Medium hunting for a magazine acquisition — and a sustainable business model

Is Medium slowly becoming the Huffington Post circa 2008? It's hunt for more content suggests it might be.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Clearly, there's a whole bunch of stuff I missed during my enforced hiatus from this blog, but this story about Ev Williams and Medium stuck in my mind:

Medium, the publishing website run by Twitter Inc. co-founder Ev Williams, expressed interest in buying New York Magazine and other media properties, according to people familiar with the situation.


“We are going to significantly increase our investment in original editorial in the next year,” Williams, 46, said in a statement.

This is just bizarre. In an attempt to finally sort out a viable business model, Medium has pretty much ended up where it started. Remember back in 2013 when Medium acquired Matter, a long-form science journalism start-up that launched on Kickstarter?

It didn't end well.

Medium-sized circles

And yet, here we are again, with Williams hunting around, looking for content businesses to acquire. Yes, perhaps adding a pool of high-profile writers would actually make Medium's subscriptions more attractive. Right now, there's an awful lot of poor fluff on there; terrible "lifestyle coaching" posts, some relentless marketing — and a few posts of value.

Medium has developed a "voice" — it's fluffy, shiny, high-concept, but low depth. It's become the collective blog of the worst aspects of the Silicon Valley carpet-baggers, and that's not what Williams was hoping for. They've been steadily buying their way into higher quality by hiring some well-respected journalists. Jessica Valenti and Douglas Rushkoff are exclusive Medium columnists.

Acquiring a publication would suggest that the approach is working, and might be what they need. However, if they do this - what have they become? A content business with a pool of freebie content created by amateurs around it. They're the Huffington Post of 2008 with a paywall. And that's an awful long way from the original vision.

Added to that, the Medium editor, once the platform's crown jewel, has now been matched and — arguably — surpassed by WordPress's Gutenberg and Ghost's Koenig editors. What was once cutting edge is now looking stale.

And it's still worrisome that after half a decade Medium is till shifting around, looking for a business model that works, and looking to spend big money while struggling to build significant revenue.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.