Last year I spent some time advising at a big content publishing company who were being actively pursued by Medium. When I arrived at the beginning of my consultancy, I was told that the plan was to shut down their existing blog and transfer all daily publishing activities to their Medium channel. If there was anything left over, that should go out via Facebook Instant Articles.
I was perplexed, to say the least. Given that the reason for their publishing activities had a lot to do with marketing their product, the decision to effectively drive all traffic away from their website seemed poorly thought through. Sure, I could see the kernel of sense at the heart of their thinking – that Medium was a platform with a lot of existing customers, ready to be tapped into – but what was wrong with publishing to their own site and then cross-publishing on Medium, with clear links back into the company’s own hub? Why give it all away?
What struck me most was what a good job Medium’s marketing department had done on these people, and how easy it remains to manipulate people in the content sector. Content marketing in particular looks as much like the Wild West in 2017 as it did when I stared working in with it in 2011.
The internet is littered with the corpses of gigantic platforms that we might never have imagined would go under, from Friends Reunited to MySpace and beyond. Ev Williams, the founder of Medium, may claim that, “we are also changing our business model to more directly drive the mission we set out on originally”, suggesting that there is a brighter future for the platform, but it’s hard not to read this as “we’re not sure where we go from here” and then take a glance at Twitter, a platform that seems to have been floundering in similarly confused waters for more time than its investors must feel comfortable with. The only platform you’d really feel reasonably secure taking a punt on right now is Facebook, and even they seem to be getting themselves into increasingly frequent spots of trouble.
Again and again, I feel compelled to look at what has gone before. If it claims to be saving everyone’s bacon – to have all the solutions – there’s surely a catch. Everyone turns up for the slick, new, minimalist design, but take a look under the hood. Isn’t Medium just a very clean WordPress template with a lot of hype around it? OK, so that’s probably a bit disingenuous, but it always reminded me of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Denizens of the media world are very quick to coalesce around the latest shiny new monolith and start throwing all they have at it. They’ve never been very good at stepping back for a moment to consider what it is that they’re looking at.
The big question for any publisher that values and takes pride in what they produce has to be whether the latest platform offers anything new or groundbreaking enough to overcome the sense of platform fatigue that most of us are feeling. By all means experiment, but you’d have to be pretty crazy to put all of your eggs in one digital basket. I’m sure I’ve heard an old adage somewhere that says much the same thing. These time-honoured sayings have a habit of surviving the test of time.