The Atavist Redesign Turns The Long-Form Portal Into A Magic Word Processor

Launching today, the new Atavist is arguably the most beautiful and powerful tool for self-publishing on the web.

If you thought Medium was the most beautiful way to write on the web, boy, catch a load of the Atavist redesign.


Launching today, the National Magazine Award-winning digital magazine turned publishing platform has revamped almost every aspect of its system to make it near-painless to create and sell beautifully designed long-form content across multiple platforms.

The software has been supercharged, and it’s totally free to use. Think of it as half magical word processor, half marketplace for beautiful stories. We’re talking “Snow Fall”-caliber content here, without a programmer in sight. The secret? Blocks.

While the old platform worked more like a writer-friendly WordPress, using the new Atavist software is like playing with atomlike blocks, each containing a single fluid design element. It’s easy to drop a block into your text and tweak it to help tell your story. For example, want a cool New York Times-style “Snow Fall” parallax effect for your story? Just drop in a parallax image block and tweak it with a slider. Need an interactive chart, a pull quote, or a SoundCloud bite? Same. Blocks are easy to drag around and trivial to customize, and you can even preview how it will look on mobile devices from the web app.

Atavist, founded in 2011, was ahead of the curve when it started publishing long-form on the web. A hybrid publication/platform–Atavist cofounder Evan Ratliff will audibly gag if you use the portmanteau “platisher” to describe what his company does–The Atavist produces one long-form story a month of between 5,000 and 30,000 words that it sells to subscribers as either a one-off digital single (readable on the platform of your choice, including Kindle, mobile, and desktop) or as part of a monthly subscription service.

What has always set Atavist apart from other online publishers, though, is the singular care with which that story was being presented, regardless of the platform on which it was being experienced. “When we started The Atavist, there was no one thinking about how to design and tell a story online,” explains Ratliff. “Even if you had a great idea about how to tell a story through design, you needed a developer to execute it. So we tried to build the platform to let nondevelopers make beautiful stories without programming the software themselves.”

That was the magic of the Atavist platform, which made it easy for writers to not just compose their stories, but design them as a proper multimedia, multidevice experience. So when The Atavist became a hit–it has been nominated for eight National Magazine Awards, winning this year for Feature Writing, and 11 of its stories have been optioned for big-screen treatment by Hollywood–Ratliff and his colleagues decided to spin the platform out as its own product, the Creativist, which anyone could use to tell beautiful stories and then publish on the web or through the Creativist app. And now, in turn, the Creativist is rolling itself back into Atavist as a single cohesive platform.


But why use Atavist over a bigger platform like Medium? First, in my experience playing with the beta, it’s easily a better interface. Atavist’s approach to creating a UI for writers to design beautiful stories makes the Medium inteface look convoluted, but also less featured. Perhaps more importantly, on Medium, you’re ultimately generating content for a network that isn’t going to reward you with anything besides exposure–maybe. On The Atavist, you get to sell what you write.

Which is ultimately what the relaunch gets right: It’s turning its platform into a sort of cross-platform app store for beautiful stories. Using the Atavist platform, anyone can monetize their work, at extremely attractive rates, and sell it through The Atavist, which serves up content through the web, as a Kindle e-book, or on a smartphone or tablet through the Atavist app. And the rates are attractive. Ratliff tells me that the most The Atavist will collect from a writer is 20%, while subscribers of the Atavist platform’s paid tiers could pay only pennies on every digital single sold.

Looking at the bigger picture, Ratliff says the goal of Atavist isn’t to become a publishing juggernaut to rival Medium, but to empower writers, one story at a time. “We’re just trying to enable people like us to create beautiful stories,” he says.

The Atavist may not have Medium’s reach, or its seemingly endless supply of venture capital. Heck, it probably never will. But for my money, it’s still the most beautiful way to write.

You can check out the new Atavist here.