Last month, an unknown San Francisco publishing start-up had just about the best debut imaginable. Byliner's first product became an instant best-seller and seriously called into question the reputation of an international sensation a decade in the making--all in less than 25,000 words that never touched a printing press.
The tiny operation released Jon Krakauer's "Three Cups of Deceit"--a scathing deconstruction of alleged fraud and mismanagement at the hands of world-famous do-gooder Greg Mortenson of "Three Cups of Tea" fame--as a free PDF in mid-April. The launch got a big boost from a story that aired last month on "60 Minutes" about Mortenson, based largely on Krakauer's research. (Disclosure: "60 Minutes" is broadcast by CBS, publisher of CNET.)
"Reaction has been extraordinary," Byliner.com founder John Tayman told CNET. "In the 72 hours it was available as (a) free download, more than 70,000 readers downloaded a copy. It then moved to the Amazon Kindle Singles store, and it went to No. 1 within six hours."
As of this writing, the 75-page narrative--a riveting account despite being based largely on a review of financial records and interviews with people with ties to Mortenson's nonprofit--remains in that top slot (even as Mortenson's supporters, including one of his former climbing partners quoted by Krakauer, have come to his defense).
Now, Byliner is looking for a repeat performance with its follow-up release in its "Byliner Originals" series--20,000 words from award-winning author William T. Vollmann titled "Into the Forbidden Zone: A Trip Through Hell and High Water in Post-Earthquake Japan." Byliner commissioned Vollmann, who has written about Japan in the past, and paid for his trip to the triple-disaster area to gather stories of survivors, the aftermath, and implications for the future.
"We want to take advantage of the swiftness that digital publishing allows to get these great reads in front of readers," said Tayman, himself a writer and editor who has worked at Business 2.0 and Outside magazine. "Our first two titles are excellent examples of that approach. These are stories that have complexity and currency, tackled by two of the most acclaimed writers in America."… Read more