Byliner and Atavist, two publishers that focus on e-singles (digital longform journalism), are experimenting with online subscriptions. While the programs are still in early stages, they could serve as models for other publishers who want to try the same thing.
The San Francisco-based Byliner publishes fiction and nonfiction e-singles it calls “Byliner Originals,” from authors like Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan and Jon Krakauer. It sells them through ebook retailers like Kindle, Nook and Apple, usually for $1.99 or $2.99. Now Byliner is testing a program called Byliner Plus, which offers unlimited access to Byliner Originals (39 of them and growing) as well as exclusive stories from authors like Susan Orlean and Sebastian Junger (often those that were previously published but have not been available online) for a monthly fee. Right now, an introductory offer allows a generous 60-day free trial, after which the subscription is $7.99 a month.
Byliner CEO John Tayman stressed to me that the program is experimental. “For some time now readers have been asking if they can just subscribe and receive each new Original automatically, and we wanted to accommodate that request,” he said. But the final price of a monthly subscription hasn’t been settled yet: While I received the $7.99 offer in an email and it is apparently available through December 3, another page on Byliner’s site says a subscription is $12.99 a month. “Nothing has been settled as of yet,” Tayman said. “We’re testing a variety of things during this period, including feature sets and price points, to see what resonates best with readers and provides them with the best value and experience.”
If you sign up for Byliner Plus, the stories can’t be downloaded to an e-reader. Rather, they’re available through a responsive-design HTML5 site and can be read on computers, tablets and smartphones. Users can also save the stories for offline reading.
Tayman explained how authors are paid: “We’re sharing subscription revenue with authors based on the amount of their work read within the subscription service, on a pro-rata basis. We’ll also be paying authors (and distribution partners) affiliate fees for new subscribers they direct to Byliner.”
The Brooklyn-based Atavist publishes original e-singles and also sells a digital reading software platform. (In addition, the company is working with Barry Diller and Scott Rudin to launch a digital publisher called Brightline.) Atavist has published 18 e-singles so far, most for $2.99, and already sells them through its iOS app (as well as through various digital bookstores). Now readers can also sign up for in-app subscriptions: to start, three months for $6.99. Nieman Journalism Lab reports, “Authors will still get a cut, even if subscribers aren’t paying for a specific story; at the end of each month, subscription money will be divvied up based on the number of downloads for each individual author.”