Byliner’s New Adventure in Publishing—A Talk with CEO John Tayman

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thousands of exclusive pieces by the same authors, and you can do it all at a single subscription price. It’s a model that delivers far more revenue to the author than they have ever been able to realize, and it’s of far greater value to readers than going around and hunting.

X: How do authors get paid under the subscription model?

JT: We do a straight 50/50 revenue share on all revenue that is flowing through Byliner. If you’re buying Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here, the most recent Byliner Original, you can find it on Apple, Amazon, wherever. The retail partner takes their 30 percent, and the remaining 70 percent, we split 50/50 with the author. The only difference between that and the subscription system is that if I read Jonathan’s book here in the Byliner Plus service, there is no 30 percent cutout, and we track what is being read on a pro rata basis. For every page read (and we count 250 words as a page), we do a 50/50 share of the revenue generated by that reading.

Now where this gets really promising is, if you enjoyed this story, Boom, you can follow this author, and from now on whatever Jonathan writes is going to drop into your feed. We can turn a new fan of Jonathan Ames into a lifelong fan, and when they’re done with Jonathan Ames we help that reader find the next person they are going to enjoy just as much.

In other words, we try and strip away everything that gets between the writer and the reader and give them a direct relationship with their fans. That’s something that always frustrated me when I was writing books—my publisher owned the relationship with my customer, and then Amazon or Apple or Barnes & Noble owned it. I never owned it. So if nothing else, what the industry’s move from analog to digital has made possible is that writers can have a direct relationship with their readers.

X: How direct? Are your writers really interacting with readers?

JT: I’ll go to Jon Krakauer’s page and show you how he is using Byliner. [Tayman pulls out his iPad mini.] I’m following him, which means anytime he publishes a new story Byliner drops that into my feed. Jon is also on Byliner recommending stories that he likes, and every time he does that, his likes drop into my feed.

Here is some other stuff that gets really interesting. Since we brought out Three Cups of Deceit a year and a half ago, Jon has written 19 updates to that story. Some of them are a paragraph or two, some are longer. So the narrative can continue to live. This works especially well with non-fiction, but it also works with fiction. Every time he writes an update, all the people who are following Jon are alerted to that.

X: How are readers responding to the subscription model so far? Are you getting a lot of uptake?

JT: We’ve been testing it for just under a month now, and all of the early metrics are running ahead of what we had hoped. Anecdotally, we noticed that readers who would go to Amazon to buy Byliner Originals would become repeat buyers, which we take a great deal of pride out of. But in Byliner Plus, the depth to which they are reading the writers’ portfolio of work and continuing to read Byliner Originals has been really exciting.

X: What do you feel you have to prove in the next year or two to show your investors that they made a smart decision?

JT: The investors we have really understand that we are maneuvering through a change in consumer behavior. That can take time. But they are all as convinced as we are that that change is going to come. This is how reading is going to work.

Happily, we have done exceedingly well. We have performed well above even our own ambitious expectations on the number of top authors we are working with, the amount of content that is flowing through Byliner, and the degree to which we have been able to make money for these top authors. The next step is, now that we have a subscription product, we will spend the next year finding where the dials are, and growing the subscription base and optimizing it for everybody involved.

Author’s Update: Just before going to press with this January interview I checked with Tayman for late-breaking news about Byliner. He writes:

“Our partnership with The New York Times has yielded a #1 bestseller at Amazon (and a NYTimes Best Seller, too): Here’s the Deal, by David Leonhardt. Our most recent Esquire/Byliner Original, Great Men, is also selling well.

“Jeff Gomez, a VP of Marketing from Penguin, has joined Byliner to help oversee writer relations and our writer network. At Penguin, Gomez developed the company’s first social media strategy, wrote the Penguin Authors Guide to Online Marketing, led the team that created Penguin’s first iPhone app, and oversaw the e-commerce website selling print and e-books for Penguin’s 30-plus publishers and imprints.

“On the stats front, we remain the leading publisher in the e-shorts category, accounting for 1 in 4 titles ever sold in this space. We currently have 5 of the top 20 at Amazon, including new Byliner Originals from Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Russo, Joe McGinniss, Alexander Fuller, and more.

“We’ll soon be doing story updates pushed live into our titles at Apple’s iBookstore, so that readers get a narrative that continues even after they’ve purchased the book.

“To date, we have more than 200 top authors who have joined the Byliner writers’ network, and who are making their work available to Byliner subscribers—including thousands of exclusive stories.”

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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