Matter, Medium, and the future of immersive content

By Felix Salmon
April 17, 2013

When Matter launched, last year, co-founder Bobbie Johnson told Christopher Mims that “done right, we can offer something valuable and remain sustainable in the medium term.” Little did he know how close he was to hitting the nail on the head: it turns out that it’s not “the medium term” which is going to provide Matter’s sustainability, so much as a term sheet from Medium.

This morning, Matter announced that it’s being acquired by Medium, the Ev Williams company which makes it incredibly easy to put up really good-looking articles online. (That’s where my own most recent longform article appeared; it recently generated its 150,000th pageview.) This is fantastic news for both companies.

Medium, which already has first-rate editorial talent in the form of Evan Hansen and Kate Lee, now owns a company which produces fantastic articles on a regular basis, and which makes those articles look great. With the Matter team in-house, Medium will learn a lot about exactly what writers and editors want and need. What’s more, it now will have real revenues — and the ability to play around with different ways of generating those revenues. From the Matter FAQ:

We still think that selling individual articles and subscriptions is a great way to fund long-form journalism, and we’ve got no immediate plans to change that model. But we also want MATTER to evolve. Experimenting with tweaks to the model and the way we distribute our content will be a vital way of making MATTER robust in the long term. Joining Medium means we can get the help we need to run those experiments.

I’ve been saying for a while that Matter should look for ways that readers can pay them after they read a story, rather than before. It’s the distinction between forcing people to pay and letting people pay; my feeling is that it would massively increase the number of people interacting with Matter’s content, while also — quite possibly — increasing its revenues as well. (Especially since some small number of people will give significantly more than the 99 cents they’re limited to at the moment.)

I hope that Matter doesn’t feel too constrained by obligations to its existing subscribers: I’m quite sure that very few of them would mind very much if Matter allowed a bunch of its stories to come out from behind the existing paywall. But beyond its new-found ability to experiment with its business model, Matter more importantly now has access to some of the best designers and technologists in Silicon Valley, and as a result should be able to produce ever more gorgeous, immersive, and interactive journalism.

Both Matter and Medium have created spaces where longform articles can breathe, free of banner-ad intrusions. Both of them are looking forward to building a sustainable business around such articles. Now that they’ve merged, I’m optimistic that they’ll continue to innovate and help build the future of how people — amateur writers and professional journalists both — are going to want to express themselves online.

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