Majority of people who read news now get it on handheld devices

Pew Internet
More than half of Americans who regularly read news get it on handheld digital devices, according to new research. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found 54 percent of news-reading adults turn to cell phones, tablets or e-readers (question 23). There’s good news for writers: “41% of tablet owners and 35% of e-reader owners said they were reading more since the advent of e-content.”

The main focus of the Pew survey was on e-books and how Americans are embracing them. A few interesting facts: Read more


Ownership of e-readers and tablets nearly doubled over the holidays

Pew Internet
Almost a third of U.S. adults now own a tablet or an e-reader, after a huge spike from the holiday gift season. A new survey from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that the percentage of ownership for tablets and e-readers increased identically — to 19 percent in January from only 10 percent in December. The number owning one or both grew to 29 percent from 18 percent in December. Read more


How would a split affect Barnes & Noble, Nook business?

Barnes & Noble is exploring whether to spin off or sell its Nook e-book and e-reader business line, according to paidContent and others.

What would that mean? It would separate the fast-growing Nook business (up about 70 percent annually and expected to total $1.5 billion this year) from Barnes & Noble’s struggling bricks-and-mortar stores and hardback distribution business.

The Nook Tablet from Barnes & Noble costs $249.

Consumers might see it as a good thing, alleviating their concerns about investing in proprietary e-books and devices from a company with an uncertain financial future.

For the company, however, the strategy is questionable. CEO William Lynch says it’s about unlocking “substantial value in what we’ve built with our Nook business in only two years.” Industry analysts are less certain.

“Separating Nook from the Barnes & Noble brand would be a huge mistake,” Simba Information senior trade analyst Michael Norris told The Associated Press. “A lot of people who buy e-books buy physical books as well. Do they really want to tamper with that kind of marriage?”

Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps notes that the Nook business is growing so rapidly, B&N shareholders may not have the patience for the amount of investment it will require. Nonetheless, it has been the star division of the company and separating it could cause problems. She writes:

The Nook business has benefitted from synergy with Barnes & Noble in two key areas: 1) Barnes & Noble’s channel (retail stores) and 2) Barnes & Noble’s publisher relationships. It’s not clear how a separate Nook business would function without the benefit of Barnes & Noble’s retail stores and publisher relationships.

Nook has fueled Barnes & Noble’s growth: What will be the value of Barnes & Noble without the Nook business? Where will the growth come from?

Related: Google is allegedly developing a 7-inch tablet, under $199, to rival Kindle Fire, Nook (The Next Web) | Estimates of Kindle Fire ownership so far in major cities (All Things D) Read more


Three trends from 2011 that will reshape digital news in 2012

If you’re like me, by now you’ve read more than enough uninspired recaps of what happened in 2011 or wild guesses at what’s in store for 2012. So here’s something a little different.

I looked back at the world of digital journalism to find just a few trends and ideas that started small in 2011 and will grow larger in 2012. Here’s what I found.

1. A story is more than one writer’s words

This year will be the last when the word “story” referred almost exclusively to a single stream of words written by a single author.

Storify started testing in 2010, but the revolutionary storytelling tool launched publicly in April 2011 and won this year’s grand prize in the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.

Storify shifts several paradigms — the audience/public as contributors, not just consumers, of news gathering; the journalist as a listener and curator, not just a broadcaster; and the news story told by the people through a journalist, instead of to the people from a journalist.

Another budding storytelling trend got much less attention than Storify in 2011: context layers. Digital news publishers experimented with way to give readers extra background information on top of the basic narrative news story.

The “explore sources” context layer in this ProPublica story shows the evidence supporting specific phrases in the report.

ProPublica used DocumentCloud to integrate primary source information in an “explore sources” layer. When a reader turns it on, she can click on highlighted passages in the story to see a popup annotation from supporting documents.

ESPN’s new Grantland site for long-form sports journalism also added context. It uses term-paper-inspired footnotes to annotate its stories, though notes appear next to the story instead of beneath it. It’s a brilliant way to pack in an extra historical anecdote, statistical curiosity, caveat or explanation without disrupting the main narrative.

Expect to see more experimentation with story formats and context layers in 2012 and beyond, as more people realize digital news is no longer bound by the constraints of two-dimensional paper.

2. Facebook is for news

Facebook has been huge for a while, but in 2011 it took several major steps to make the platform more valuable to journalists and publishers.

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof has over 298,000 Facebook subscribers and regularly gets hundreds of likes and comments on his posts.

