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.

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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