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Summary:

With the proliferation of new publishing platforms — and not just blogs or social networks, but also all-digital publishers like Medium, LinkedIn and the Huffington Post — how does a writer decide where they should put their work?

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Not that long ago, if you decided to write something — an essay, perhaps, or a piece of fiction — your choices on what to do with it were fairly limited. If you knew someone at a specific publication, you could try to convince them to run it, or you could post it on your blog. Now, your choices have expanded dramatically: you could send it to the Huffington Post, or to Forbes, or to LinkedIn, or post it on your Facebookpage or blog, or use any one of a number of other new platforms like Medium, which has been gaining a lot of momentum lately. If anything, there’s almost too much choice.

I started thinking about this recently when former YouTube staffer Hunter Walk noted that he had been seeing more and more content in his Twitter stream coming from Medium, the new publishing venture from former Twitter CEO Evan Williams. It struck me that I had also been seeing a lot — and not just from unknown writers, but also from established media types such as Felix Salmon, a finance blogger at Thomson Reuters, and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis.

How do you decide which platform to use?

Like Jarvis and Salmon, both of whom have multiple outlets for their work (Salmon has a Reuters blog, his own website and a Tumblr blog), many of the writers I saw on Medium had other avenues if they wanted to publish something. So why put it on Medium? Others have been taking part in the LinkedIn Influencer program, which has been reaching out to prominent players in a variety of fields and asking them to write what amount to blog posts or columns for the platform, and has turned its LinkedIn Today feature into a kind of web magazine.

Much of the increase in content at Medium appears to have been driven by the efforts of Kate Lee, a former literary agent who was hired last year, and has been asking writers (including Jarvis, whom she used to work with as an author) to write for the platform. Medium has also been commissioning and paying some writers — although the company won’t say exactly how much of this it is doing. Williams has said the model for what he is trying to do is the magazine, and that he wants to provide a “beautiful space for reading and writing.”

Medium

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what I would do if I didn’t write for GigaOM and paidContent and had something important that I wanted to say. Would I put it on my personal blog, which gets hardly any traffic? Would I send it to Medium (which for now is invitation only) or approach LinkedIn or the Huffington Post? Would I try to publish my own magazine, using tools like 29th Street? Or would I just post it to my Google+ or Facebook page and hope for the best? I honestly couldn’t come up with a definitive answer.

Solving the discovery problem

I asked Salmon why he has been writing on Medium, and he said he was planning to respond in blog form (his response is here). I also asked Jarvis, who already has his own popular blog called Buzzmachine and a fairly high profile in media circles, why he chose Medium for a recent post on the dangers of sponsored content, and (in addition to mentioning his existing connection to Kate Lee), he said:

“I am impressed with the elegance of Medium. That affects how I write, I’m finding. The platform demands more polish, I think. Also, some things fit there; some don’t, though I’m not sure how I’d define the difference. I have immense respect for Ev Williams et al. Anybody who has already changed our world — and the world — twice deserves serious consideration as he does it a third time. I figured I had to use Medium to understand it.”

Part of what Medium offers is what Jarvis mentions: it is extremely well designed, including the text editor that writers use (if you want an inside look at the building of Medium, there’s a great presentation from design firm Teehan + Lax on that), and also has an interesting in-line commenting feature. Others have mentioned the network effects of having their content on Medium, and contributors to LinkedIn’s Influencer program have mentioned the same thing. In other words, they both help to solve the “discovery” problem.

The future of the magazine?

In the end, this is what all such platforms have to bring to the table: the downside of the personal publishing revolution and what Om has called the “democratization of distribution” is that we are all swimming in a never-ending sea of content. We can rely on tools like Twitter and algorithm-driven recommendation providers like Prismatic to find what we want, but there’s also likely a place for a “curated” collection of great content — or what we used to call a magazine.

It will be interesting to watch the evolution of these new “magazines” like LinkedIn Today and Medium. For writers, at least, having a multitude of options is better than not having them (although it may decrease the price they are paid). But traditional magazines have been struggling to find ways of monetizing their content and while these new players may have less pressure right now, eventually they will run into the same quandary: How do you support all that beautiful writing?

Do Medium and LinkedIn and other platforms eventually become more like literary agencies, representing authors who then do book deals and bring in revenue that way? Or do they rely on other aspects of their business — as LinkedIn does — to carry the freight for their creative pursuits? And does this broaden the market for good writing, or cheapen it, or both?

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Shutterstock / pio3

  1. Huffington Post did this/does this — and I used to post items there, and it would get hardly any traffic. Then when one of my pieces did get a lot of flow, they added all kinds of links to it to send people to places on their site. I realized at that point this was a no-win for me.

