Byliner is a digital publisher that is promoting a new format designed for e-readers: the “e-single,” a two-hour read of 10-30K words that fits between a magazine article (3-5K words) and a book (75-200K words). We have seen this sort of disruption in music, where iTunes brought back the single and liberated songs from the album; and in video, where YouTube has unleashed the short-form video, a snackable size of several minutes long.
The Byliner e-single original content (which they call the “Byliner Original”) seems to similarly fit the viewing habits of e-readers. A quick glance at the Amazon e-single list shows a number of best-selling authors promoting short stories and non-fiction articles in the range of 99c to $2.99, impulse buys all. In the future this might evolve to a subscription model, a Netflix for books; or e-book as an app. The e-single format could be combined with a subscription to sell long-form books in an old format, the serialized novel that made Dickens famous.
The e-single value proposition to authors can be stunning: using the Byliner Original format, they can write a shorter piece than a book, make it more timely, launch it to rapid pick-up, and make more money in the next week than they might see in a year from a long-form novel. Jon Krakauer published a short e-book in the “Byliner Original” format called Three Cups of Deceit, and sold 70K copies in 72 hours. When the digital publisher Byliner took it off exclusive and into Amazon, it shot to #1 within six hours.
Publishing is a $23B/year industry (books and magazines) undergoing huge disruption. Naysayers had dismissed a report last year that Kindle outsold hardbacks, but now the wave to e-reading is undeniable. Earlier this year e-books in the US overtook paperbacks – and Kindle outsells Amazon paperbacks. The Association of American Publishers has conceded the field.
The latest report from Juniper predicts the e-book segment will skyrocket from $3.2B today to $9.7B by 2016. We normally discount such exuberant predictions from gushy reports about new industries, especially in this case because a major part of their prediction are Japanese Manga comic books which do not really read on the e-single market, but the trend is clear. Forrester estimates e-books will reach $3B by 2015, up from $441M today. Other estimates have it a $1B this year. Whichever, it is big and growing fast, with e-readers estimated to grow from 45M this year to over 80M in two years. See this Infographic for more.
Byliner was started by an author, John Tayman, known for his recent bestselling book The Colony, about the Molokai leper colony. The business is designed to become a social network of authors, more than just a publisher. We have seen community sites for books emerge, such as GoodReads and WeRead, and Amazon has launched their social book service, Shelfari, but Byliner is a community site of authors that leads to e-book discovery. Already Byliner is fairly heavily used for book discovery. It has over 40K stories in its database from almost 4K authors. It has over 20K subscribed writers. It sold over 100K Byliner Originals in just its first six months.
Byliner now needs to replicate its big early publishing success, and that is the bet we are placing. Currently they are promoting Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) with her new e-single, Rules For Virgins, which got to #3 and is now #8 on the Kindle e-single list. They also own #4, as well 6 others in the Top 40 titles. Another title, Rachel Corbet’s A Killing in Iowa, is #8 on the New York Times e-book bestseller list for non-fiction.
Amazon is the elephant in this room, and has promoted self-publishing to bypass the traditional publishers. While self-publishing has been rife with vanity books (eg. by Mark Cuban) and newbies, some major names have joined the parade:
- John Locke is a thriller & Western writer whose 13 books have sold over 1.7M copies; he recently signed a deal with Simon & Schuster, making them more a distributor than publisher
- Amanda Hocking is a young-adult author who was rejected by traditional publishers and hit it big on Kindle, selling over 1.5M copies; she has now signed a publisher contract with a big advance
- Jon Konrath is another newbie who extols the virtues of self-publishing; he sold over 400K copies of his books, and has signed with Amazon as his publisher
- The WSJ ran a weekend piece on self-publishing disrupting the book industry, showcasing how Darcie Chan’s self-published debut novel became a bestseller.
When you look behind the stories, the authors were driven to self-publishing due to being scammed by small fly-by-night publishers or blocked by the majors, but have used their success to sign with publishers. Other authors have not left the fold, and have reasons why self-publishing is inadequate.
Suffice to say, there are a number of activities of a digital publisher, including editing, promotion and accounting, which is better left to them. In addition, it would be mistake for most authors to be locked into one distributor, Amazon. It says to us that a branded, quality digital publisher will thrive in the new e-book world. Amazon appears to agree: it is now ramping up its own digital publishing business.
Byliner acts as an e-book discovery engine, and has been compared to Pandora for Books. Its focus on the e-single has made it a great spot for non-fiction of the sort one might have seen in a multipart New Yorker piece, or in The Rolling Stone. Now that is layering in short stories by leading authors, we think it has fabulous potential.