Is Medium for Publishers an option for media companies?

Up until now though most of that content has been produced by creative individuals, many of whom are sharing their content to promote their own freelance activity or start up companies.

This could be about to change for last week Ev Williams announced the launch of a new concept called Medium for Publishers.

Medium for Publishers ()

Medium has flirted with more structured versions of online publishing in the past, for example its own online magazine Matter.

Medium for Publishers though is a very strong push by the company to tempt media companies into jettisoning their existing platforms (there’s a handy migration tool that swaps things over) or dual publish some of their content on a site that admittedly has strong reach – over 25 million  readers per month.

Companies create their own branded pages and then publish on the platform. The advantages for small and medium sized publishers are obvious. There’s no technology or CMS to deal with. Both the home pages and the posts look clean and easy to follow, and publishers can customise colours, layouts and navigation. 

Another interesting carrot for publishers is that each post is optimised for Google’s AMP and Facebook’s Instant Stories, which, from a time-stressed small publisher’s perspective, is yet another technology box ticked.

And then there’s the possibility of advertising. Medium is developing a native advertising network, which will at least enable publishers to start seeing some form of revenue. 

Perhaps more interestingly in keeping with its high-end feel, Medium is offering publishers the opportunity of putting content behind paywalls so stories can only be accessed via subscriptions.

The content that is created is also automatically plugged into the Medium ecosphere. There’s a tacit understanding that the company will promote the content that professional publishers place on the site.

As the company stated in a post on its own Medium blog, “on Medium, publishers have full control over their content and spend exactly zero time, money, or effort on tech and hosting, instead focusing their resources on producing great content and reaching new audiences.”

What are the downsides?

1 Not many mainstream publishers have bitten yet –  If you look at the list of of publishers that Medium has announced very few of its initial partners will be familiar to those outside of the US indie publishing world. The Awl, Electric Literature and Femsplain are wonderfully vibrant sites sporting, in many instances, beautifully crafted long-tail content. They’re great examples of the potential the new platform. Yet these are still largely niche sites. 

The mainstream publishers are apparently on their way including Time Inc.’s Money, and Fortune’s Medium-native offshoots, The Hairpin, Women and Hollywood, Go Into the Story, War Is Boring, and The Evergreen Review. It is clear though that the platform needs a high profile case study from a mainstream publisher to encourage others in the media industry to understand its potential.

2 How real is that advertising? – What kind of advertising revenue would make it worth a publisher’s while to experiment with Medium? Decent CPMs matched by lots of traffic are inevitably the sweet spot, but even if Medium can deliver the latter, is it capable of grabbing the former? In a fascinating article for Observer Alex Magnin points out that Facebook offers publishers $1 CPM for its native advertising platform and those are ads that are driven by serious data. So can Medium compete?

He argues “the best way to boost the efficacy of in-feed-style, non-interruptive advertising is with robust user data, of the sort Facebook has, and Medium certainly does not. Medium has to ramp up a newer, harder ad format that won’t yield much higher prices, without data, in a tough market, fast enough to satisfy the P&Ls of every website they bring on before they run out of venture capital.”

In Medium’s defence it sure to collate and quantify the data gleaned from its advertising as the platform develops. Further, there could be a world of difference between the profiles of someone looking at cat video on Facebook. and a person who is engrossed in a longer article about politics, tech or feminism on Medium.

Medium is for now an interesting place in which mainstream publishers can experiment. It could offer them an place to trial subscription content without having to invest heavily in a new site and additional technology. The lessons it learns could then be applied to its more mature brands.

The issue for many though I suspect is that they may add Medium to the growing list of platforms, from Instant Articles through to Tumblr, that they need to start thinking about.

Perhaps the best testimonial for Medium has come from someone who is legend in the world of online advertising. John Battelle, whose NewCo Shift business publication has just announced it is moving to Medium told The Guardian.

“They built this beautiful, well-lit place for people to write – and no one understood it at first. Is it a social network? Is it just another blog thing? In time, it became clear to me. I think it’s still an experiment. It’s still small. It’s not a huge platform, but when he said I’m going to put in my lot with the publishers – I want to be on that train.”

How many other passengers join him on board remains to be seen.

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