Looking to the past for Medium’s future

Photo by Joshua Bolton on Unsplash

Nine years ago, the newspaper I worked for cut our department and downsized our staff. Then they erased our online archive, deleting years of work with a click of a button.

I was bummed that I couldn’t use the links anymore for my portfolio or if I just wanted to revisit some of my old work over the years. Beyond that, it didn’t seem to make business sense. Wouldn’t you want to keep years of reporting and writing on your ad-supported site for the SEO value?

I’m reminded of this after high-profile publications like The Billfold, The Ringer, and The Cauldron depart Medium and leave behind publications and profiles. What happens to that content?

The answer seems to be “it depends.” Looks like the Ringer took a scorched earth policy, while The Billfold ghosted and The Cauldron died a slow and painful death before abruptly ending their publishing.

But I’m wondering if Your Friends @ Medium have an opportunity to monetize archives. As Tony Stubblebine has written, there’s money to be made in the archives with minimal extra work.

Right now, only Medium stories, not publications, are eligible for the Medium partner program. (I had to request to remove one of my Billfold articles from its publication to make it members-only.) But this could be a goldmine for Medium if they start pitching publications as premium archives.

Here’s an example. Say you wrote a blog years ago, and you no longer publish. Not it just sits quietly on Blogger or Wordpress or Movable Type or wherever, but still collecting a hundreds or thousands of clicks a month. Maybe there’s still relevant and interesting content on there for an audience.

If you import some or all of that archive to Medium in a premium publication, you could start making money from it. In this arrangement, both Medium and medium partners can suddenly have exponentially more content to choose from, which makes a better reading experience for everyone.

This wouldn’t be without precedent. Other media publications like Esquire are making their archives premium. In 2015, Esquire digitized its entire archive and launched a comprehensive website with more than 50,000 articles from its history. Subscribers receive access to all 1,000+ Esquire issues.

Beyond the historical or literary value, this format also feeds the bottom line for Esquire. For $4.99 a month subscribers get access to read the full Esquire archives, including the articles discussed on the podcast. That sounds a lot like Medium’s $5/month membership.

Another similar project is Deadspin’s The Stacks, which revives a “living archive” of stories from the past decades and posts them online.

Writing can become richer and more informative when seen through the context of time. As I’ve written about Esquire Classics, that’s the value in revisiting the past.

Personally, I’d love to revisit old content in the reader-friendly interface of Medium. One of the books I’m reading right now is a collection of old blogs from Nicholas Carr. A premium Medium publication could be like the days when bloggers got book deals, except now it could be open to everyone.

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