After “60 Minutes” broke the news that Three Cups of Tea bestselling author Greg Mortenson had fabricated large parts of his memoirs and was using donations to his charity to fund his book tours, the best place for interested parties to get more information was Byliner—a brand-new website that exclusively published Jon Krakauer’s expose, “Three Cups of Deceit,” in conjunction with the “60 Minutes” episode. The site made Krakauer’s piece free as a PDF download for 72 hours, during which it was downloaded 70,000 times. It was then made available as a $2.99 Kindle Single; as of this writing, it is not only the #1 bestselling Kindle Single, and #15 overall on the Kindle bestseller list, but also the #1 nonfiction title in any format on Amazon. Not bad for a site that hasn’t officially launched yet.
Byliner is a website and publishing company specializing in narrative nonfiction. Its founders are CEO John Tayman, who is currently the editor of Time Magazine’s tech blog Techland and who previously worked at magazines including Outside, Men’s Health, and Men’s Journal; COO and Product Manager Ted Barnett, who’s worked at companies including Apple and Ofoto/Kodak and who cofounded SuperSecret.com, a virtual world for kids; and Editorial Director Mark Bryant, a former Executive Editor at HarperCollins and the former editor of Outside and Men’s Journal, who’s worked with authors including Michael Lewis, Susan Orlean, David Foster Wallace, and Bill Bryson.
Byliner features archives of the best nonfiction writing by author (over 25,000 pieces and 200 authors at launch, with links to everything they’ve written online and buy buttons for their books); aggregation of new nonfiction writing and commentary from around the web, including extensive social networking features; and the publishing arm, Byliner Originals. Krakauer’s piece was the first of these; upcoming Byliner Originals will be written by authors including William Vollmann, Bob Shacochis, David Rakoff, and Anthony Swofford. These pieces will generally range from 10,000 to 35,000 words in length—“filling the space between magazine features and books,” in Bryant’s words—and will ultimately be available in a variety of formats, both free and paid. It was a “leap of faith” for Krakauer to publish “Three Cups of Deceit” with “a company that is a complete unknown” instead of submitting it to a magazine, Bryant acknowledges, but he chose to do so because “he knew we could get it out quickly and handle it right.” All Byliner Original authors are paid a fee upfront, then receive 50% of the profits from sales of the stories (in Krakauer’s case, all proceeds are going to the Stop Girl Trafficking project).
Byliner does not own rights to the non-original pieces it links to. Readers will see the first paragraph or two of a story on Byliner and are linked to the publisher’s site to read the rest. The company’s partnerships with Instapaper and Read It Later allow readers to bookmark articles they are interested in. As for content that is behind a paywall, Bryant says the company will explore partnerships with certain publications (like the New Yorker) that allow readers coming from the byliner site to “pierce the wall” a few times a week or month to read pieces in full. But “we would encourage Byliner readers who haven’t subscribed to the New Yorker to subscribe to it,” he says.
While compilations of magazine pieces by a single author do not sell nearly as well today as they used to, Byliner’s digital model enables it “to publish an author’s best-of collection more easily than a traditional publisher could,” Bryant says. The company has already prepared anthologies on different themes, including pieces from relatively undiscovered authors and classic pieces. These will be available as ebooks and in POD editions. Byliner will launch in beta in early May and has several angel investors from well-known social media companies.