Why The Awl Is Moving To Medium

The-Awl-Medium-for-PublishersThe Awl is moving three of its four sites from WordPress to Medium, as part of the Medium for Publishers program, which was announced Tuesday. Migrating an entire site onto a platform is the latest example of the rise of platform publishing.

The Awl’s publisher, Michael Macher, tells AdExchanger that “indie publishers need to streamline the publishing process, and they need tools for revenue and to gain access to unique advertising demand.”

In December, The Billfold became the first publisher to migrate to Medium. The site’s homepage looks distinctive to the publishing brand, but the layout, font and functionality are equally distinctive as coming from Medium.

The Awl and The Hairpin are following with their own migrations, in a process that will take four to six weeks. Humor site Splitsider, which runs custom banner ad campaigns, isn’t making the switch because Medium is banner ad-free.

Medium for Publishers includes a revenue beta that allows publishers to earn money from “promoted stories”or native advertising links. Or they can earn a “creative services fee” from creating branded content.

One example: The Billfold wrote content for SoFi that appeared in the brand’s custom publication, The Future of Money. In keeping with the prevailing trends in the industry, brands pay for engagement or “total time read,” not impressions.

For lean-staffed The Awl, which has other publishers like Vice Media represent its inventory, having Medium bring in advertising demand is a big help. It’s also an alternative to another low-resources form of advertising: programmatic.

“What we do give up when we go to Medium is a certain conception of programmatic advertising,” Macher said.

The Awl can still bring in advertising itself, and Macher indicated that it would keep all that revenue, while not getting into specifics. It doesn’t pay a fee to use Medium’s tech, just a share of the ad revenue that the platform brings in, in what he said was a “very favorable” arrangement.

Without banner ads, though, The Awl’s external revenue partners are likely to change. Macher doesn’t want advertising that interferes with the clean design of Medium, so he’s evaluating the sites’ current partnerships.

“Any partnership that relies on third-party ad code and data – and introduces unexpected elements to the experience – is a relationship we will probably not continue on Medium,” Macher said.

Besides built-in advertising demand, the other selling points of Medium are editorial: access to a content management system and a solid way to distribute content. “For small-to-mid-size publishers, we solve the problem of tech, and they can invest those resources into editorial,” said Medium’s head of publisher development, Saul Carlin.

The Billfold, the first publisher on Medium, saw improvements in both content distribution and revenue when it moved to the platform. Although Macher thinks it’s too soon to draw concrete conclusions about traffic post-Medium, the site saw “net positive” traffic.

Plus, The Billfold posted its most popular story to date, “A Story Of A Fuck Off Fund,” during that time, and Macher observed a lot of story pickup from the network effect of people sharing content within Medium.

“Thirty percent of all page views on Medium are driven by Medium itself,” Carlin confirmed.

Even as the sites move to Medium, they aren’t abandoning other platforms. Medium for Publishers will be compatible with Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP.

“Medium might make it easier to publish across platforms, but they will not inject themselves into that process,” Macher said. “Each platform maintains the financial relationship they have with the publisher. Nothing changes about how we interact with each platform.”

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