Medium Spins Off Matter and Turns it Into a Media Incubator

WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Cofounder of Medium and Twitter Evan Williams speaks at the WIRED Business Conference: Think Bigger at Museum of Jewish Heritage on May 7, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for WIRED)
Photograph by Brad Barket — Getty Images for Wired

Medium, the publishing platform founded by former Twitter CEO Evan Williams, said on Monday that its in-house publication Matter is being spun off as a standalone entity, and will be pivoting from a long-form science magazine into a kind of media incubator/laboratory called Matter Studios.

The new venture will be owned and funded by Williams, who will also be chairman of the new company. Matter Studios will be run by former Matter editor and head of Medium editorial operations Mark Lotto, along with his wife, Fusion executive editor Hillary Frey.

Lotto told Fortune via Twitter that a media-focused incubator for individual authors is something he and Frey have been discussing for some time. “This is an idea we first started thinking about on our honeymoon nine years ago,” he said. “It dovetailed with an idea that Ev and I have been talking about for a year or so. So we decided to do it, because it’s a cool and worthy and right-now idea.”

In a nutshell, Lotto said, the idea is to move beyond the concept of publications like Matter that publish articles by specific journalists, and find a way to fund individual writers directly, so that they can reach their readers in whatever way they see fit.

Matter has been through a number of iterations since it was launched by former Gigaom and Guardian writer Bobbie Johnson and his partner Jim Giles as a crowdfunded science magazine in 2012. At the time, the publication was one of the most successful crowdfunded media projects, raising more than $140,000 on Kickstarter. It was acquired by Medium in April 2013 for an undisclosed sum and became one of the site’s first in-house publications.

In a post published on Medium, Lotto said that the concept behind the new Matter Studios is that it will be “sort of a studio and sort of an incubator.” The company wants to work with creators who “find themselves constrained inside even the most forward-thinking media companies, who want to break out, who want to pioneer their own things,” he said.

These things might be podcasts, or books, or streaming video projects, or multi-platform journalistic exercises, Lotto said. And the idea is that Matter will help these individual creators to “explore their themes and subjects in experimental, iterative ways across distributed platforms, and by rallying and engaging powerful communities around them.”

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Matter Studios will help with funding and other forms of support, including advice and resources, Lotto said. “And when these personalities, these stories, explode, we’ll give them the investment, guidance, and resources to set up their own independent media entities and vibrant, expanding intellectual properties.” Given the incubator model, it seems likely that Matter will continue to own a stake in whatever entities are spawned by those investments. As Lotto put it:

Essentially, Matter is going to be for digital storytellers what HBO and Amazon Studios are for TV makers, or what the best incubators are for startups.

The new company also has an advisory board that includes Matter co-founder Johnson, former MTV president Stephen Friedman, former Obama digital strategist Laura Olin, New York Times journalist Lydia Polgreen, and documentary film-maker Fisher Stevens. Responsibility for editorial operations at Medium will be taken over by Kate Lee and Andrew McLaughlin, who recently joined the company from startup incubator Betaworks.

Although Medium has launched a number of in-house publications over the years, including Matter and Backchannel (which is run by veteran technology writer Steven Levy), sources close to the company say it has been putting less emphasis on its own publications and more on those created by third parties who choose to host their content on Medium. In one recent deal, Grantland creator Bill Simmons announced that he will host his new site The Ringer on the blogging platform.

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