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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged medium

Talking of Medium, as we were, Matt Locke had a great idea on how Medium could bring a new but familiar business model to the journalism web:

There is another, intriguing possibility – building a business model around publishing episodic series of content. Audiences understand this model – we’ve been brought up on TV seasons for decades. But freed from the schedule, we’re now consuming episodic series in new ways, from bingeing Netflix box sets to subscribing to podcasts and returning to the cinema for the latest episode in our favourite superhero franchise.

What a good idea! Luckily Medium has Bobbie Johnson on board, who between Ghost Boat and Matter has been responsible at least two serialised product that made editorial sense. Matter, in its early days, was very much that. You essentially subscribed to a series of eBooks delivering longform science and tech journalism. It was great, and I missed it when Medium bought and absorbed it. Still, lots of opportunity here, right?

Oh, wait:

Kinda puts lie to the idea that it was mainly people in sales and support that got cut, doesn’t it?

Happily, it looks like Bobbie has something up his sleeve:

Matter didn’t matter to Ev

But what how about Matter itself? It was started as a Kickstarter several years ago, acquired by Medium, and then eventually spun off as its own content studio.

Well, this e-mail arrived during the Trump inauguration:

Medium dead

So, that’s that. Another journalism experiment launched, acquired and killed. Matter RIP. You did reader-support longform right – until you were killed.

Interesting analysis of Medium’s audience from Frederic Filloux, which I missed last month:

This is both good and bad news. On the plus side, Medium mostly addresses the tech elite. This is a premium audience, attracted by quality, more likely to pay for information; on the supply side, publishers on Medium are more likely to go for a revenue sharing coming from subscriptions, as opposed to see their beloved publication infested with toe fungus ads.

On the minus side, as opposed to Buzzfeed, for instance, Medium is not a mass/general public destination, and will never be, even if it claims 60 millions monthly unique readers. This puts a ceiling on its potential for advertising growth — anyway a broken model, according to Ev Williams.

This throws some interesting light on recent moves at Medium.

It looks like Medium rather botched the effective end of its publisher program, which included a beta of its ad-driven revenue service. Elizabeth Spiers is one of the people behind There is Only R, an online mag about all things VR/AR/MR – and it was part of the publisher program, which is effectively killed by yesterday’s announcement. And nobody from Medium bothered to tell her.

Spiers:

It would have been nice if someone from the company would have reached out about this though. I still haven’t haven’t heard from them, and only found out this was happening because I read about it on the Internet. Move fast, break things, etc.–but be professional, too.

She’s not the only one, according to Politico:

Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.

While one could argue that relying on a “beta” for revenue is daft – the clue is in the name, after all – this does show a fundamental disrespect for those Medium was notionally partnering.

Yesterday, the news broke that Medium has shifted direction, and is laying off some people, and bashed out a quick post. With a night’s sleep (but not a good one, thanks to my youngest…) behind me, I have a slightly more nuanced take, partly informed by some Twitter conversations this morning. Anyone in the journalism industry should probably regard this as very good news.

Why? well, on the surface, this is only good news. On one hand, Medium is walking away from the traditional, tired and possibly dried up model of content platforms past:

  • Build a platform
  • Attract creators
  • Creators attract audiences
  • Monetise the audience via ads

That’s been the model of Blogger and Twitter, Ev Williams’s previous two businesses – and pretty much every other free-to-use content platform out there, including Facebook and YouTube. Medium is explicitly rejecting that approach. It’s led us too far down the route of clickbait, to desperately woo the vast traffic numbers needed to make non-niche advertising plays work. And given that Facebook and Google are eating the vast majority of the advertising revenue out there, it really doesn’t leave much for the rest of us.

It’s nice to see a platform backing away from these quality-eroding approaches. As Marketing Land is reporting, Medium has killed its Promoted Stories feature:

Medium introduced Promoted Stories in April as a way for the platform and publishers, like The Awl, The Bold Italic and Pacific Standard, that call Medium home to make money. Advertisers would pay to have their own Medium posts placed at the bottom of those publishers’ Medium posts. Brands like Bose, SoFi and Intel were among the first to buy Medium’s ad product, but it’s unclear how Promoted Stories performed and whether the ad format could lay the foundation for a sustainable revenue stream. Based on Williams’ blog post, it seems to have laid the wrong foundation.

In essence, it has done away with the Taboola and Outbrain-style links at the ends of posts that are steadily turning even the most upmarket site on the web into a funnel to crap content. So far, so good.

A content monetization lab?

On the other hand, Medium is leaning into a new concept for content monetisations. As Nic Newman put it:

The problem, which I focused on in the previous post, is that they don’t seem to know how to do this.

I tend towards the skeptical – if only because Ev William’s two previous ventures have ended up following the ads model for monetization, be it Google ads on Blogger blogs or promoted Tweets infecting your stream. Indeed, he struggled to turn both products into viable businesses. He has a much stronger record in product innovation than business model innovation – and that latter’s what’s needed here.

However, Williams has palatable got better over the years at surrounding himself with bright people who can solve problems. The Ev Williams of 2016 is much more likely to pull this off than his decade-younger self was for Twitter. Newman again:

That’s the nub of this announcement – by shedding sales and support staff that were aligned towards a traditional business model approach, Medium is essentially doing two things:

  1. Opening up the organisation’s mind to new approaches to making money
  2. Extending its funding runway, but dropping its biggest single cost – salaries – by ⅓.

The latter of those two essentially facilitates the former. It’s going to be much harder to get investment for a platform whose entire strategy is based around a brand new monetization approach. Making the most of the money they already have will be critical in taking the time they need to figure out this new model – if they can.