Facebook Subscribe enabled journalists to build large personal audiences. It helped Facebook attract journalists by offering a system of asymmetrical following, like Twitter, instead of just mutual friending. But the news feed gives posts a longer shelf life than a tweet, and Facebook reaches more than 800 million members while Twitter reaches only about 100 million.

Another trend Facebook in late 2011 is the “frictionless sharing” of activity. The Washington Post, Yahoo News and The Guardian are among the major players reaching millions of readers through this new system of automatically shared reading activity. The Post is especially bullish on the role social networks will play in the future of its news.

We also saw many news organizations in 2011 embrace Facebook Comments on their websites to verify identities and try to improve discourse.

Yes, Google+ did launch this year and Twitter is still growing fast and remains the darling of the news media, but Facebook cemented itself in 2011 as THE leading social network for people and for news.

3. Tablets and e-readers go mainstream

Apple set the high-end standard for tablet computing with the iPad, and again in 2011 with the iPad 2. Its design and app ecosystem are unmatched by competitors. But one of the most important features of any gadget is its price, and in late 2011 we saw new tablets and e-readers break important price barriers.

This chart by Silicon Alley Insider shows the declining price of Amazon Kindles, from $400 in 2007 to $79 today. Perhaps a free version is in our future.

Amazon and Barnes & Noble launched color touchscreen tablets for $199 and $249 respectively, less than half the price of a $499 entry-level iPad. Those companies also released basic e-readers under $100 — Amazon’s Kindle is $79. At this rate, I would not be surprised to see a free version of the Kindle by the next holiday season.

Plus, the iPad 3 will be coming sometime in 2012, which means a price cut for the iPad 2. And the Google tablet promised in the next six months may have an impact as well.

At these prices, millions more Americans will be able to join the tablet and e-reading club, accelerating its impact on the news industry. Through 2012 this will create a stronger market for iPad apps and e-books from news publishers. While few tablet owners are paying for content right now, advertising dollars should start flowing heavily into mobile and tablet channels in 2012 and especially 2013 to help support these innovations. Read more


In the year of the e-book, 5 lessons from — and for — news organizations

Mark 2011 as the year news organizations discovered e-books.

Sure, Time Magazine tried one back in 2010, but this year at least 10 other newspapers, magazines or news websites have published at least 17 electronic-only books seeking bigger audiences and longer lives for their greatest stories. Many more are coming.

I analyzed those 18 e-books to study their topics, prices and strategies. And I talked with people from Vanity Fair, which published three e-books this year and is planning more, and the Los Angeles Times, which just published its first and expects up to 10 over the next year.

Here are five lessons so far about using e-books for news.

Shorten the production cycle

The most talked-about book chronicling the 2008 presidential election — “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin — was published in January 2010. The 2012 election cycle will be different.

Instead of waiting more than a year for writing, editing, printing and distribution of print books, Politico will publish a series of four e-books (the first coming Nov. 30) during the campaign. Meanwhile, Real Clear Politics just last week published its first of three e-books on the 2012 election.

Books capitalizing on current events are also coming faster.

The Boston Globe published its trio of e-books on Whitey Bulger only seven days after the FBI apprehended the longtime fugitive gangster.

Vanity Fair published its e-book of eight stories about Elizabeth Taylor only eight days after her death, David Friend, editor of creative development, told me. About 10 days after the News of the World scandal broke, Vanity Fair had assembled an e-book of its 20 best stories on Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. from the past 25 years.

Crime and politics are popular topics

Five of the 18 e-books I reviewed related to criminals or high-profile court cases. Four were about politics or government (plus five future books promised by Politico and Real Clear Politics).

There were at least two books each on business/economic issues, terrorism/foreign policy (led by bin Laden), and celebrities.

How are publishers choosing their e-book topics? Most seem to just follow their instincts for what readers want.

Vanity Fair doesn’t do market research to plan its e-book topics, Friend said. The editors just follow “what excites us, editorially. If we like it, we hope others will like it.”

Different price points

Among the 18 e-books I reviewed, nine had a list price of $3 or less. These tended to be shorter books, or “singles,” and often were based on previously published content.

Most news organization e-books were priced under $3.

Four of the books cost between $3 and $6, while five of the books cost $6 or more. The highest price was $9.99, for multimedia-rich e-books by ABC News on Amanda Knox and the British royal wedding.

