Byliner, the new, online warehouse of long-form, narrative journalism reads, fully launched today. With it comes new hope for masses of journalists and readers despairing about the future of investigative and in-depth reporting. Conceptually, Byliner is simple enough to grasp: recruit a solid base of established, proven long-form journalism pros; have them write original material—for Byliner’s standards, this means articles between 10,000 and 35,000 words in length—that can be sold as print-on-demand books, or as single article purchases on Amazon’s Kindle reader; and then serve as an online hub for readers of long-form journalism to find their preferred writers and publications. The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal posted an interesting piece on Atlantic online today: a breakdown of the publications whose content Byliner features most prominently.
Just from clicking around on the site this afternoon, I’m wildly impressed. Indeed, if just for today, Byliner has shored up my confidence in the future of journalism—good, well reported, well researched, long-form journalism. And while I’m sure there are many features of Byliner I’ve yet to discover, here’s a quick rundown of five features that make Byliner so good:
5. The Article Lineup
When you first open Byliner, you’re met by a Top 10 list of articles, which are curated by the Byliner team and can match your particular interests depending upon the specific sub-category that intrigues you (Art, Politics, Business, Crime, Sports, Travel, Science, Tech). What’s especially great is the “Editors’ Pick” feature, which is self-explanatory enough, but it’s nice to know that the Byliner team is reading through these articles to make suggestions and recommendations. I can spend time focusing on articles that seasoned journalists have vetted (though, undoubtedly, the entire swath of Byliner’s collection has merit). What’s also nice is how Byliner provides you the option to toggle between recent articles—those having been published June 2011—and popular articles, which, I’m presuming, sorts itself according to the number of reads per article by Byliner users.
4. Everyday I’m Shufflin’
Byliner, like our friendly pal iTunes, has a shuffle feature. You can use this to mix up the articles displayed in the Article Lineup, a handy way to ensure some variability in your reading. For instance, I regularly turn to Esquire, GQ, Vanity Fair, and The Atlantic for my long-form journalism, but in one day, Byliner has already forced me to read several articles from Outside and The New Yorker.
3. History is a Blessed Thing
The archives are a thing of beauty. If you want to read an article written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and published in 1936—you can.
2. The Community Feeling
Like Twitter, Byliner offers you the option of following writers (something I’ve yet to dabble with); you can also follow readers, a unique tool that, with time, will allow Byliner users to create sub-communities of readers interested in the same types of articles, the same magazines, the same writers, and so on. And, signing up to Byliner allows them to track what you read, and then make further recommendations according to your reading preferences. Moreover, for journalists themselves, Byliner allows you to track how many followers you have, as well as how many submissions you’ve made to the site. Additionally, Byliner provides an e-mail blast—similar to The Atlantic Wire’s “Five Best Columns” e-blast—that delivers fantastic long reads straight to your inbox.
1. Byliner Originals
Byliner recruits damn good journalists to write damn good articles. These original articles, written by the likes of Jon Krakauer and William Vollmann, are exclusive to the site and can be purchased as single articles for easy reading on your Kindle reader. This is the true pay-as-you-go model for journalism, and this illustrates the genius that underlies Byliner (admittedly, time will tell whether this system works adequately). Namely, an understanding that journalism is a cost; good journalism, moreover, is costlier, and those costs must be met in order to produce it. But with an online community of rabid readers who enjoy and value well-written, long-form stories, paying $1.99 for a great read will probably (hopefully) be nothing but chump change—oftentimes when I buy magazines, I skip a good portion of the front-of-book material just to get to the lengthier, meatier articles in back. Now, you can get straight to it. (Whether this will create some friction between Byliner and magazines who survive on subscriptions and bookstore purchases—let alone iPad subscriptions—is yet to be seen. Obviously.)