Why Medium?

Ev Williams "Welcome to Medium" post, from mid 2012.

This week, I was surprised to see a piece by an Amazon SVP on my feed. What The New York Times Didn’t Tell You showed up months after a "scathing, blistering, brutal and harsh" story about the company appeared on the front page of the New York Times mid August. Other than a leaked internal memo from Jeff Bezos, in which he disowned the Amazon portrayed in the story, there was no official response.

Cue Jay Carney, and his post.

As SVP of Global Corporate Affairs, and the ultimate spokesperson at the Seattle giant, Mr. Carney’s job is to keep Amazon’s name in good standing. His post and its contents were expected, even if a few weeks late. No surprise there. What seemed remarkable to me is that Carney, and by extension Amazon, decided to publish their account not on their own website, nor on a renowned journal, but on Medium, of all places!

Hours later, the New York Times responded with 1000+ words, not on their own site, but on Medium, to which Carney countered, again on Medium. We’re not talking about a couple of bloggers with some following having a back and forth, but the Executive Editor of the NYT, and the Senior Vice President of a tech giant engaging in a pissing contest online. On Medium! Eventually, things moved back to a more traditional, um, medium.

The release was clearly a calculated move. Publishing it, not on their own site, as an appeal to their massive user base, and not in any prestigious and high-readership publication, was not a decision taken lightly. At a place like Amazon, there must have been at least some data crunched behind this.

As usual, Ben Thompson hit the nail on the head, noting that “the placement helped guarantee attention from a certain segment of the public without tying it too explicitly to Amazon,” and then went on to describe a broad view of the future of journalism. The more important question, in my opinion, was left unanswered. Why Medium?

For starters, the post was not just an exercise is targeting techies. Although Medium is still a platform mostly frequented by a younger, tech-centered demographic, it is gaining breadth quickly. This makes me think that the goal was not to reach the tech crowd specifically, who would be more likely to find it in a narrower publication. Back in May, Medium boasted 25M monthly users. They can’t all be tech bros.

Obviously, Amazon has a great channel for reaching as many people as possible: Its ever-evolving front page has an audience orders of magnitude larger than whatever Medium dreams of providing. Much like the banners asking for donations on Wikipedia every few months, a rightly placed banner on the Amazon front page would surely make the world listen. However, this would come at a cost. An announcement with such a negative connotation would bring unwanted attention, and distract its customers from ordering more Elsa Dolls. Distribution for the sake of distribution, and reach for the sake of reach, were not the driving force here.

Interestingly, Amazon’s post is never clear on whether it presents an official version, or just that of an employee with a strong opinion. As the New Yorker points out, during his time at the White House, Carney also opted to tone down the “official-ness” of press releases. Now, he is applying the same strategy at Amazon. Even with the article’s first person plural voice, a distracted or careless reader could easily let the extent of its authorship slip. And, let’s face it, thanks to Medium’s UI, which focuses on the content and nothing else, uninformed readers (which sadly are a majority) would not tell: Carney never states his role in the text, and the reader does not get to see his identity until the very bottom of the page. Had the goal been to publish an official stance, this would have been a really bad way to do it. Medium allowed for more vagueness than a traditional publisher would have, and I believe that was the main objective when selecting how to release the piece.

Everyone else is asking, why publish this at all, and maybe more importantly, why now? I have not been able to come up with any good explanations.

All I know is Ev Williams probably had a great day this past Monday.

This article was cross-posted on www.faingezicht.com, where I curate links from around the web on a daily basis, focusing on technology and economics.

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