The new writer’s dilemma: You wrote something really great — now, where do you put it?

24 Comments

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 (s aol), or to Forbes, or to LinkedIn (s lnkd), or post it on your Facebook (s fb)page 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

24 Comments

Ev

Try using migzing.com .. on similar patterns . Trying to build a creative writing community.

Charity Kountz

I’m not sure why you would put those kinds of articles on Medium or LinkedIn instead of your own blog. At least with your own blog, you have control of your platform and the community you build there. Medium could be gone tomorrow or next week or five years from now (remember how Myspace almost collapsed before they found themselves again) and then where does that leave your platform? Starting over? What happens when the latest fad is replaced by the next fad?

teacherken

comment thread is important to read – this is an issue for all of us who write. How can we get paid for the content we produce? The most read piece I have ever written was written for an academic publication, Academe, the journal of the American Association of University Professors. I was not paid for it. When it went up on their website, others asked if they could cross-post it, and permission was given provided a link back to the original post was provided. Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post put it up on her blog, and it went viral. It got over 104.,000 likes of Facebook, and you can imagine that the pageviews are probably a multiple of that figure. I got interviewed on numerous radio shows. None of that gave me any monetary compensation. One college invited me to speak to the professors who teach the mandatory seminar for incoming freshmen. That got me $500.

i have written over 3,000 post just at Daily Kos. I was never paid for any of them. I think in the years that I have written my total income from righting – including for CNN.com, the NY Times Website, the Washington Post website, and a batch of other things, I may over the past decade have earned a grand total of something under $5,000. Whether I will ever get any kind of meaningful money from writing is something I tend to doubt – when I have talked with book publishers what they want me to write is not what I want to write. As for free-lancing, it is a tough market even if one has a name and credibility on a topic, as I do on education. I think we still are waiting to see if a new model that is more sustaining of the actual writing can be developed.

susankuchinskas

The only reason why publishing on Medium would be superior to publishing on your own blog and then tweeting the link would be if it offered really broad exposure. HuffPo used to do that, but now there’s so much content that posts just get buried unless the writer has the platform to get attention for it. In which case, why not just publish on your own blog …

freerangeresearch

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.

Terry Heaton

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

Mark

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?

Alex Kristofcak

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.

ionrock

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.

Lauren Proctor

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.

Jonathan Glick

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

Rohit Mishra

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.

Lionel Menchaca

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.

Dave Winer

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?

Mathew Ingram

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?

byron@bikehugger

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.

Dave Winer

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

wordwan

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

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