By Edward Nawotka
“The general thing about Byliner, from a publishers and writers standpoint, is that it is the world’s biggest second serial opportunity,” says industry stalwart Richard Nash, vice president of partnerships for Byliner, the digital reading platform. “Up until now, second serial has really been an afterthought. Typically, there are just a couple of free excerpts that get flung around or if an author wants to get exposure for something, they are asked to write a bunch of new pieces. But at Byliner have built an app that feels like a very rich digital magazine of fiction and narrative nonfiction with 12,000 pieces that you can read in ten minutes to 100 minutes. And rather than it being stuff that we commissioned originally, it’s all basically backlist. And we want a lot more.”
Ultimately, says Nash, Byliner offers an individual writer or a press the opportunity to take stories or essays that have been collected in book form over the years and give them additional life for discovery and sales.
Tad Friend, staff writer with the New Yorker, will appear with Nash as part of Publishing Perspective’s “Monetizing the Backlist” conference next week in New York City and discuss his experience using the service and provide a case-study.
“One example is a piece Tad wrote, a profile of Harold Ramis, that on the day Ramis died, became the most tweeted Harold Ramis link of the following two days,” says Nash. “Typically when someone has a chapter in a book or a magazine 10 or 15 years ago, there isn’t any way to make it easily social right now, but Byliner let him do that — it got picked up all over by a lot of individual Tweeters. Tad has been doing that fairly steadily over the last three months, connecting various things that have been written over the years to current news hooks. That ends up being the most executable opportunity: the ability to zero in on a particular piece because it is a chapter or an article and say ‘look at this great writing’ and being able to highlight that writer as a great writer.”
He adds that one of the most interesting aspects of the project has been how Byliner has been able to leverage social media to exploit the backlist work and promote it. “One of our technologists created a bit of code we call the ‘Byliner Bee.’ It buzzes around inside the site and found sentences that are 120 characters long. Things we found were, by and large really good sentences. Every sentence serves a lyrical purpose rather than informational, in and we’re able to put that out on Twitter. Here the key comes from the fact that we have high quality stuff, so it’s not crap. The challenge of recommendation engines is that they have to filter out garbage. So our way of dealing with it is not putting in the garbage in the first place.”
Nash is hesitant to reveal to what extent this exposure has driven book sales, but he does note that “the ability to highlight a writer’s work around news hooks— whether its crashing airplanes, the Superbowl or the Oscars—being able to do that steadily day in or day out, that’s a big opportunity.”