Most everything on the Internet revolves around brevity and speed. And that’s why former Outside magazine editors John Tayman and Mark Bryant launched Byliner as an alternative.
Byliner (www.byliner.com), which is based in San Francisco, CA, specializes in lengthy and in-depth exposes and articles, written originally for the web. At Byliner, acclaimed non-fiction writers Jon Krakauer, William Vollmann, and Anthony Swofford are key contributors on the site.
Byliner created immediate buzz when it launched in May, 2011 and published an expose by Krakauer, author of bestselling book Into Thin Air, on Greg Mortensen, writer of the non-fiction bestseller Three Cups of Tea. Mortensen’s book focused on the author’s building of schools in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Krakauer’s article claimed that Mortensen fabricated and exaggerated his activities and memoir, which led to a segment on “60 Minutes” and immediately catapulted Byliner onto the cultural map.
In the future, Byliner must prove that there are enough readers who have the time to read 30 to 40 page articles on the web when everyone’s time is squeezed. And let’s face it, many under 30-year-olds derive their news from Yahoo and CNN headlines and often don’t take the time to read lengthy exposes. Byliner raised one million dollars from venture capital firms Freestyle Capital and SoftTech VC to launch its business.
And Byliner is trying a whole new approach on the web. When Krakauer’s article, “Three Cups of Deceit,” was first published on the site, readers could access it and print it out for free. But after the first 72 hours, readers had to purchase it for $2.99 on their Kindle or iPad.
Writers share in the proceeds at Byliner. CEO Tayman, who has also been an editor at GQ and the New York Times Magazine, said writers receive 50% of all revenue, though Krakauer donated his proceeds to charity. Krakauer’s story has now been downloaded by more than 100,000 readers.
Another Byliner expose was William T. Vollman’s “Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan.” While some reporters work the phone, Vollman plunged into the earthquake zone, looking under the rubble, assessing how life has changed in earthquake-torn Japan. Reading his work was like being there yourself, without having to face any radiation dangers.
Not everyone is sure that Byliner will succeed. Sarah Lacy, a Tech Crunch columnist, noted, “I just don’t think people are sitting around waiting for more long-form pieces to read. If you’re like me, you already have a stack of books you are trying to find time to get through and stacks of back issues of the New Yorker, The Economist, and Vanity Fair are taking over your house.”
But Tayman said, “There was a hole in the market for those stories that weren’t articles or books but were in-between.” Byliner publishes stories between 10,000 and 35,000 words that can be read in one long sitting. Tayman refers to Byliner article as hybrids, too lengthy for most magazines and not long enough to be considered a book, but perfect to be downloaded on a Kindle and read within a two-hour period.
Byliner is working with about 20 gifted non-fiction writers. Editors at Byliner assign most stories to one of its stable of writers. Vollman was assigned the story on Japan and spent two weeks researching and writing it.
Byliner can move more swiftly than most weekly or monthly magazines. “We don’t have to worry about printing a magazine,” Tayman said. Readers can access Byliner stories on their Kindle, Nooks, Sony reader, Android Tablet, iPhone or just print them out on the web.
While the Krakauer and Vollman articles were exposes, Byliner plans on printing a mixture of stories. It will offer stories on technology, crime, sports, adventure, and even humorous ones. “We want to write compelling stories placed in the hands of great writers,” Tayman says. It plans on printing new stories every 7 to 10 days, without a set publishing schedule.
Byliner has been facing competition from Atavist (www.atavist.net), which is also publishing longer stories. Atavist also includes multimedia whereas Byliner concentrates on straight journalism without the bells and whistles. While Byliner will have some advertising, most revenue stems from the $2 and $3 payments from readers.
Asked about its prototypical reader, Tayman says, “Our target reader is anyone who loves great writing. We don’t slice and dice demographics the way most magazines do. We don’t have an ad sales team,” he said.
Ultimately, Byliner specializes in telling great stories. “There’s nothing like a narrative with a strong beginning, middle, and end. We’re designed to take advantage of what technology and digital publishing allow including the ability to publish swiftly,” Tayman said.
Gary Price is an information industry analyst, and editor, ResourceShelf and DocuTicker.