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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

News Organizations Cash In On Quickie E-books

The newspaper industry has seen its advertising revenue cut in half over the past decade from about $48 billion in 2000 to $23 billion last year, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

Now newspapers and other media organizations are looking to make up for that shortfall by publishing e-books of major news stories, like the Osama bin Laden raid or the capture of renowned Boston mobster, Whitey Bulger.

Here & Now media analyst, John Carroll, said the Bulger story allowed the Boston Globe to re-purpose a treasure trove of material from its archives.

“It’s really redefining what a book is. It can be just print, print and video. A book now is something that is very different from a book we’ve traditionally seen since the 15th century.”

– John Carroll, H&N Media Analyst

“What you do is slap a cover on it, you put an intro on it, you pull material out of the archive and you format it for the Kindle or the iPad and you send it out there,” Carrol said. “Any revenues you get from it is pretty much gravy.”

These e-books generally sell for just $1 to $5, but that can add up.

Take the example of the tech website, Ars Technica. The site recently published a 27,000-word review of Apple’s new operating system. You can read the review for free on the website, but it’s also packaged as a $5 e-book, which sold 3,000 copies in the first 24 hours.

So why would people pay for something that’s already free online?

“The reason is portability, readability,” said Carroll. “It’s much easier to read 27,000 words on a Kindle than it is on a computer screen.”

Other news organizations are trying to figure out which platform offers the most bang for the buck.

Fortune magazine’s in-depth feature about the inner workings of Apple was only available in the print edition and via the iPad. Normally the magazine would also release the story for free online. But the magazine is now experimenting with different platforms.

“They want to drive not only revenues, but also readership, in a particular direction,” said Carroll. “And they’re trying to pick the platforms that people can access their content from.”

Since e-books also feature video, television news organizations are also getting in on the act.

ABC News recently released a compilation of its reporting on Osama bin Laden as a video book, or v-book, that includes video.

“It’s really redefining what a book is,” said Carroll. “It’s multimedia… it can be just print and video. A book now is something that is very different from a book we’ve traditionally seen since the 15th century.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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