In Williams’ version of the future, it will no longer make sense for publications to publish directly to the web at all.
Medium founder Ev Williams hopes that, as publishers struggle with the rise of ad-blocking software and the falling price of display ads, Medium for Publishers will allow them to focus their energy on creative work, rather than trying to master ever-evolving tricks, viral strategies, and social services involved in reaching their audiences.
Even two years ago, most publishers would have balked at setting up their websites on another platform, preferring to maintain a direct line to their readers on the web. But as more readers find stories via social networks like Facebook rather than individual sites’ homepages, it’s growing harder for those publishers to reach audiences directly. What’s more, they’re competing with viral experts like BuzzFeed—not necessarily on the ideas they’re covering, but on their ability to game Facebook’s social algorithms in their favor to reach people.
From the start, Williams has endeavored to create a beautiful, easy-to-use platform for very good writing online. He has nurtured the persistent belief that people will want to write and read good ideas. “There’s an obsession with video today, but it’s not like the written word is going away,” says Williams, who also helped found Twitter. “For thinking people who want to understand things and engage in discourse, the written word is superior.” Nearly four years after he launched the site, this belief has propelled Medium into a network of more than 25 million monthly readers that is valued at $457 million.
A Third Way
In Williams’ version of the future, it will no longer make sense for publications to publish directly to the web at all. If they want an audience, they’ll have to choose a platform. Already, they’re increasingly dependent on Facebook and Twitter to get attention, and they must constantly tweak their social strategies to stay ahead of evolving algorithms. “It’s not a game they’re set up to win and not a game to help them at what they’re great at,” says Williams.
Williams is trying to position Medium as a third way—a platform that can bring the benefits that come with large audiences while also allowing publishers the autonomy to preserve and build their brands and manage their own relationships with readers and advertisers. “Across the board, 30 percent of all page views on Medium are driven by Medium itself,” he says. That could provide publishers an immediate boost.