Huffington Post publishes its first e-book, with plans for more

The Huffington Post breaks into the e-book business today with “A People’s History of the Great Recession,” based on reporter Arthur Delaney’s blogging about economic hardship.

With this, HuffPost joins a surge of news organizations that are tapping into their staff expertise and troves of published material for relatively quick and inexpensive e-books. A few examples:

A People’s History of the Great Recession tells personal stories of economic hardship brought on by the recession.

The fact that The Huffington Post is among these pioneers in repurposing its content for e-books is especially significant for the organization’s reputation, Delaney told me. “It shows that Huffington Post is doing real reporting. People always say, ‘It’s aggregation and unpaid bloggers,’ but it’s not. It’s more than that.”

As it enters this market, The Huffington Post Media Group is looking to develop books that explore interesting and timely subjects, President and Editor in Chief Arianna Huffington said via an email relayed by a spokesman.

“For instance, while Arthur Delaney has been putting flesh and blood on the grim statistics of our ongoing economic crisis, his e-book presents an opportunity to weave a larger narrative about the pain and suffering being felt by millions of Americans across the country, whose stories are too often overlooked by the media,” Huffington said.

Since 2009, Delaney has written for HuffPost about people struggling with chronic unemployment, lack of health insurance or mortgage troubles. The book captures the best of those stories, updates some of them by revisiting the subjects, and blends some together in new ways.

One of Delaney’s favorites, if you can call it that, is the ballad of Francis Timothy Coleman, a laid-off machinist in Bethlehem, Pa. Coleman lost the last $3 in his checking account to a fraudulent $13 charge and a subsequent $35 overdraft fee. While desperately trying to call attention to the bank’s actions, he told a local television producer he would “rob the place,” and then ended up in jail.

That story appeared on The Huffington Post home page for a few hours in April 2010. But it has lasting relevance as part of the story of what’s happening to workers and consumers in America, Delaney said. And that’s why the e-book makes sense: It preserves and elevates journalism that deserves to last beyond the few hours of attention it gets in the daily news cycle.

The other thing that makes e-books attractive to news organizations is that the low cost of production means low risk and a short road to profitability.

As a business venture, The Huffington Post is not expecting much. “A People’s History of the Great Recession” will sell for $4.99 through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, and Kobo. Huffington said she hopes the e-books make money, but the goal is “as much about expanding the distribution platform for authors as it is about monetization.”

Since the cost of publishing is minimal — mainly the time that staff writers and editors put into it — the financial risk is not great, Huffington said. Delaney spent about three months compiling and revising stories into book form (while still doing daily reporting, but less than usual). He and an editor did most of their work in a shared Google Document.

And the books will be promoted prominently on the HuffPost website, Huffington said, which means no additional cost for marketing.

The next e-book from The Huffington Post will be “How We Won,” Aaron Belkin’s inside account of the campaign to repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Huffington said. It will be published Sept. 20. More e-books are planned.

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