Announcing the Closure of Helium logo

Amazon started in a garage, and grew into an enormous web superstore — and the home of the Kindle. Soon it was attracting amateur authors, and a new world suddenly appeared where everyone could self-publish. But there was another web site offering its own version of the thrill of self-publishing — online.

And last week, they announced that they were going out of business… actually paid its writers in advance — though it was a very small amount. But they also shared any profits earned from online advertising, and guaranteed that however strange your articles were, they would always be read and rated by the other writers at Helium. The best articles for each topic were always listed first, which is where they came up with the name Helium. The very best writing would rise to the top — like a balloon filled with helium.

The thrill of writing was contagious, and several of Helium’s authors ended up publishing (or self-publishing ) Kindle ebooks. And at one point in time, their community included thousands of writers who were earning more than $100 a month. In 2009 Helium’s CEO told a cable news interviewer that Helium could even save the newspaper business. He argued that newspapers could outsource some of their local coverage to Helium’s low-cost community of amateur writers.

It all ended suddenly. “After eight years and well over one million articles, we regret to announce that Helium Publishing will be closing,” they informed their members last week. Google was sending less traffic to the site, and when Helium moved their pages to a new set of domains, it had gotten even worse. Ironically, the founder still made lots of money — by selling his site in 2011 to the big print publisher, R. R. Donnelly. It was rumored that the sale price was $57 million, though they were never able to make the site profitable enough to continue.

Which means that on December 14th, a million articles will instantly vanish from the web.

One thought to “Announcing the Closure of Helium”

  1. That’s hilarious that he said that Helium could save the newspaper business.

    By the way, the $57 million purchase price is more than a rumor. It was publicly disclosed on SEC filings. RRD had previously invested an additional $12 million in Helium, bringing its total purchase price to almost $70 million.

    This feels like the end of an era. Epinions, the first place I ever posted for pennies online, also shut down the contributor portion of its site recently.

    In part I feel nostalgic and sad, but in part I’m relieved. The whole business was built on unrealistic and unsustainable hopes and dreams, and it’s probably healthy to mourn them and then let them go.

    It’s been quite a ride.

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