One of the most interesting media innovations of recent years was the launch of Medium, Twitter’s blogging platform. It now offers both a platform for individuals and entrepreneurs to share their insights, as well as a publishing empire with an ever growing portfolio of publications.
So where does Medium sit in the digital world? Scott Lamb joined Medium in the summer of 2019 as VP Publisher Growth and Strategy. This was after several years driving international growth at Buzzfeed.
Here he explains Medium’s publishing strength and the centrality of building relationships between readers and editorial entities. He also looks back at his time at BuzzFeed and offers his views on how venture-backed media entities, like BuzzFeed and Vice, might evolve in the future.
***Scott is one of many influential speakers who will be presenting at DIS. Take advantage of our offer for DIS 2020, taking place on 24 to 25 March 2020 in Berlin. By signing up for DIS 2020 by March 2nd you will save €200 on final delegate rates. Sign up here***
Scott you recently left BuzzFeed to join Medium. Tell us about your new role and why you moved there?
I joined Medium in August of last year, during an incredibly exciting time at the company. Medium launched over a dozen new publications in the course of 2019, and has been investing significantly in growth, in building these new publications, in hiring writers and editors, and in investing in their product. I was drawn to the vision behind all this growth, and the direction that Medium is headed, building relational media based on subscriptions at scale. I’m focused on a number of things in the new role: overseeing a portfolio of publications with millions of readers, building out a programme that connects our platform writers and Medium’s in-house publications, and helping manage the growth of our newsroom in New York.
It must have been an incredible few years at BuzzFeed? What are the key lessons you learned from your time there?
It certainly was. I was lucky to join the company very early and see it go through many different stages. BuzzFeed was fortunate to be focused on the intersection of media and social exactly at the time that social media began to grow into a dominant force in culture around the globe. It taught me the necessity of being focused on a clear goal, and for BuzzFeed, that was having a very clear understanding of the utility of media in a person’s life, that is to say, what do they do with it?
The three main lessons I learned are fairly simple: 1) Move quickly to get your idea out into the world, be it a story, a project, or a new product, so you can start getting feedback and iterating on what to do next; 2) Don’t be a jerk, and don’t tolerate someone else being one; 3) A creative culture requires mutual trust and diversity, and an intense focus on numbers 1 and 2.
How do you think that the giants of millennial media – BuzzFeed, Vice Media etc will evolve in the future?
I think they’ve firmly established themselves as brands people will follow for a long time to come. There’s an enormous value in that, but for growth, they’ll need to continue to focus on how to expand beyond the advertising-based model. You can see this clearly in some recent moves, from BuzzFeed’s focus on commerce to Vice’s video-production expansion. On the whole, I think this is the direction for all of digital media. The internet is incredibly good at transactions, and the media companies of the future will be the ones that can best capture this transactional nature in one way or another, be it via commerce, subscription or other means.
Where do you think Medium sits in the editorial landscape now? And how do you see it evolving in the future both editorially and from a commercial perspective?
Medium’s in a unique position, being both a platform and a publisher. With all the growth that we’ve invested in over the last year, we now have a suite of world-class publications, and look forward to growing their readership over the course of this year. We have a clear plan for growth, and 2020 will be all about execution. Expect to see more Medium stories as a part of your daily reading.
As for future evolution, we’re going to be increasingly focused on building relationships between readers and editorial entities, from our owned and operated publications – OneZero, Forge, Zora, Elemental and others – to the amazing individual authors who write every day on our platform. Not only will this make for a great reading experience, we think it is also the right way to smartly grow our subscriber base, and thus our business.
And what would you say are Medium’s key challenges from an international perspective?
It’s early days yet for thinking about international growth at Medium. As a platform and publisher, we are lucky to have readers and writers from around the globe, but we have work to do to support them even more effectively. There are key challenges for us around internationalising our product (for both readers and writers) and our content. We currently enjoy a reasonably large international readership, and there’s a lot of growth potential outside the US for our brand.
You have worked in the past on the international side of publishing. From a US perspective where do you see the key geography for expansion? China? Asia generally? Africa?
I think that depends a lot on the needs of the publisher looking to expand. At BuzzFeed, we started with a focus on English-language expansion, and the UK and Canada remain strong markets for BuzzFeed. In terms of pure digital consumption, Asia is certainly the place to be, but it can also be a more difficult region for US companies to operate in, because of language, culture, timezone and the tyranny of distance. And while the potential audience in countries like India or Indonesia is certainly compelling, the business argument isn’t always as immediately clear.
What are you most excited about in 2020 from a work perspective?
Personally, I’m happy to be doing less international travel, although I’m happy to be heading to Berlin for DIS! My work at Medium takes me between New York and San Francisco occasionally, but I won’t miss long-haul flights to, say, Sydney.
On the industry front, I’m most excited by the growth of relational media, by which I mean things like podcasts, newsletters, and other forms of subscription media. I think we are all feeling the fatigue of our feeds, and I see a lot of hopeful signs about media returning to its roots of building direct, long-lasting relationships with the audiences it serves.
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