Startup Showcase: Byliner: Writing Short and Selling Big
In 2006, after a career as an editor and writer for publications such as Outside, GQ and The New York Times Magazine, John Tayman's new book, The Colony, was doing well, and Scribner urged him to start thinking about a second book. Three things gave him pause.
First: "I had just finished a long slog on a single book and was not so eager to jump into something of that size immediately."
Secondly: "I could see and recognize significant changes afoot as the industry moved from analog to digital."
And finally: "Because I had been a magazine editor for so long I had a stack of story ideas. As I began reviewing them I saw they were all ill-suited to either form: too short for a full-size book (they didn't require 100,000 words and two years of my life) and a little more complex than could be handled by a conventional magazine piece of 3,000-5,000 words."
Long before Kindle and iPad, Tayman began seeking "a natural and obvious distribution and discovery method for this sized content." There was not, he says, "a realistic way for a writer to get a story to a reader that lived in between magazine and book size." His search led to the formation of Byliner, a pioneer in what many are calling long-form journalism, launched 18 months ago.
The result, according to Tayman, was that "we ended up collecting the largest structured database of narrative fiction and non-fiction by the world's best writers." To bring this work to readers, "We do a tremendous amount of work with recommendation algorithms to discover new writers and new pieces of content. …We really make a point to grow the audiences of these writers we work with, to clear out everything that got between these writers and their readers."
Tayman explains how the process came to market: "… the minute the Kindle came out and the first iPad it became obvious the time to start releasing our titles was here." The site launched with non-fiction (their first entry was Jon Krakauer's Three Cups of Deceit) then moved into fiction (Amy Tan's Rules for Virgins.)
Pieces run from 5,000-30,000 words and are readable in a single sitting. They are "the reading equivalent of sneaking out for an afternoon at the movies." Retailers call it everything from a "Short" (Kobo) to a "Snap" (Barnes & Noble). Byliner calls it an e-short, and Tayman calls it successful: "One quarter of every title sold in this space is from Byliner."
Tayman, the company's founder and CEO, jokes that he started Byliner so he could write in this new short form, but now has no time to do so. As to how the writer morphed into the business man: "If you have an exciting idea with promise you can build a team that helps you execute that idea."