Exploring platform and business innovation

This is just what we need right now – a business run by tech savvy people who are essentially experimenting with both publishing platforms – and Medium is a great one, especially compared to the abominations that pose as CMSes in many publishers – and in business models. Since Medium moved away from its role as a “platisher” – combined publisher and platform – by shedding its content assets and doubling down on being a platform, it’s not longer directly a threat, either.

We should – and I include myself in that – want this to succeed. We need more viable content business models, and a content-neutral, platform-derived one might be very useful indeed.

As I said yesterday, interesting times. But times most certainly worth watching very carefully.

Ev Williams:

I’ll start with the hard part: As of today, we are reducing our team by about one third — eliminating 50 jobs, mostly in sales, support, and other business functions. We are also changing our business model to more directly drive the mission we set out on originally.

That’s a big, big cull. Medium’s whole approach to becoming a business is clearly shifting.

The problem?

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.

Seeking a business solution

Does he have a solution? No. But he clearly doesn’t want Medium to be part of that problem, so he’s chopped sales staff to reduce burn rate while the site seeks a new business model:

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.

The buried implication here seems to be some form of method for committed readers rewarding inspiring creators – but that’s an assumption. All we can say for sure is that Medium is changing direction, seeks a new way of monetising publishing – and will be doing it with one third fewer staff – and an existing workforce who’ve just lost a bunch of colleagues, and who are keenly aware that their (admittedly well-funded) employer doesn’t have a workable business model yet.

Interesting times at Medium.

Medium publications on iOS

Medium is making Publications, its approach to creating “websites” within the platform, much more prominent in its apps:

Only publications that you follow on Medium will be featured on your app’s home screen (and only when they have new posts to read), so make sure to follow publications you enjoy. You can find suggested publications to follow here, or hit the Explore button (next to Publications) on your app’s home screen to browse curated categories.

It seems that Medium has finally chosen to be a platform over a publisher – and this is a nice step to making it more compelling.

Interesting profile of Ev Williams, the man behind Blogger, Twitter and now Medium, over at The Atlantic:

But as I spend more time with Ev, I catch him thinking of Medium as a project philosophically akin to the “Foundation” novels by Isaac Asimov. The heroes of those books sought to centralize all the learning across the galaxy before a dark age set in, knowing that though they cannot stop the shadowed era, they may be able to preserve scholarship and therefore shorten it. Ev’s ambitions, though not as grandiose, follow similar lines. Medium seeks to replicate the web’s old, chaotic hubbub on a single, ordered site—because, ultimately, Ev values the chaos.

The Medium of Ringer

Talking of publishing platforms, Bill Simmons’ new venture, post-Grantland and ESPN, is heading to Medium:

We first talked to Bill in December. Over the ensuing weeks, it became clear that we have a shared passion for raising the bar on what it means to create and share meaningful stories and ideas. It’s been Medium’s mission from the outset to create a set of tools that make it easier than ever to make your stories look beautiful, find the right audience via the Medium network, and drive engagement and conversation that drives thinking forward. We can’t think of better partners to help us develop our product roadmap for premium publishers on Medium.

Similarly, Bill and his team have an outstanding track record of publishing smart stories in a distinctive voice and building an intensely loyal readership. They are the best at what they do, and we are incredibly proud that they’ve chosen Medium as their platform partner for The Ringer.

I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that, unless your tech offers you a competitive advantage in some way, you’re better off working with an off-the-shelf, or hosted product that keeps your tech overheads to a minimum – and probably develops faster than your own site would.

The last thing you need to burden a new content proposition with is unnecessary tech costs.

There’s a certain genius to Medium that I think gets easily lost.

Medium has solved the biggest problem in blogging: maintaining a blog.

Look, running a blog is hard work. I’ve been running this one for 12 years now, and it remains a hungry beast gnawing at my mind, reminding me that it needs feeling with juicy, tasty posts, or it will die.

Finding, building and maintaining a readership is the hardest part of blogging. And it does’t get easier over time, either.

A ready-made audience

Medium \logo 2015

Medium take that pressure away. Have you found a decent Twitter following and have something longer to say? Hey, turn to Medium, where you have the opportunity to write – and find an audience however infrequently you post.

The part of this that should alarm the journalism profession is that this is another way of cutting us out of the equation. That’s no accident. Medium is actively courting US politicians:

In a sign of how much Medium is banking on Washington’s frustration with traditional news outlets, the San Francisco-based company established a D.C. office last spring and has spent months recruiting new voices in Washington.

Working mostly out of a shared work space on Pennsylvania Avenue, just blocks from the Capitol, Medium’s small team has worked the phones and done face-to-face meetings in coffee shops and congressional offices, making the case for its service and training prospective users on the most effective ways to use it.

Sources go direct

Dave Winer has been talking about this possibility for years – he calls it “sources go direct“:

What it means is that now the newsmakers and the people who want news are directly connected.

The newsmakers don’t need the intermediaries to reach the people who they influence.

I’ve understood this longer than most because the press stopped believing that my software had a market right around the time I discovered the web. So with nothing to lose, I decided to try to talk directly to the people I cared about, at first via email, and then through the web, and it worked!

The social graph – the networks of connections and relationships that social networks harvest from us – makes this a much more viable proposition for people who don’t find it natural and easy to write for the web the whole time to find a readership when they have something to say.

We are no longer the gatekeepers of that dissemination role. And that challenges us to understand what our role is in this new dynamic between those who are newsworthy and those who want to read about them.

Interesting times, indeed.