they have their own terms of service, that you may agree or not. Authors remain the sole owner of their content, but Hacker Noon is given non-exclusive rights to use and distribute it. Not uncommon terms.

The email from Medium

The email I received from Medium (full text here) – after their cutting the communications with Hacker Noon, according to the CEO of Hacker Noon – started with: “We are writing to you today because you may have received communication regarding your post(s) that are part of Hacker Noon, and we wanted to clear up some confusion that we’ve gotten from writers who received this email.”

I received no email from Hacker Noon, my posts there are intact, and I still can withdraw them anytime. Anyway, the email from Hacker Noon has been sent and, for what I know, I cannot exclude that someone experienced “confusion.”

The email continues with “while Hacker Noon may appear to be an independent website, it is not. It is a container that exists on the Medium.com infrastructure, much like a Facebook page”.

Hacker Noon appears to be an independent website because they were once given by Medium the opportunity of having a custom domain, opportunity no more available to new publications.

But most of all, they should not just appear, to be independent. Most of us are certainly fine with their being and remaining independent.

It’s interesting to read that Medium defines a publication “a container on the Medium.com infrastructure.” It’s certainly true, but it’s also indicative of how Medium sees independent publications. Especially compared to their own flagship publications, which are not just containers but key elements of the Medium editorial and business strategy. Especially given that the “infrastructure” does not even allow authors to have customizable profiles, nor allow publications to write decent newsletters (like those from Medium) to their followers.

For a publication grown to 8,000,000+ monthly views, which has contributed itself to the success of Medium, it’s a hard take, to be called “container.”

“If you do not want your content to be moved from Medium.com to the new hackernoon.com, you should not consent to the email. Your post(s) will still be available on Medium.com.”

It would seem already pretty obvious to me, especially given that authors on Hacker Noon are used to tech and online publishing. Why has Medium to specify, in a pretty aggressive move, and send this email?

The curious part

Hacker Noon states that Medium made an offer to buy hackernoon.com, but the offer was rejected.

Interesting, uh?

Why would be Medium interested in the acquisition?

To get a top url, and the brand, of course. To retain Hacker Noon readers, contributors, and traffic.

A move that fits well in the strategy of a magazine, not that of a CMS.

Let’s have a look at this:

Source: Similar Web

Hacker Noon brings more traffic to Medium than Medium to Hacker Noon.

Hacker Noon would be a great candidate for a Medium flagship publication. Luckily, Hacker Noon declined.

So…

Medium has never been much interested in supporting publications. Lack of tools, total lack of promotion – compared to the massive promotion reserved to Medium flagship publications –, total lack of support for the sustainability of the publications.

Independent publications have never been welcome guests, on Medium. Just an extra feature, now obsolete.

When Medium tried to attract important publications, Medium seemed to only want their readers. They never tried to provide adequate tools. No surprise that the big names remained on their own road.

Now, imagine a small publication.

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