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7 Platforms Changing the Future of Publishing and Storytelling

Cutting out the middleman, or what the Nobel Peace Prize has to do with harnessing the potential of tablets.

Depending on whom you ask, these are either the best or the worst of times for the written word. As with every other branch of traditional media, the Internet has pushed the publishing industry to a critical inflection point, something we’ve previously discussed. Disrupting the mainstream marketplaces for journalism, literature, and the fundamental conventions of reading and writing themselves, here are seven startups that promise to reshape the way we create and consume ideas.


Byliner, whose beautifully designed site officially launched last week, is easily the most ambitious of the initiatives featured here. The startup is both a publisher, via its Byliner Originals subsidiary, and a discovery platform for longform nonfiction, offering Pandora-like recommendation functionality. The site is already loaded with more than 30,000 pieces, is searchable by author, publication, or topic, and allows writers to create their own pages and interact with audiences.

The startup’s first original offering, Three Cups of Deceit, tells the story of the now-disgraced Nobel Peace Prize nominee and bestselling author Greg Mortenson. National Book Award winner William T. Vollman penned Into the Forbidden Zone, a gripping, Gonzo-style report that had the author venture into Fukushima, Japan with only rubber kitchen gloves, a face mask and a self-procured radiation detector. Other longform exclusives from marquee names like Mary Roach, Mark Bittman, and Buzz Bissinger are forthcoming.


With the tagline, “longer than an article, shorter than a book,” The Atavist considers itself a “boutique publishing house” that turns out bespoke nonfiction and narrative journalism for digital devices. It launched at the end of January with Lifted, a piece by founder and editor (and regular Wired contributor) Evan Ratliff, about one of the most elaborate bank heists in history. The Atavist‘s angle is to present “a new genre of nonfiction, a digital form that lies in the space between long narrative magazine articles and traditional books and e-books.”

Offering original content from well-established journalists and reporters, The Atavist also adds supplementary audio, video, and other contextual info to its selections, which are specifically designed for iPad, iPhone, Kindle and Nook.


Bringing a crowdfunded model to books, the U.K.-based Unbound has been called the Kickstarter for publishing. Launched at the beginning of June, its idea is straightforward: “Publishing without middlemen. No gatekeepers. Just authors and readers deciding between them what books get to see the light of day.”

Currently only offering a curated selection of both fiction and nonfiction projects, Unbound hopes eventually to open its platform for other authors looking to self-publish. Most exciting for us at Brain Pickings among Unbound‘s first six selections: a potential iPad version of a gem we featured just a month back, The Cloud Collectors Handbook. With only 22 days left to earn funding for production, you can give to author Gavin Pretor-Pinney’s project here.


Bringing the social networking paradigm to publishing, Red Lemonade aims to create a community of writers and readers around fiction and narrative nonfiction. The site’s mission statement stakes out an editorial position, as well:

We avoid labeling what we do but it tends to be risky, socially charged, misbehaving stuff. Red Lemonade is for the writers other publishers are afraid of.

Although Red Lemonade features titles by established (and excellent) authors Lynne Tillman and Matthew Battles, anyone can create an author profile and then annotate existing work. While it remains to be seen whether the website will reach the kind of critical mass necessary for sustained critical input, we’re excited by the works on display so far.


So called because its e-titles take 40 minutes to just over an hour to read, 40K Books presents a series of original novellas and nonfiction essays in English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. The Milan, Italy-based startup impressed us early on both with its price points — 99 cents per purchase — and its strong selection of sci-fi and speculative fiction — including a few fantastic stories by Bruce Sterling — and practical pieces on publishing and the creative process.

Read our full feature on 40K Books here.


Partnering with Amazon’s Kindle Singles initiative, marketing guru Seth Godin started The Domino Project in early 2011 as a series of manifestos on changemaking. The stand-out so far is author Steven Pressfield’s Do the Work, a powerful instruction manual on how to break through your creative blocks. We’re also totally revved for tomorrow’s release of Derek Sivers’s Anything You Want.

Read our full review of Do the Work here.


Of course Brain Pickings was first to the birthday party for TED Books, a nonfiction flash publishing imprint with an editorial vision matching TED’s world-class lecture series. All titles are under 20,000 words, and for $2.99 you can collect Cindy Gallop on sex, Nic Marks on happiness, and Gever Tulley on the dangers of dangerism.

Read our full feature on TED Books here.

Although these seven startups are thrilling, they barely touch on self-publishing, a phenomenon undergoing its own sea changes and seismic shifts. Regardless, for now we’re excited to follow the words, wherever we can find them.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Published June 28, 2011




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