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Medium is becoming the publishing platform for The Awl and a dozen other websites

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Medium

When Medium announced in February that it would become the home of sports writer Bill Simmons' new media venture, The Ringer, it was the start of something bigger. The amorphous publishing platform and content producer headed by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams is now becoming the backbone for some of the online media world's buzziest independent websites. Starting today, more than a dozen operations — including The Awl, Pacific Standard, and the revived local San Francisco site The Bold Italic — are migrating to Medium. More are on their way later this year, including Simmons' site and new offshoots of Time Inc. magazines Money and Fortune.

Medium is offering new design tools for these publishers to customize their sites, custom URLs, and a migration tool to more easily bring the property over to Medium. It also lined up a handful of brands, including Nest, Bose, and Intel, to create native advertisements that can be found at the bottom of posts from sites published by Medium, with revenue sharing plans in place. And it's promising to cross-promote stories published on Medium across its network, offering small sites a traffic boost. Aside from splitting ad revenue, there's no cost to publishers for any of these features.

The Awl, The Hairpin, and The Bold Italic are migrating to Medium

"For the last couple of years, we’ve built this position as a place where thinkers, writers, and prominent people can share their voice," says Edward Lichty, who oversees business strategy at Medium. "What we're doing now is extending that support to bloggers and professional publishers. These features take out the costs of maintenance and hosting and allow them to focus the resources on content production and editorial." The program is an extension of a redesign effort launched back in October, in which Medium first gave publishers the option to use custom URLs and publish to its platform using third-party services like WordPress.

Medium's native advertising platform could prove lucrative to smaller publishers that don't have sales teams of their own. It helped The Billfold, a personal finance site operated by The Awl Network that moved to Medium in December, strike deals with brands to create native ads. The company is also planning on launching a membership system so partner sites can restrict some content behind a paywall. Because Medium's website does not allow banner ads, sites like The Awl and others who rely on traditional ads will have to forfeit that revenue in place of Medium's new revenue-generating tools.

This new initiative is a sensible move for Medium, which looks to be on the cusp of solving its identity crisis. Since launching in August 2012, the San Francisco-based company has shifted its focus enough times that it could be hard to discern a master plan. Medium began as an easy way to publish your thoughts in a clean and elegant design, but it fast grew into a company with publishing ambitions of its own.

Medium looks to be on the cusp of solving its identity crisis

Medium signed up high-profile journalism veterans to run Medium-owned verticals, including Steven Levy's tech-focused Backchannel, and it acquired the online magazine Matter in 2013 to become its flagship in-house publication. Medium felt torn between Williams' desire to create a publishing tool for the masses, as he had with previous company Blogger, and an eagerness to be recognized as a creator of prestige journalism in its own right. Williams even felt compelled to pen an open letter last year titled, "Medium is not a publishing tool," in an effort to settle the ongoing debate. (He only made the situation slightly less opaque.)

Matter has since been spun out as its own company, and Medium last year began shedding most of the staff behind its original content efforts. With the launch of Medium as a publishing tool, the company is staking out a more defined position in the web publishing field — one that puts it on a collision course with established competitors including WordPress and Squarespace. Serving as publisher for indie websites that have small but influential followings feels like a clever way of attracting more customers.

Medium wants people to think of its platform as a place to find unique thinking you can't get elsewhere, Lichty says. So long as Medium-backed publishers are drawing in readers, it doesn't seem to matter much that the company's signature capital "M" isn't tucked into the upper lefthand corner of the page.