16 Responses to “Byliner gone bad and the business of longform journalism on the web”

  1. I think a big part of the problem is the question of who reads longform. It’s mainly journalists or writers of various levels and breeds. In order for any form of monetization to work, longform/narrative journalism needs to be made appealing and accessible to people who aren’t writers. Which, considering literacy in America (https://www.dosomething.org/facts/11-facts-about-literacy-america), means a lot of things regarding education. If the population were more functionally literate, there would be a greater audience interested in reading (a paying for) longform journalism.

  2. I was a year-long subscriber to Byliner. I happily paid $2.99 for “Boom.” I was hungry for more. But Byliner’s content subsided into old, and older, material that didn’t seem worth the cost. I am an old-school reader, however attention-deficited, but I do like to read about things that reference events that occurred after I reached puberty. This is why I consumer Longform and Longreads. Not because they are free but because they have time relevance for me.

  3. Ed Renehan

    Formula for happiness: Regardless of length, publish excellent content by respected writers on topics of interest … format beautifully … price competitively … promote smartly, and – this is important – be happy with lifetime sales of 500 to 1000 units (any more being gravy), while at the same time building a publishing brand. Make that the business plan. For us at New Street, this paradigm works over and over again. But then we don’t have a board of venture capitalists starving for ROI. We just have a growing cadre of authors happy with their royalties and two full-time people who pull a decent (and growing) living out of the firm. The new tech-empowered publishing landscape is ideal country for cottage industries.

  4. Joe Wikert

    Nobody has been a bigger Byliner fan than me. I’ve wanted them to succeed from day one and, like yourself, Laura, I’m a believer in the combination of longform journalism and tablets. I think the value proposition is what’s not working here though.

    Is a service like Byliner worth $6/month? I believe the answer to that question was yes two years ago but not so much today. I pay $10/month for my Oyster subscription and it provides access to 500K+ ebooks. All of a sudden $6/month for access to much shorter-form content seems pretty pricey, especially when it feels like much of that content can be had for free elsewhere.

    Then there’s the Amazon factor. Amazon Prime may have gone up to $99/year but most people bought in for the free 2-day shipping so every time Amazon adds another element (e.g., streaming music), that content seems to have less value than it did on its own. In fact, I could see a service like Byliner making a ton of sense in something like Amazon Prime; you might not pay $6/month for it on its own but you’ll gladly use it as part of a $99/year Prime membership.

    Writers and publishers won’t want to hear that because it means a smaller slice of the pie for them. With certain exceptions though, we’re heading to a future where the consumer price for digital content will continue to decline.

    • And, again, the question: How are “content providers” (more classically known as “writers”) to live, you know the ones that think up and type all the words that get posted on the internet around the clock? It’s become Dickensian. Okay, figure out the work-arounds, nobody’s stupid, but how can the non-writitng world expect people to work for free? Most grown-up wouldn’t work gratis–couldn’t, in fact–and when all the younger people who are perhaps thinking themselves lucky to have internships and then terribly paid dead-end jobs age out (or their parents can’t or won’t support them any longer) they will finally understand the increasing number of desperate laments from professional writers. Something, something has to give.

      (PS I am employed.)

  5. Kellia Ramares-Watson

    The true answer is DEMONETIZATION. Until we abandon money altogether, there will be continued war, growing poverty, ecological devastation and generalized unhappiness. Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?

  6. What about the model of “Patron Saint Journalism,” in the mold of the New Republic or The Washington Post? Some rich person funds journalism, with the unspoken and significant caveat that the investigative reporters won’t actively dig for dirt in the boss’s backyard.

    I mean, there is no good way to crowd-source an objective article about Colombian drug traffickers. Either the world doesn’t get those exposés, or professionals need to be paid to write them with some reasonable expectation of both money for themselves and editorial protection for their sources.

    Up until Hachette v. Amazon, I was naïve enough to think maybe Jeff Bezos was going to backstop some hard-hitting journalism for the sake of an informed populace. Might others step up, and would we ever trust them to get it right on big issues?

    • The point about the difficulty of crowdsourcing the Colombian drug trafficker article — or many of the other articles Byliner paid authors to write — is a good one. There are just not a ton of outlets paying for deeply reported longform journalism these days. (Mind you, I haven’t read Smith’s article, and I don’t know how deeply reported it was.)

      We’re also seeing an example of the patron model with Pierre Omidyar’s First Look, I guess.

  7. Thomas Equality Leavitt

    Scribd works for me, even with the relatively limited scope of works included, which is the main criticism leveled against it. There’s more than enough depth, at least in the SF / Fantasy genre, to satisfy even a hard core reader such as myself. I’d point out that Netflix is quite successful, despite similar limitations on currency and scope of content. Since I signed up, I’ve hardly even looked at my Kindle content… in fact, even the volume of reading encompassed by pring books already in hand and paid for, has dropped precipitously – the convenience factor of reading on my Galaxy S5, combined with the flat rate all you can eat model, has really put paid to my lifelong book buying habit. My reading habits are similar to Netflix style “binge watching”… I find a new author I like, and consume everything available (often an entire series, perhaps minus the last one or two most recently published volumes). The “substitution effect” is in full play here, and I think many hard core readers will have similar reactions. What this does to publishing industry business models, I don’t know… I suspect that the revenue model for backlist content will change radically (as it probably has for the TV and music industries), but that it will have (at least initially), minimal effect on revenues for newly published content.

    I find it hard to believe that this “third icon” model for digital book publishing can’t be at least as successful (relatively speaking) as it has been with TV and music. Whether Scribd and / or Oyster has the correct business model is another thing entirely… but I’ll point out that the same thing can be said about every other streaming start up. Netflix has a long way to go before it can be said to have definitely proven the economics of streaming video. Contrawise, from a purely technical standpoint, “streaming” books is a vastly less demanding task. The volume of data to be stored and transmitted is miniscule by comparison, and “latency” is not an issue…

  8. Bjarke Myrthu

    I don’t think it’s about figuring out monetization as much as figuring out the right format and language for internet media. The idea of “the grand narrative” fundamentally goes against the DNA of the Internet which is interactive and consists of a myriad of things linked together. I’m not saying you can’t distribute and read long format on digital devices but maybe it can’t be packaged by itself like we are currently trying to do…maybe the book is just better for that.

  9. The monetization of all these old industries (literature, music, art etc) to fit into the new media form is a big issue. Eventually they will figure it out. Until they do it will be hard sledding for many.

    • Please. There’s no indication that there’s any demand at all. It’s not that only a few people make big money, it’s that even the best selling books don’t make any money at all. The need for facts is sated by the Internet. No one even wants to spend 99 cents.

      • The issue is that the price $0.99 for something that may as well be garbage is throwing money away. Make it something that is $0.99 per year to access author’s year worth product and I’m sure should the author be any good he or she would get a 100,000 readers.

        Of course even mediocre authors don’t think making $99k/year form their blog is good money because *gasp* they actually have to work for it.

        • Really? 100,000 readers? You’re quite optimistic. There are plenty of writers out there giving away things for free. I would be surprised if you got more than 1000 for anyone.

      • You are right of course. It is reflected through all areas of business such as the unpaid internships.
        Have you seen the video by Damon Evans, CEO of Arena.com? Have a listen to it. Obviously the artists are going to have to band together and take action.