Written by Literature


Byliner is a worthwhile new website.
It’s purpose is twofold:

  • to link to and promote long form non-fiction
  • to sell original ebooks in that genre under the Byliner Originals imprint

The site came to prominance when it released Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer a couple of months ago. Krakauer wrote Into Thin Air and Into The Wild, amongst others, both of which have been filmed – the latter by Sean Penn. Three Cups is an investigative piece of journalism into the deeds of Greg Mortenson, a man who’s become famous – especially in the US – for raising money for schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
For the first few days, the piece was given away free. It’s now a $2.99 ebook.
It’s been followed up by a further series of original pieces all available for between $0.99 and $5.99.
That’s their business model – promote these pieces. But surrounding it, there’s the recommendation engine and the ability to track favourite authors.
And suddenly, that made me think. I remember that I used to use a site a few years ago that allowed me to track favourite authors. And wasn’t it called… Byliner?
Yes it was. Phil Gyford created the site sometime around 2000, and it finally closed in 2008. I used Byliner quite a bit for a handful of authors, getting the relevant RSS feeds into Bloglines.
The new Byliner is a very different beast. And it’s good to see another worthwhile site using the URL.
Over on BoingBoing they reacted to news of the site with:
This could be inspiring, or the set up for a joke. You pick.
But that referred to a Nieman Journalism Lab blog post which described it thus:
Byliner.com, which launches today, wants to be the Pandora of narrative nonfiction.
I think they use the Pandora comparison in terms its ability to let you discover new material. In fact the Nieman piece by Lois Beckett is well worth a read.
The one thing I will say about the model that Byliner is attempting – it does persuade that perhaps… just perhaps… I might find use for an ebook reader. And that’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever say. The free Krakauer piece was available as a PDF and I carefully printed it out (even using the “booklet” function of a photocopier). But DRM being what it is (although could JK Rowling of all people, be challenging that?), follow up Byliner Originals only appear to be available in Kindle format (or, occassionally, as audiobooks). I think it’s because despite having piles of magazines littering my flat, just waiting for those articles to get read, the format is more transient. The magazines will eventually be thrown out. So I don’t mind longform articles only existing being on a digital reader.
One small issue is that the site only links to the Amazon.com version of books where I’m prevented from purchasing titles as a UK resident. Amazon doesn’t even provide direct links to the same ebook on the UK site. You have to search for it once you’ve clicked through to Amazon.co.uk. Furthermore, Byliner’s current bestselling title – The White House Wants to Get Him by Glenn L. Carle – is, for unfathomable reasons, not available in the UK until July 15 [Update: It’s not out anywhere until July 15. And John at Byliner tells me they’re looking into improving international links.].
Nowithstanding all of that, I very much hope that the site suceeds.