Medium is courting writers and advertisers. But will the dollars follow?
Medium was created by Twitter’s founders, gets contributions from notables like Water Isaacson and Elon Musk, and has blogging tools writers love. But being a media darling only gets you so far.
So in recent weeks, the 2-year-old blogging platform has taken steps to make the platform friendlier to short-form writers and pay some contributors. And in a signal it’s getting serious about making Medium a profitable business, it just poached Vox Media’s advertising lead Joe Purzycki to be its head of partnerships.
Medium has four branded-content partnerships under its belt, including one with Marriott, and wants to do more of them, said Edward Lichty, head of corporate development and strategy at Medium. Beyond offering writers unique URLs, he said, Medium is looking at the possibility of funding content creators, and expanding the brand partnerships is a first step.
“Our vision is that Medium becomes a place where their content can be funded,” he said. “Long term, we need to be able to fund content creators with a variety of revenue.”
Medium also has hired a handful of professional journalists including Steven Levy, Jonathan Shecter and Mark Lotto to oversee its own content channels. But all along, it has seen the vast majority of the content coming from outside contributors, an egalitarian free-for-all. With the line between platform and publisher becoming increasingly blurred, Medium affirmed it’s the former. The Medium-owned channels serve to provide a road map for the independent contributors and occasionally to amplify their posts by publishing them on those channels.
“The thing they are doing is help us figure out how to make Medium valuable to publishers,” Lichty said. “I don’t know of any other platform where publications are being launched and pulling content from the platform.”
In one example, Backchannel published Medium post “A Teenager’s View on Social Media” by Andrew Watts, a 19-year-old college student, and when the piece took off on Backchannel, Levy made Watts a regular contributor. “It’s something I wanted to do from the beginning,” Levy said. “We want to have a permeable membrane between Medium and the community. It’s in keeping with the spirit of Medium, which is to bring ideas out and share them with people.”
Medium’s primary way of measuring performance is total time reading. But the 10-minute article has its limitations. New features are designed to make it easier for readers to share and comment on posts. Williams himself wrote (in, appropriately, a post designed to be read in two minutes) that while Medium is best known for lengthy pieces, it wasn’t meant to be only for them.
“We need to facilitate ideas in whatever form they’ll take,” said Saul Carlin, business and strategy lead for Medium’s contributors. “An exchange of those ideas will lead to more of that engagement.”
Medium still faces obstacles getting advertisers on board. Christine Peterson, digital investment lead at Initiative, said that blogger sites like Medium could be a good opportunity for influencer marketing for brands that are willing to yield some control over their message. But user-generated content is still considered risky for some brands.
Medium has been a vocal proponent in the movement among publishers to move from a CPM-based sales model to one based on time spent. But that message is a tough sell. It makes Medium an outlier in an advertising industry that’s CPM-based and is now galvanizing around viewability, defined by an ad being in view for one second for display, two seconds for video, said David Cohen, chief investment officer at UM.
And publishers still need scale, a metric where Medium is a harder sell. It claims 25 million uniques a month, but external data from comScore puts it at closer to 3 million. Time spent may be a better indicator of their audience, Peterson said, but added, “I need to know how I can scale success.”
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