Even massive scale doesn’t guarantee advertising revenue on-line

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January 5, 2017 by Paul Dughi

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You may not have heard of Medium.  It’s a unique platform for sharing intelligent, thought-provoking pieces and has attracted a host of experts and regular folks that like to write.  It has grown like mad – it attracts more than 60 million visitors each month.  Readers and published posts were up about 300% year-to-year.

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Medium CEO Ev Williams

But CEO Ev Williams found the same problem everyone else has:  how to make enough money to keep things going.

… it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet.

It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals.” – Ev Williams, Medium CEO

“The grand promise”

The promise of websites was if we could aggregate our content and get people to visit, we could figure out a way to get advertisers to pay for access to the audience.  It worked for a while, but there is such an abundance of inventory available that it’s difficult now to sell any serious volume of ads unless you have massive scale. That’s part of what led us to clickbait and ad fraud and yes, fake news.  “As a result, we get …well, what we get,” Williams wrote. “And it’s getting worse.”

You would think 60 million visitors a month would be massive-enough scale.  Apparently not.  So, a platform that would rank in the top 50 media platforms in the US doesn’t have enough scale to build a platform around current advertising models.  Makes you wonder what chance smaller publishers have.

I’ve got skin in the game

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I’m a big supporter of the Medium publishing platform.   Last year, I closed down two of my personal websites and moved them full-time to the platform.  I now run them as publications on Medium (Digital Vault and SportsRaid).  It saved me a few bucks on CMS fees.  I did give up some revenue that came through Google ads, but neither site had enough traffic to make that a big deal.  On Medium, I found a broader audiences.  The two sites attracted more than 40 writers and thousands of readers. I personally wrote and published more than 340 articles on Medium.  So you could say I’ve got some skin in the game.

Medium’s different than other sites.  You won’t find banner ads and click-bait recommendation engines.  It has been paying premium publishers to create unique content and trying to find a way to share some revenue generated by sponsored content.  But that hasn’t worked to the degree Medium need it to work in order to move forward.

The good news is that the platform is still fairly well-funded due to investors.  They raised $132 million in 3 rounds, according to crunchbase.  The bad news is that Medium is closing its NY and DC offices and laying off 50 hard-working folks.

“We are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people,” Williams said.

Williams had a similar issue in his past tech foray.  He was a co-founder of Twitter.  What the revenue strategy will be moving forward, Williams isn’t saying.  I’m guessing they know what isn’t working, but not what will.  If that’s the case, he’s in good company.

 “It is too soon to say exactly what this (revenue strategy) will look like. This strategy is more focused but also less proven.”

You’ve got to give Williams credit for trying to figure this out.  We rooting for him.

 

 

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