New York magazine certainly has the skills to make an ebook. If editors didn’t want to handle production in house, they could hire one of any numerous ebook-conversion contractors. And getting the resulting work into the various ebook stores doesn’t take a Ph.D.
But even though ebooks can cut out plenty of middlemen — traditional publishing houses, distributors, bookstore chains — when New York decided to publish its first ebook, it added a new middleman: Byliner. Today, New York and Byliner released New York Magazine’s Most Popular, essentially a greatest hits album of the magazine’s work from the past five years, featuring writers like Frank Rich, Vanessa Grigoriadis, and Jonathan Chait.
It’s being published as a Byliner Original for $7.99 — in iBooks at first, with Kindle and Nook to follow shortly. Sales of the ebook will be split between Byliner and the magazine.
Jon Gluck, New York’s deputy editor, told me Byliner’s mission and technical skill made the collaboration a natural fit. “One of the things they do so well is present long-form journalism in an attractive and readable format,” he said. Byliner as an entity — or at least a publishing brand that mingles with elements of social media and blogging — was built with the idea of audience discovery in mind. Byliner Originals are what they sell, but Byliner.com is the mechanism through which readers can direct their interests and favorite authors to find the right read for them. What you get is a specific type of audience delivered through a site designed to help story discovery.
“They have an audience that self-selects for this particular form of journalism,” he said. “While we do many things at the magazine, this project in particular is focused on long-form narrative nonfiction. It seemed like the perfect place to do this.”
Since its launch last year, Byliner has seen a number of its books wind up on digital bestseller lists. They’ve also worked with a number of notable authors including Buzz Bissinger, Nick Hornby, and Paul Carr. Over email Byliner Editorial Director Mark Bryant told me they try to partner with other publishers as well as individual authors. Just recently they published Now That We Have Tasted Hope, an anthology of writings on the Arab Spring, in collaboration with McSweeney’s. Bryant said the continued expansion of e-readers, either as stand-alone devices or through smartphones and tablets, has helped Byliner grow. “We expect to sell close to a million and a half copies of our titles this year,” Byrant wrote.
When Byliner partners with an author they split revenue from book sales. That’s the case here and New York will own the rights to the anthology. Lauren Starke, a spokeswoman for the magazine, said the individual writers were also paid a courtesy fee for their stories. Starke said over email “Byliner will also be working with the writers on a direct revenue stream for individual stories.”
Gluck said they have no specific revenue goals for the ebook, but if the response is good he imagines they would produce more. Given New York’s ability to spin off franchises around entertainment, fashion and politics with their existing writers, the magazine could easily shape ebooks around those areas. “We’re confident this is going to be a great way to get these pieces that we love in front of a bunch of new people,” he said.
One other noteworthy thing about the project: The stories in this collection weren’t selected through traditional editorial channels. It’s analytics: Gluck told me they used data from the Most Popular Stories box on nymag.com to find the stories readers had consumed the most. In other words, they’re stories that have already connected with a substantial number of readers. While any most-popular widget is an imperfect measuring stick (and potentially gameable), it at least represents a bet on stories that a wider audience will like. “Taken together, the body of work is a snapshot of contemporary culture,” Gluck said. “It’s a really interesting way to look at the last 5 years through a certain lens.”