The Business Of Byliner

Longform journalism site Byliner has sold over 100,000 “Byliner Originals” singles since it launched in April, reports paidContent.

That means sold, so the 70,000 people who freely downloaded Jon Krakauer’s “Three Cups of Deceit” when Byliner Originals first launched aren’t included.

Sounds pretty good. The site’s currently selling 15 originals, for between (a quick glance at the site shows) $0.99 and $5.99, with Krakauer’s piece, at $2.99, the best-seller.

If we assume that the average single sells for $3, and we know (roughly) how the money is split, we can do a little math and run the numbers on the Byliner business.

100,000 sales at $3 equals $300,000. Amazon takes 30% of sales, which leaves $210,000. According to PaidContent, Byliner pays its authors an upfront fee and then splits the proceeds 50/50.

That gives Byliner $105,000, with another $105,000 to be split between the (so far) 15 Byliner Originals authors, or an average of $7,000 each. (We can assume that Krakauer, whose single is still in the #1 bestseller spot on, has received significantly more than that, while the writer at the bottom of the list has received less. Also, this is not an ENTIRELY accurate method of calculation, as an author whose $.99 single sells twice as many copies as a $3.99 single is still worse off.)

But there’s also the upfront payment: A similar long-form journalism program run by Gothamist pays its writers $3,500 up front for a 10,000-word feature; Byliner’s features are a bit longer, so we can guess/conjecture/assume that the upfront fee is in the mid-four figures.

That fits with what David Wolman said about publishing his piece on Atavist, which publishes stories of similar length and at similar price points as Byliner: “I’ve been happy with sales, which continue steadily, but make no mistake: There is no zippy sports car in my future.”

But considering that Byliner’s mission is to publish pieces that are too long for magazines and too short for books, maybe steady sales are the best that can be hoped for. We’re hoping that the revenue Byliner itself is pulling in is enough to make its staff and investors happy, so these pieces can continue to find homes.

Updated to correct math.