Kindle Singles and the future of ebooks
Another way for publishers to control their own destiny

Byliner and the art of curation

Last week I wrote about how Kindle Singles are likely to influence the future of ebooks. This week I'd like to share some thoughts on another service for short-form content: Byliner. Unlike Singles, where you purchase titles individually, the Byliner service is an all-you-can-read subscription model.

Following authors and subscribing to content streams

My favorite Byliner feature is the fact that I can follow specific authors. I thoroughly enjoyed Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers. I know I need to read her other books but time just doesn't permit right now. Thanks to Byliner I'm able to discover several short-form works by Mary and read one or two of them in a matter of minutes.

This is an important glimpse of the future, btw. I firmly believe that books, magazines, and other print content containers will become far less important in the future. Those vessels were simply a convenient delivery format in the physical world. What we really want though are great stories by authors we love to read. I don't need this content as a "book" or part of a "magazine", regardless of whether it's print or digital. Instead, I'd prefer to pay for a Mary Roach content stream subscription. The same goes for Steve Rushin. Byliner offers all their authors in the same broad subscription but in the not too distant future I'm convinced we'll have access to more granular subscription options too (e.g., by author, by genre, etc.)

Curation and discovery

What makes Byliner different from simply surfing the web and reading interesting articles you find? It's all about curation. The authors and articles featured in Byliner are among the best. I have yet to find one that didn't fascinate me. Good luck saying that about most online articles you stumble upon.

Then there's the fact that your favorite authors are discovering and recommending content from other authors. What a terrific solution to the discovery issue everyone in publishing complains about. I'm seeing that recommendations by my favorite authors are much more likely to lead to great reads than recommendations from my Facebook friends. Think about that for a moment. Does your social graph really overlap with your reading interests? Mine certainly doesn't.

Pricing and length

With Kindle Singles you're making a (small) financial investment in every piece of content. In Byliner's all-you-can-read model there is no such investment or guilt factor. If I don't like a piece I'll just move on to the next one. It still costs the same amount every month, so I'm inclined to explore even more. (Another discovery plus!)

Byliner articles are even shorter than Kindle Singles, or at least that's the case most of the time. I love it that they even give you a reading time estimate with each Byliner article. That's a much better gauge of whether I really have time to read this piece than telling me the number of pages, especially when the ability to increase/decrease font size makes "page" a hard word to define.

Terrific iPad app

Lastly, Byliner has a wonderful iPad app that lets me download and save articles for offline reading. That's a great feature for those times when you're out of wifi range. I know I've always got a great selection of short-form content ready to read, regardless of where I am. Given how short these pieces are though, I wish they had an option to automatically download articles from my favorite authors, topics I always read, etc.

If you haven't given Byliner a test drive you need to do so now. It's both a great content service as well as a leading indicator for how publishing and content consumption is rapidly evolving.


Michael W. Perry

Different strokes for different folks.

In my case, I don't want to join a subscription plan because that would mean I'd feel compelled to read more to get my money's worth. I saw that when I did some proofing for Microsoft Press. They gave me an office about 50 feet away from snack area stocked with a host of free drinks. Until I made myself stop, I was driving home each day utterly waterlogged. Just because I didn't have to pay, didn't mean I needed to drink it.

In short, I've enough to read with what's on the Internet and what I can get from a public library. I'm also a writer, which means I have far less time than I like to read just for fun. Subscriptions aren't for me.

--Michael W. Perry, My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer

Anne Hill

I agree Joe, Byliner's model is the one to watch. Funny that you should posit it against the Kindle singles model though, because they have such a robust offering of Kindle singles! Just type in Byliner in the Amazon search and you'll see all their bestselling long-form content, very nicely branded too IMHO.

I spoke with Byliner President Deanna Brown a couple months ago and she said they were preparing for a very noisy marketplace in the year to come, as more companies experiment with the dual subscription-and-ebook model. It makes me wonder what Medium has in store for all of us...

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