The Third Tier: Between the Big Six and Self-Publishing, a Digital-First Business Model

Jon Feldman (Open Air Publishing), Jennifer Lee (Plympton), Evan Ratliff (The Atavist)
Location: Duffy/Columbia Level:
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Just as professionalized blogging organizations emerged in the space between legacy journalism and personal blogging in the mid-2000s, a new tier of digital-first publishers is emerging between the traditional publishers and the Wild West of self-publishing.

Started by writers and editors, these companies have the production values of traditional publishing, such as copyediting and elegant design, but also embrace the nimbleness and flexibility that comes with the digital format.

Without incumbent interests, they have created different business models, different legal agreements and different relationships from the writers. They also approach the companies — Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Apple — with a different eye.

These new publishers include Byliner and The Atavist in non-fiction and Plympton, a new literary studio, for fiction. With the economics of printing and distribution disrupted, these organizations find it free to play with various formats, such as medium form, and serialized storytelling.

With the low overhead of starting up, The Atavist and Plympton have already seen profitability. Come hear the founders and employees of these organizations discuss their thinking, hurdles and successes.

Photo of Jon Feldman

Jon Feldman

Open Air Publishing

Jon Feldman is founder and CEO of Open Air Publishing, an award-winning creator of digital-first, interactive, non-fiction books. He has more than ten years of experience in strategy, marketing, and product and business development for digital content and e-commerce. Prior to launching Open Air Publishing, Jon was a management consultant in the Consumer, Media, and Digital Group of Booz & Company. Previously, he led business development and marketing for CollegeHumor Media at IAC/InterActiveCorp, and he built and managed e-commerce platforms for Viacom’s music and comedy properties, including MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central. Jon holds a Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University, and an MBA from The Wharton School.

Photo of Jennifer Lee

Jennifer Lee


Jennifer 8. Lee is the president and cofounder of Plympton, a literary studio that publishes serialized fiction for digital devices.

She was a reporter at The New York Times for nine years and is the author of “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles,” a New York Times-bestselling book on how Chinese food is all-American. She is also on the boards of the Nieman Foundation, the Center for Public Integrity, the Asian American Writers Workshop, and the New York Public Library Young Lions committee.

Her next book, to be published by Simon and Schuster, is on how being constantly on our devices changes us emotionally and behaviorially.

She graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied math and economics.

Photo of Evan Ratliff

Evan Ratliff

The Atavist

Evan Ratliff (co-founder, CEO, editor): Evan is an award-winning journalist and contributing editor at Wired magazine. In addition to Wired, his writing appears in The New Yorker, Outside, National Geographic, and many other publications. He is the co-author of Safe: The Race to Protect Ourselves in a Newly Dangerous World (HarperCollins, 2005). His 2009 story “Vanish,” about his attempt to disappear and the public’s effort to find him, was a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing, and his writing has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Best of Technology Writing 2006 and 2010, and The Best American Nonrequired Writing 2010. Evan also serves as the story editor for Pop-Up Magazine, the world’s first live magazine.


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