- Ev Williams' Medium has hired a seasoned publishing exec as it seeks to grow paid subscriptions.
- Former longtime BuzzFeed exec Scott Lamb is the new VP of publisher growth and strategy, reporting to Siobhan O'Connor, VP of editorial.
- The hire stirred speculation that Medium could be trying to compete harder with Apple News, which recently launched its own subscription bundle.
- But Medium will likely face skepticism from publishers that have seen its strategy fluctuate over the years and are unsure of its value as a distribution outlet.
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Ev Williams' Medium has hired a seasoned publishing exec to help build its paid-subscription strategy, stirring speculation among insiders that the blogging platform may ramp up its efforts to pay publishers and even try to take on Apple News.
Scott Lamb was hired as VP of publisher growth and strategy, a new role reporting to Siobhan O'Connor, VP of editorial. Lamb was one of BuzzFeed's first editorial hires, joining the viral publisher in 2007 and rising to editorial director before serving about six years as VP of international.
Williams founded Medium in 2012 after stepping down as Twitter's CEO. Medium mostly publishes posts by amateur writers, but has put more emphasis on professional content as it's shifted to a subscription model from an
Medium's publication strategy has taken various twists and turns
Earlier on, Medium hosted high-profile publications including Steven Levy's Backchannel and Bill Simmons' The Ringer. It abandoned that model in a shift to subscriptions in 2017, cutting ties with publishers.
Lately, Medium has launched partnerships with high-profile writers like Mark Bittman and Roxane Gay and in March announced it was looking for people to launch their own publications on the platform that it would pay based on readership.
It also has its own ad-free subscription publications that are eight and counting, including OneZero, covering tech and science; Elemental, on health and wellness; Gen, on politics, power, and culture; Forge, on personal development; and an unnamed business publication. Readers get access to the publications by subscribing to Medium at a cost of $5 a month or $50 a year.
Separately, Medium has partnerships with established publishers such as The New York Times that it pays to put bundles of their content on the platform. Williams has said Medium spent $5 million on content last year and plans to spend many times that in 2019.
Some insiders think Medium could get more serious about paying publishers
Lamb's hire has some publishers speculating that Medium will try harder to get publishers to put collections of their articles on the platform, in the style of Apple News. One said Medium has tried to entice publishers to do that by offering to pay them above and beyond what the publisher would make on its own site, which is more attractive than the usual licensing fee.
Or, the thinking goes, Medium could buy struggling digital publishers and plug them into Medium's subscription offering. (There's some basis for this idea: Medium has reportedly expressed interest in buying New York magazine and other titles.)
Medium will likely face skepticism from publishers that have seen its strategy fluctuate over the years and would rather have people read their content on their own sites, though. Some established publishers are skeptical about the distribution benefits of being on Medium. In that case, it's possible Lamb's viral publishing experience could help Medium's content get discovered more broadly on search and social media.
- Apple in March introduced Apple News Plus, a subscription bundle that lets people pay $10 a month for all-you-can-read access to more than 300 newspapers and magazines in Apple News, its news aggregation app, with publishers paid based on how much people read their content. Participating publishers have said the bundle hasn't delivered much revenue after three months, but expressed hope that the revenue would become meaningful over time.
- Facebook, for its part, is trying to sign up publishers like The New York Times and The Washington Post to be part of a planned news tab that has been compared to Apple News Plus. Facebook is said to be offering to pay prestigious publishers as much as $3 million a year for three years to share their articles to the tab. There's skepticism that the tab won't get a big enough audience and that Facebook won't stay committed to the effort, though.