The L.A. Times may test some new business models with upcoming e-books, such as having them paid for by a sponsor or advertising, said Emily Smith, senior vice president of digital. Another idea is to use an e-book as a digital version of the free tote bag, she said, a reward you give away to subscribers.

Need to add value

How do you persuade people to buy a collection of stories published previously that may be found for free in online archives? Try thinking of it like a DVD.

The DVD also contains previously released content which might be found elsewhere (cable TV) for free. But studios have figured out they can add value by packing the DVD with exclusive deleted scenes, director commentary and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

E-books can work the same way. Vanity Fair’s Elizabeth Taylor collection added two new stories to the six previously published.

The new L.A. Times e-book, “A Nightmare Made Real,” draws from staff writer Christopher Goffard’s two-part series in the paper about a Las Vegas banker accused of kidnapping, torture and sexual assault. But it also adds “more detailed portraits of key characters and Goffard’s account of how an unlikely tip led to his narrative.”

Don’t forget print books

The quick publishing and low cost of e-books offer many advantages, but in some cases the additional investment in a printed book may pay off as well.

The Boston Globe has been publishing print books for a long time, especially to commemorate local sports team championships. The Globe has two more hardcover books coming out soon — a biography of Mitt Romney in January and a book on Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary in March.

The Washington Post’s 2010 book, “Landmark: The Inside Story of America’s New Health Care Law and What It Means for Us All,” was published in hardback and paperback, as well as an e-book. The paper now is surveying readers about their interest in buying cookbooks, travel guides and other types of books.

One advantage of publishing a book, printed or electronic, is you can reach new audiences for stories of nationwide interest or lasting relevance. A reader in New York may never read the daily edition of the L.A. Times, but she might see its e-book in the Kindle store and download it. Even a reader in L.A. might not see the paper’s daily coverage of the Las Vegas banker story, but he could download the e-book a year later and read it one weekend.

“We have too many great stories and world-class journalism in databases,” Times Managing Editor for News Davan Maharaj said. “Many of these stories live on, and they translate well to some of these devices with just a tweak here and a tweak there.”

It’s likely 2012 will be an even bigger year for e-books. New low-cost e-readers from Amazon and Barnes & Noble debuted just in time for the holidays.

Said Vanity Fair editor Friend, “From what we’re seeing with the holiday sales of e-readers, seeming to the biggest thing since Rubik’s Cube or Cabbage Patch dolls, this could be really big.”

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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. Read more

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The cover of one of the Boston Globe's ebooks on Whitey Bulger.

News orgs publish ebooks to capitalize on trending news, archived content

As more people buy e-readers and download books through digital stores, some news organizations are finding they can capitalize on their expertise and archives of information by quickly publishing e-books related to big stories.

The cover of one of the Boston Globe’s ebooks on Whitey Bulger.

The Washington Post and ABC News each generated books about the killing of Osama bin Laden shortly after the news broke. And the Boston Globe released a three-part ebook collection on Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger following his arrest after 16 years on the run from 19 murder charges.

The Globe has long been producing “instabooks” in print, often commemorating achievements of local sports teams. When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in June, the Globe had such a book out in stores after only a few days. This time, though, they also produced an ebook version for the first time.

In past years, e-readers had only simple black and white screens with low resolutions, so the Globe’s photo-heavy print books would not show well on an electronic display, the Globe’s book development editor, Janice Page, told me. But now with more advanced e-readers and tablets in the market, ebooks can take advantage of photos.

Ebooks can even include multimedia elements that regular books cannot, such as videos. The Globe’s recent Bruins ebook, for example, included video of player interviews and the celebration parade. ABC News’ book on Bin Laden includes embedded footage from inside his compound and excerpts from interviews.

A news organization doesn’t have to invest in anything that fancy, though.

The Globe’s Whitey Bulger ebooks were stories from its archives, self-published. The only expense was to hire a vendor to finalize the ebook formatting and help submit it to the Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble digital bookstores, said Jeff Moriarty, vice president of digital products for the Globe.

“We easily have recovered those costs in the first few days,” Moriarty said.

This is what the Bulger ebooks look like when viewed in Apple’s iBooks software on an iPad.

These are not fully formed “books” in the traditional sense. They are what Amazon calls “singles” — longer than an article or essay but shorter than a book (dozens of pages, instead of hundreds), usually priced for a few dollars or less.

Some independent writers are using the new format to sell their own original long-form journalism directly to readers. But news organizations may also find it a secondary market for repackaging past stories, photos and videos from their archives, especially those with a newfound relevance.

