Medium lures The Awl and other publishers to go all-in on its platform

Medium is convincing a batch of small publishers to abandon their standalone sites in favor of setting up shop on the Medium platform. The three-year-old site, started by Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, is announcing that it will soon start hosting a new batch of publishers and publishing exclusive content for others.

Eight small independent sites will fully migrate to Medium Tuesday, including The Awl and The Hairpin, sibling sites of The Billfold, which already migrated over last December; plus Pacific Standard, The Black List and Femsplain. Four others are in the pipeline, including Monday Note and NewCo Shift, a new business media brand from John Battelle’s NewCo. Medium also named several sites that will start putting original content there, including Time Inc.’s Money and Fortune and Atlantic Media’s National Journal.

Medium also is announcing new incentives to entice publishers to get on board by making it easy to migrate to the platform, keep their branding intact and generate revenue through memberships that readers would pay monthly through Medium.

There also will be branded content in the form of a new “Promoted story” ad unit that will appear at the end of an article. When readers click on it they’ll be taken to a brand’s “story” on Medium. Medium said publishers would get a substantial majority of the revenue if they opt into this feature. It announced five new advertising partners are on board: Nest, SoFi, Bose, Intel and Volpi Foods.

Medium Promoted story
Example of Medium’s new branded content ad unit

The news comes as Medium has shifted away from its own digital publications to focus on being a platform for others’ work, including Bill Simmons’ new sports venture, The Ringer. Medium also recently announced it would spin off its prominent longform article site, Matter, into an entirely new company that would be an incubator for creators.

“The discussions we’ve had has been that technology is a huge headache and operating blogs and websites is really difficult,” said Edward Lichty, head of corporate development and strategy at Medium. “They want an easier way to build their site. We believe all of this is going to be attractive to publishers who want to migrate as well as new publications like The Ringer.”

The rise of giant platforms offers publishers audience reach but limits their ability to control the distribution and monetization of their content. Publishers migrating to Medium say it will give them benefits they can’t get from Facebook and other social platforms.

Unlike with Facebook, writers and audiences are core to Medium’s DNA, said John Battelle, founder of NewCo. “It exists to create a great place to read, engage,” he said. “And the network supports that kind of activity. The other platforms, they’re about your friends. This is about communities that are about topics that have to do with passion. Obviously Facebook and others are building that into their platforms, but as a publisher, it’s less interesting for me to make that my home.”

Michael Macher, publisher of The Awl Network, said the blog network offers a good way to publish longform content and get the benefit of its cross-promotion and smart commenting approach.

“Medium is offering a tremendous suite of services that makes sense for where we are right now,” he said. “This extra network effect is extremely positive. Being on Medium makes the process more efficient, and from an esthetic point of view, it’s a good place for it to live.”

The gamble is that Medium can sell advertising better than the publishers can on their own. It also isn’t ideally suited to publishers that rely heavily on banner and programmatic ads, because Medium is monetizing through branded content, which is why The Awl Network’s humor site, Splitsider, isn’t going to be part of the migration. And the publishing tools are still limited.

“One tool I really wanted was domain mapping so you have your own domain,” Battelle said. “But equally important is the ability to link to outside Web pages seamlessly. We have an events and festivals business, and we’d like to be able to link to them. I’d like some more layout options. But when they roll the first set out [April 5], they’ll be more robust than they are now.”

Images courtesy of Medium.