AP brings a new audience to stories of the distant (and not-so-distant) news
Last week for the 70th anniversary of VE Day, The Associated Press published stories and images from AP journalists who reported on the war from 1939 until 1945. "World War II: Unforgettable Stories and Photographs by Correspondents of The Associated Press," came out on May 8 and contains stories that were produced as an internal document. Last week was the first time they became public collectively in a digital format.
Those 70-year-old stories are intimate, descriptive and immediate, which make the reader feel like a witness to history as it occurred, explained Peter Costanzo, digital publishing specialist at the AP.
"We just thought it would be wonderful to rerelease this with some new content for the anniversary," he said, "but maintain the integrity of the original intent, which was to honor and put a focus on these reporters who really risked their lives bringing this information about the war."
Since March, The Associated Press has published 18 paperback and e-books. That's quite a pace, but the stories and images go back into the AP's archives as far as 1939. Subjects include Beyonce, World War II, the collapse of the Soviet Union, Muhammad Ali, Ebola and the legalization of marijuana around the country.
The books fall into two categories -- topics that are dominating the news, such as Boko Haram, and events with major upcoming anniversaries, such as the fall of Saigon. They include original AP reporting and some context and perspective from the present, as well. AP Editions, the current affairs books, are published by Mango Media. RosettaBooks is the publishing partner for the long-form historical books.
What makes the books work, Costanzo said, is the curation and the format.
"You could find a lot of this type of content or similar content from other folks online, but you'd have to hunt around for it," he said.
In book form, the work of AP journalists is presented in a linear way, "so it's kind of like reliving these pivotal moments in history," Costanzo said, "and they remind you of what had happened."
The book on Bob Dylan, for instance, shows both what was happening in the world at the time and the arc of his career. These books, Costanzo said, are for history buffs, news junkies and the people who read the liner notes in albums.
"It gives you the full picture of the urgency of certain topics and why they were being covered in earnest the way they were," he said.
And sometimes, the books read like thrillers.
"There's a tremendous amount of drama in a number of these books."
There's also an immediacy, he said, from reporters who were there, witnessing and reporting on things now in history books. Costanzo, who previously worked in a similar role at NBC, said the books come together with the publishers and guidance and insight from the archives department.
Working with both traditional publishing and e-books also allows for some flexibility, he said, when a project needs to come together quickly in response to a current event.
"Others have done this, we're not reinventing the wheel here, but we're hoping that the quality of the AP reports is what will really resonate and stand out."
It's been a little over a month, so it's too early to make a full assessment of the revenue the books are generating, Costanzo said. On Monday, the World War II book was no. 3 in the photojournalism e-book category and no. 5 in military history. They're snapshots in history, Costanzo said.
"We feel they deserve to be given another shelf life, if you will," he said. "We think that these reports that go into the archives, there are audiences out there that want to rediscover the way that this kind of reporting covered these events."