    I’ve written a few pieces on Medium, early-on, and got no special flow from them. All the flow I got seemed to come from links I posted to Twitter. If that’s how it’s going to work, I’ll just keep writing on my own blog, and promoting the pieces as well as I can.

    To me it looks like Medium is another Huffington Post, sure their editor is nice, but now that everyone knows that authors like Jeff Jarvis loves it, how long will it take for them to do what Medium does? Not too long, I imagine.

    We, those of us who don’t own these platforms, really would do better if we stick together and help each other build flow. How many times do we have to learn this?

    1. I know what you mean, Dave — it is a real tradeoff between having the control over your own content and taking advantage of the brand or marketing power of a platform. But I think there will always be writers who are willing to make the trade, because they want to reach as broad an audience as possible. Plus, I think Medium allows you to cross-post to your own blog as well, doesn’t it?

      1. Agreed with Dave on the flow. I think unless they feature your post this isn’t much, but I do enjoy the editor and also using it for another channel that I call lo-fi. It’s a pleasure to write there, but doesn’t serve my brand.

        1. I think they give flow to people who they want other favors from. Especially reporters at Reuters, for example. ;-)

    2. God, that is SO true.

      We keep giving it away. And we rationalize that, ‘well, they’re doing it better than the last company I worked for.’

      Yanno what the problem is: the people who start companies are not the same kinds of people who USE the company.

      Heather
      wordwan

  2. Lionel Menchaca Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    Interesting post Mathew. Brands are thinking about this as well. I bet we’ll see more places to publish in the near term. Will be interesting to see how it shakes out from there.

    1. I agree, Lionel — we live in interesting times :-)

  3. Rohit Mishra Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    I want to write on Medium and I love the editor and design of the product. But what is stopping me is looking at what happened to Posterous and Blogger. Posterous is dead and Blogger is stagnant. What if Medium doesn’t work out. At least with a custom domain, you can prevent the URLs from breaking which Medium doesn’t support now. Evan Williams is a genius who has reinvented communication multiple times, and Medium likely will be very successful. But I want a way to easily move out if I want to.

    1. That’s a good point, Rohit.

  4. Jonathan Glick Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    A proprietary publishing platform that doesn’t drive you incremental *relevant* attention is pointless.

  5. Someday I wonder if users generally will learn to create their own paywall for content. Imagine if facebook paid you for the right to share your content. You could always share it with friends, but otherwise, if your silly cat video wants to be a hit on YouTube, someone has to pay you for it. Taking this concept further, what if you were able to log and record all your spending, phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. yourself. I’d imagine if you had a few million people offering their data for a monthly fee we could eliminate a ton of advertising and have richer content without the fear of a “big brother” always watching. It would be our free choice to determine the extent which we allow others to invade our privacy and use our content.

    1. Really interesting points. There’s a Brooklyn-based developer named Federico Zannier who sold his data to people on Kickstarter for $2 per day and another guy named Mike Merrill who has a stock exchange on just about every decision in his life. Today these are the exceptions but I could see someone standardizing some kind of model around this kind of personal profitability.

    2. app.net is already doing that, with limited success.

  6. Alex Kristofcak Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    I love Medium – the editor is so clean, the design is so appealing and discovery on there seems to work, to a point. I think the platform has some limitations that I have written about (on Medium, naturally):

    1. To create clear differentiation from other platforms, I think Medium should offer a way for readers to tip writers natively. See: https://medium.com/medium-ideas/54156f7f731

    2. Discovery on Medium is limited and could be improved significantly. See: https://medium.com/medium-ideas/fc38a689bad3

    Cheers.

    1. Those are good points, Alex.

  7. Not to zig while you are zagging Mathew but what about periodical.co or jurnid.com? Medium and svbtle seem like gatekeeper models to me. Blogger 3.0.
    To echo Dave, why play along?

  8. Terry Heaton Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    I fear this is much more a reader’s dilemma than a writer’s dilemma. That then becomes problematic for the writer.

  9. freerangeresearch Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    A few points

    1.) I’m surprised to hear the word “magazine.” I think the term has too much old baggage. Content curation is much more relevant.

    2.) Social media savvy is said to be a new form of literacy skills. Writers need to gain the social media savvy to promote their own work. A big part of that is skill is adaptability

    3.) For now, Twitter is probably the best tool for content curation, because you follow users for their common interests. Creating a good feed is a good tool of content curation, but there is much more potential in this area.

    4.) Any successful tool for readers has to be “in their face,” not an out of the way site that they need to remember to visit, but not so “in their face” that they are constantly bombarded with reminders.

    5.) For now, there is too much widely available free content for any good paywalls to arise. A good paywall model will need to develop in order for writers to be paid for their online postings.

  10. Alison Langley Thursday, May 30, 2013

    Yes, but do they pay?

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