On Christmas Eve Day in 2012, I sat in a Starbucks and wrote an enthusiastic post about why it had been the year of the e-single. E-singles — works of journalism between 3,000 to 15,000 words, usually nonfiction and sold as individual ebooks — were “a true digital-native format,” I wrote, “the format for our time,” ideal to read curled up with your iPad.
With the crash and burn of Byliner this year, however, my enthusiasm seems less than prescient. Byliner, which launched in 2011, was one of the darlings of the literary startup scene (which is also not doing so hot these days). Its original mission was to publish original e-singles, both fiction and nonfiction, and also to create a sort of archival home for journalists on the web. But over the next couple of years, Byliner moved away from that mission, and in recent weeks bad news about the company has trickled out onto the web and then into the pages of the New York Times as the most high-profile executives, including CEO John Tayman and co-founder Mark Bryant, left the company.
Deanna Brown, Byliner’s president and the former CEO of Federated Media and Inside.com,...