The Globe created covers, wrote a fresh introduction to the books and did some light editing to fix any outdated references. But otherwise the articles were published almost verbatim from the archives. The Globe markets its ebooks through its newspaper and website, and may consider buying some other online ads.

The combination of using previously created content and digital publishing squeezes out much of the costs and time traditionally associated with book publishing, making this an attractive business for news organizations to explore.

This approach can unlock revenue from the decades of content pent up in archives, or extra reported material that didn’t make the daily news product.

“Everyone here is very aware of how much gold we’re sitting on top of,” Page said. Read more


E-reader ownership doubles in six months, tablet growth slows

Pew Internet & American Life Project
The percentage of U.S. adults who own e-readers such as the Kindle or Nook doubled to 12 percent in May from only 6 percent in November, according to a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The rate of growth surpassed tablet computers (such as the iPad, Xoom and Galaxy), which grew to 8 percent, up only 3 points in the same time period. Three percent of adults owned both types of devices. The survey also includes demographic data about device owners.

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Will College E-Textbooks Catch On?

On Friday, something sort of big happened. McGraw-Hill launched four of its biggest selling college textbooks in e-text form for the iPad, meaning you can download the whole book or just chapters. The e-reader version comes with interactive graphics and videos.

Digital textbooks are projected to account for just 1 percent of the higher education textbook market this year, according to The Wall Street Journal, but that would be twice as much as last year, and the future looks bright.

The Journal reports

“Prices will start at $2.99 per chapter and $69.99 for entire books, for a limited time. Thereafter, chapters will be $3.99 and books will start at $84.99.

“The Inkling-based e-books make full use of the iPad’s color, video and touch screen. A biology text, for example, offers 3-D views of molecules such as DNA, video lectures, and interactive quizzes. Users can highlight text, take notes and share them in real time with other users, such as fellow students. Along the way, students can jump outside the text to Google or Wikipedia.

“Inkling has struck deals with other large publishers, including John Wiley & Sons Inc. and Cengage Learning, to launch future titles.

“It’s unclear whether students and their parents will want to fork out $499 to buy an iPad on top of other college expenses. But [Inkling's Matt] MacInnis says that Inkling expects to see a ‘blossoming of touch-enabled tablets’ and that the affordability of those tablets will be broadened considerably over the next two years. ‘Our bet is that those tablets will change the way people consume content,’ he says.”

Sure, digital textbooks can keep you from carrying a bunch of heavy books, and they sometimes have great interactive features and easy-to-use search functions.

But are digital textbooks really cheaper? Digital Trends put the claim to the test and concluded that you don’t save much money:

“We signed up for Spanish, writing, philosophy, religion and political science courses. The total tab for all the books we could buy online from the SU [Syracuse University] bookstore with one click came to $368.45. This included a total of 15 titles, buying used books whenever possible.

“Then we went shopping on Amazon’s Kindle store. We had intended to compare the total cost of buying print versus digital, but the digital catalog was so incomplete we ended up comparing individual titles.

“When comparing brand new, hefty textbooks, an e-reader can save a bundle. For instance, Writing Analytically would cost us $66.50 brand new from the SU book store, but we could download an e-book version instantly for just $46.30 on the Kindle. Total savings from just one book: $20.20.

“Factor in the used-book market, and savings dwindle a little more. Let’s use Immigrant America: A Portrait as an example. It sells for $24.95 brand new from the Amazon store and the campus store. But the SU book store offered it to us used — automatically — for $18.75. Had we bought it for a Kindle, we could have scored it for $14.82 — savings of only $3.93 over the used paper copy.

“Even those small savings dissipate when you consider that most students will sell their books after a semester. “ Read more

29 million U.S. consumers to own e-readers in 5 years

A new report from Forrester research predicts nearly 30 million e-readers will be sold in the U.S. by the end of 2015. That is a significant increase over the 3.7 million in use at the beginning of this year.

Analyst James L. McQuivey writes that the dedicated e-reader market is under pressure from tablet PCs such as the iPad, but aggressive pricing and the overall size of the book reading market will continue to drive sales.

“By 2015, we forecast that 29.4 million US consumers will own e-readers. We recommend that strategists planning the next wave of e-readers diversify the portfolio of e-reading devices to secure their ownership of the reading experience, offering devices that range from stripped-down $49 pocket readers to full-color touch readers that erase the gap between today’s e-readers and tablet PCs.”
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